8 Simple Steps to Make Your Jobsite More Productive
Signs of waste are easy to spot on most jobsites — a pallet with broken light fixtures, parts left over after install or an electrician waiting on a late truck. Each one is a clue, and by pursuing them a contractor can find issues further up the supply chain that significantly impact their efficiency on site.
When a Florida-based electrical contractor decided to target an unusually high number of returns on one project, they soon realized they had discovered a symptom of a bigger problem with their procurement process. By making practical improvements in how they ordered and stored materials, they saw a 65 percent monthly reduction in returns, while spending 90 percent less time on procurement per week.
What would it take to see improvements like these on your own jobsite?
Step 1: Recognize you need to improve
On a typical jobsite, an electrician spends up to 40 percent of their time managing materials, according to research by MCA. Meanwhile, 61 percent of owners report projects behind schedule, and 41 percent report projects completed over budget.
80 percent of firms struggle to fill craft labor positions, while skilled workers are spending almost half their time on the clock unpacking boxes and looking for parts.
An agile contractor can make significant reductions in the time workers spend handling materials, instead of installing them. To make a lasting change in process, however, it’s important to involve the whole team.
Step 2: Focus on culture
When contractors try to make a major organizational change, they report that they fail 70 percent of the time, and successes can take six years. To find out why, the same survey asked them to rank the top factors in their successes.
Designating “change agents” within day-to-day operations was most important. Senior leadership commitment landed in the middle, and explaining the benefits to individuals ranked the lowest.
To build organic engagement with a new initiative, rely on popular field leaders to share the message.
One major national contractor has used this strategy to unite their team around a common vision of progress, putting their Preconstruction Manager in charge of an internal team focused on ways to improve processes across the company. They hold quarterly feedback sessions with foremen and apprentices, and the Preconstruction Manager is often stopped in the hallway or pulled aside on a jobsite by an employee with a new idea.
“By pushing the bar internally, and continually striving to get better every day, you really develop a strong, competitive advantage against your competition,” he said.
Step 3: Choose a path
Traditional businesses approach improvement in many ways — a Six Sigma strategy focuses on reducing defective outputs, while Lean cuts out unnecessary process steps, leaving only those that directly add value.
Both the national contractor and Graybar use Continuous Improvement (CI), which encourages all members of a company to “plan, do, check, and act” with a specific focus and an ongoing timeframe. Gains in efficiency come from the accumulated impact of single process improvements, sourced from employees’ everyday frustrations.
Quintin Henry, Graybar’s Director of Quality and Service, started with the company in 1987 and now leads the CI team that has saved Graybar an estimated $120 million over the last decade.
“You're really looking at incremental improvement over time, and every once in a while you'll have a significant breakthrough that may be that major ‘aha’ moment. But going in, you have to realize that it's almost always baby steps,” Quintin said.
Step 4: Review your process
Now that you’ve set the groundwork for an improvement strategy, it’s important to identify the problem you want to tackle.
Start by reviewing critical or frustrating processes.
During a recent project, how often were your electricians idle – for example, while waiting on a delivery truck? How much time did they spend on unnecessary tasks, such as redoing existing work or transporting parts across the jobsite?
An unexpected amount of non-install time on a jobsite often signals a bigger problem in the contractor’s process. Work that would be unnecessary on an ideal project may be required by the current supply chain. Employees might be spending extra time unloading fragile pallet shipments, for example.
Step 5: Redesign your process
A distributor orders, stores, inspects and moves material, just like a contractor does. Without coordination, redundant work can raise costs by 25 percent.
It also represents a missed opportunity. A distributor is more than the sum of its parts – they’re a logistics expert, used to designing and managing supply chains.
Teaming up with a distributor early in a project leads to greater efficiency down the line. If a distributor knows the details of a contractor’s job plans, the distributor can go beyond merely fulfilling a PO to provide value added services such as packaging and delivering those materials in a beneficial way for the site.
To ensure a more accurate, complete, and timely process, it’s important to have someone with experience in process redesign assist with your improvement efforts.
Step 6: Implement supply chain management solutions
According to a national study, contractors saved at most 2 percent on costs by working with multiple, competitive suppliers. When they partnered with a single distributor, however, that supplier was able to provide value-added services throughout the pipeline that reduced material handling times on site by up to 40 percent.
Instead of shipping light fixtures in a tilting tower of cardboard boxes, Graybar works with contractors to deliver carts of unpacked, sorted and inspected fixtures that can be moved within 30 feet or 30 seconds of key install points. These carts can reduce the average install time for a fixture by roughly 80 percent.
Similarly, the Graybar SmartReel® can cut the time and manpower budgeted for wire installation in half, and Graybar’s job carts offer a convenient, cardboard-free way to store material on site.
A distributor can also provide much-needed flexibility in a prefab process by supplying parts and helping coordinate storage and delivery with existing shipments.
Step 7: Digitize key processes
Smart devices can enhance physical process improvements, and today there’s a good chance most employees have one on hand.
Using a smartphone, a foreman can track shipments, schedule pickups at the distributor’s closest branch and contact a sales rep.
QR codes on fixture carts guide installation according to the project blueprint and embed key product information.
Additional inventory in the supply room can be managed by a barcode system, which pairs with an app that analyzes patterns of use to plan future orders more efficiently. The extra organization provided by barcodes has lowered the amount of product on hand by 40 percent on some jobsites.
Step 8: Measure successes
Measureable results make it easier to convince any hold-outs, and motivate the whole team for the next project.
After step eight, it’s time to jump back to step one and spot a new sign of inefficiency to tackle. Continuous Improvement encourages ongoing review, and as you solve problems, the process itself will get better with practice.
Ready to get started? Contact your local Graybar sales representative or call 1-800-GRAYBAR to see how we can help you improve productivity on your jobsite.
 Lines, Brian and Smithwick, Jake. “Organizational Change Adoption: Best Practices for Electrical Contractors.” ELECTRI International – The Foundation for Electrical Construction, Inc., 2018.
Simonian, Lonny, et al. “Agile Procurement and its Role in Adding Value.” ELECTRI International – The Foundation for Electrical Construction, Inc., 2016.