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How and Why to Improve Construction Performance


There’s an old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always hold up in the world of business. Leaving things as they are is a good way to end up behind the competition, less able to cope with new jobs, and ultimately sub-par.

A construction company that does not innovate losses in a competitive marketplace to those that do. In terms of innovation, there are a few key areas which are considered imperatives:

  • Manpower and worker skillefficiency
  • Adoption of emergent technology
  • Leadership, training, and site management
  • Environmental awareness
  • Efficiency of cost
  • Data awareness (statistical analysis and feedback)

These can effectively be collapsed into two areas: organisational innovation and technological innovation. Organisational innovation covers those measures which improve the human element, whether it be through marketing or business practises, while technological innovation deals within actual physical changes in equipment or materials.

Why to innovate

It’s more simple than it appears. It’s important to note that innovation doesn’t necessarily mean upgrading tools, converting over to new automated systems, or almost anything fancy whatsoever. In fact, it can be quite manageable and banal.

The number one way that Australian construction companies innovate is through “the adoption of advanced management practises” with “formal evaluation systems in place to judge their progress”.

According to a University of Technology Sydney report, those who innovated through leadership, as opposed to a technology split, reported “significant positive impact on their profitability from innovation”. By comparison, R&D performs poorly by and large (but with some extremely profitable occurrences), with most innovation coming from bodies outside of the industry proper.

This isn’t to say that overhauls of materials or practises aren’t a factor or best practise in remaining on top within the industry, but it’s safe to say that a business which puts a large focus in leadership as a measurable metric on the road to success will see a worthwhile reimbursement for its expenditure. 

It’s all about the stats

Innovation by itself isn’t enough. As outlined earlier, the key metric that differentiated blind faith from a measured stride when it came to performance increases was the inclusion of measurable checkpoints and evaluation systems alongside new projects.

Data accumulation and management is in itself a new form of innovation. Whether it’s drones collecting data on employee and construction patterns, or real-time tracking of progress and issues, the absorbtion of data and recognising viable avenues for expansion through it is of the utmost importance to any construction company.

Finding the best way to measure your successes if the easiest way to know for certain what you should do next. You’ll know where to begin, what problems to fix, and how effective your measures are. It’ll stop half-measures from being your only measure, and help you corner the market on productivity over time.

When to innovate

There’s always the fine line of innovation vs. cost that any enterprising company has to tread. It’s very simple to say that innovation breeds success, and that improving construction performance is a key metric in that success, but over-expansion and over-eagerness have claimed the livelihoods of just as many businesses as they’ve propped up.

We also have to come to grips with construction performance being a very hard to pin down quantifier. Bond University published near the start of 2013 that it is a “vexed problem. Despite much research effort, there remains little agreement over what to measure and how to measure it”.

The bad news from this is that when it comes to innovation control and expansion, it can be hard to measure data against anything other than an extremely localised area.

It might be the case that you’re the most efficient in your area or city, but your overall efficiency can be hard to quantify on any larger level — could you be doing even better, or would more resources into improving performance only result in increasingly diminishing returns?

  • As said earlier, managerial and planning strategies (also known as Organisational Innovation) perform best on a costbenefit analysis. You should always be thinking of how to best conform to practises and lead innovation from the top and middle downward. Consider retraining or reshaping your structure incrementally over time, and don’t let yourself rest upon your laurels.
  • Technological innovation spurred from internal R&D performs very poorly, and should realistically only be considered by a large, stable company fully cognisant of the inherent risks involved.
  • Innovation in terms of productivity of workers and adoption of best practises cannot always come from the top down through managerial styles. Retraining and restructuring employees for use in new technologies and knowledges was seen as a characteristic of a high innovator, as was hiring strategies, monitoring the competition, and reducing client costs.
  • Productivity in the form of new materials or tools can only really be reviewed on a case-by-case level. However, what separates a good business from a bad one in any instance such as this is, again, the data metrics that they use to quantify its successfailure rate. Accumulate as much data as you can on any emergent materials or tools, and you’ll be able to path your way to success.

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