Production Planning and Tracking


Whether you're the leader of a Dirt World firm or a foreman, there’s one important aspect of your role that can’t be neglected, and that’s production planning and tracking.

You can choose from a wide variety of systems, like Excel spreadsheets or paper trackers, but the bottom line is that you need a system — and you need to be continually improving on this system. In order to win every day, you must be able to see and know what winning looks like. And your system will help you do just that.

You need to own the gap.

Why does Schroeder place such an emphasis on planning and tracking your production? It’s because you need to own the gap.

The phrase comes from a book called Own the Gap by Mike Martyn and Bryan Crowell. “We need to own the gap between where we are and where our production targets are,” Schroeder said. “And this need to own the gap? It drives us to continuously improve.”

But how exactly do you go about owning the gap? If you think it’s about pushing hard to move a project forward, think again. According to Schroeder, you own the gap by:

  • removing roadblocks
  • solving problems
  • optimizing bottlenecks
  • removing constraints
  • getting others to agree

But in order to fully own the gap, two more things are required: you need a meeting system, and you need effective communication.

You need a meeting system.

If your project doesn’t currently have a meeting system, you need to do whatever it takes to set one up. Schroeder gave a general outline of the system he prefers. “You meet with your superintendent in the afternoon, and you make a plan for the next day,” he said. “And you identify the day’s production targets. The next morning, you meet with your workers to communicate the plan, and to collaborate and connect with them. You stay with them throughout the day, and you hold an after-lunch check so you can work with them to achieve their targets.”

The cycle continues in this way every day. And during your afternoon huddle, you also take the time to reflect on the current day’s wins. “You ask, where did we win?” Schroeder said. “And where did we not win? And you work as a collaborative team to do the problem solving that will increase production. And after that you plan the next day, you set your production targets, and the cycle repeats itself over and over.”

The result? “You win as a group, because you see as a group, you know as a group, and you act as a group. And by doing this, you own that gap because you’re creating flow.”

If you want a winning team, communicate.

In order to be effective, your system also requires you to scale communication. But what does this mean?

Let’s say you’re a high school football coach. Would you tell your players the plays they’ll be using three or four weeks ahead of time, and then hold a meeting the week before the game where you say, 'Hey, remember those plays we talked about? Great, you got this. Now go out there and win.'"

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Schroeder said. “You’re going to have a playbook, you’re going to hold practices twice a day, you’re going to huddle every morning. You’ll have your players watch last year’s tapes. And you’ll have a pregame practice, with a pregame huddle. And on and on it goes, and you’re not done until the end of the game itself. And even then you’re not done. Because after the game, you’re still coaching. And that’s how you coach a winning team.”

It shouldn’t be any different in construction, he pointed out. “When we’re coaching football, we don’t just tell our players, yeah, these are the plays, now go do this. So why do we run multi-million dollar construction projects this way? It doesn’t make any sense. We have to scale communication all the way from the planners to the workers in the most effective way possible.”

To win at the dirt game, you have to get better and better at communicating your plan so your workers know what winning looks like.

If we can stabilize, we can optimize.

So what’s the key to making your production planning and tracking system work for you, so you’re owning the gap?

You focus on the flow.

“You want your pipe crew and your grading crew and your backfill crew to be going consistently every day,” Schroeder said. “When you’re tracking your production, you don’t want to push. You don’t want to say, 'Go, go, go, we’ve got to lay down 400 feet of pipe right now.'”

That's because pushing creates chaos. You get too much variation, and variation increases the duration of your projects. Instead, you need to create stability. “If we can stabilize, we can optimize,” Schroeder emphasized. “That’s how the system works. So make sure you’re focused on that consistent pace. And if you do that day in and day out, the next time you ask, what’s our target? You’ll be at your target, and that’s how you own the gap.”

Takeaways.

Effective production planning and tracking is about owning the gap between where you are and where your production targets are. But to be effective, you have to do more than just plan and track.

  • A meeting system. Having a consistent meeting system is vital to the process. It enables you to meet your production targets all while focusing on continuous improvement.
  • Effective communication. You need to scale your communication so everyone on your team is on the same page. Effective communication lets everyone come together as a group to own that gap.
  • Stabilize, then optimize. Go for a consistent pace, instead of adding variation to the plan by pushing. When you stabilize, you can then optimize.