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The Technology Trap

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Why tech won’t make you productive

The construction industry has taken a beating over the last several years for its infamous productivity underperformance. As virtually everyone in the industry knows by now, construction productivity has actually gone down over the last 60 years, while all other industries have increased by more than 150% in the same period. In addition, construction is the second-least digitized industry in the world, according to a study by McKinsey & Co.

Over the last several years, the industry has dived head first into the deep end of the technology pool. Driven by the smell of opportunity and fueled by venture fund infusions exceeding $5 billion per year, aspiring construction technology companies of every stripe have cropped up. They offer “packaged productivity” in the form of everything from labor tracking software, BIM and augmented reality to robots, exoskeletons and drones. And in turn, construction companies across the country are spending millions on these technologies, in an apparent attempt to quickly fix their productivity issues.

Related: Implementing Lean Construction Principles

The problem is (to paraphrase Stephen R. Covey), you can’t spend your way out of a problem you behaved your way into. It seems that many in our industry are trying to fix a decades-old process problem by taking a technological “shortcut” to productivity.

In Lean, we have a saying about technology implementation: “Don’t automate your waste.” It means that if you have a wasteful process (for which construction is the poster child), adding technology will only speed up that wasteful process, mask your real issues and blind you with a false sense of efficiency.

If you want to truly, significantly and permanently improve your company’s construction productivity, fix your process first, using the proven principles of process optimization:

1. Understand your process fully and intimately.

2. Measure it to identify your waste.

3. Analyze it to quantify your waste.

4. Tap your value-creating employees for ways to eliminate the waste.

5. Then lock in your improvements through training, standardization and vigilance.

Only then should you add technology, to automate and speed up your new Lean process.

Technology is awesome, but it’s only an accelerator. Just like money or alcohol only accentuate whatever your personality already is, technology only speeds up whatever process you already have in place.

So if you want to be part of the new breed of hyper-productive construction firms, slow down to speed up: Optimize your process first, then use technology to super-charge it.

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