Lean Six Sigma in Construction & Materials Services
As per the industry classification benchmark, this industry sector includes the following subsectors –
Building Materials & Fixtures – Producers of materials used in the construction and refurbishment of buildings and structures, including cement and other aggregates, wooden beams and frames, paint, glass, roofing and flooring materials other than carpets. Includes producers of bathroom and kitchen fixtures, plumbing supplies and central air-conditioning and heating equipment.
Heavy Construction – Companies engaged in the construction of commercial buildings, infrastructure such as roads and bridges, residential apartment buildings, and providers of services to construction companies, such as architects, masons, plumbers and electrical contractors.
Applications in construction industry – In construction industry, Six Sigma usage can be understood with following points.
1. Recurring problems exist at each stage of construction. When I say recurring, it means recurring for the company (may not be recurring for individual projects)
2. If you study a construction project, it comprises of large number of individual processes ranging from soil testing to landscaping to structural designs to foundations, superstructure, interiors and exteriors. There are a whole lot of purchase and logistic processes as well.
3. A good number of these processes are common to all projects. If processes and their linkages were robust many of the individual problems would not occur at the first place. The remaining can be reduced.
4. The idea in Six Sigma is about making the processes robust ( so that the results are right the first time, every time) Not all processes are equally important. Processes that matter are those that relate closely to pain areas (for customers/ management). These processes need improvement.
5. In each project, individual project managers, site engineers face a whole lot of problems that they solve. These problems do get solved in the project (after they have caused a delay or cost in the specific project). Normally there is no mechanism to aggregate learning from the experiences of these managers and use it for process improvement. Also companies do not have structured mechanism to use tried and tested techniques to eliminate or reduce such issues in future projects.
6. To be able to study and improve management systems one needs a structured improvement approach provided by Six Sigma Six Sigma provides tried and tested techniques for a team based approach which converts each problem area into an individual “improvement project”
7. When processes improve, there is a reduction in problems and defects.
8. Primary defects in construction industry (and most of the project driven industries) are DELAY, REWORK and COST OVERRUNS and Six Sigma can be used to reduce any of these defects.
This is not all. In addition to usage in improvements in existing processes (as explained above), Six Sigma is also used to design new processes (or redesign existing processes that contribute to project success (with better predictability that ever before).
- Case Study Description
A large construction company found that majority (65%) of its construction projects were getting delayed leading to penalty or losses. A lean six sigma project was launched to reduce the project delays. A detailed analysis of 20 recent projects showed that the dynamicity of critical path created complexities in almost every case. This was due to the fact that the critical path changed several times during the progress of the project. The project managers were unable to identify the potential critical paths. A further study into the subject indicated that simulation techniques had potential usage. A simulation model was developed for a forthcoming project. By entering the triangular distribution (using most optimistic, most pessimistic and expected times) for each activity into the model, three types of activities were segregated.
- Activities that are a part of the critical path on more than 80% of simulated outcomes.
- Activities that are a part of the critical path on less than 20% of simulated outcomes.
Resources were planned in advance according to the categorization. The project was successfully completed on time. This process of use of simulation models was standardized and structured for use across all projects and the company saved itself from embarrassment and penalties, thereafter in 80% of projects.
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