Apocalypse Now: Is a Shattered Industry What It Takes??

NOTE: We published the original version of this post on June 24, 2009, two years ago, almost to the day.

Everyone likes to talk about the “green shoots” that appear and disappear in the housing market and in the homebuilding industry, as the hopeful evidence for a return to business-as-usual. I think the worst Residential Fixed Investment disaster in three generations should count for more than a return to business-as-usual.

If we are going to pay this steep a price, why not just blow up the dysfunctional business model of production homebuilding?

It is a solution that has undoubtedly crossed the minds of those of us who understand Lean Production and the Toyota Production System, understand constraint management and Critical Chain Project Management, understand Six Sigma and the effect of variation, understand production physics, understand business and finance.

Crossed the minds of those of us who stare across the chasm, and roll our eyes at what we see.

Custom homebuilding gets a pass. The building of one-off or highly-individualized homes could benefit from the selective use of the tools in the toolbox, but custom homebuilding is a separate, specialized value stream. It is a separate culture.

So, what is our vision of a post-apocalyptic homebuilding industry? To cite a few:

— One in which the deal-driven mentality that pervades the industry is at least relegated to the land side of the business, and is replaced with a much more disciplined, process-centric approach to production homebuilding.

— One in which the constant question is: Does this create value? And, the decisions are based on the outcome.

— One in which homebuilders achieve 6:1 Inventory Turns, and the debate about build-to-order (presale) versus build-to-forecast (inventory or spec) becomes a moot point in the face of 60 day cycle times.

— One in which homebuilding companies need negligible working capital for production operations, and one in which cash on the Balance Sheet is not the defining competitive advantage of large, public homebuilding companies.

— One in which homebuilding companies do not strip-mine the value stream by outsourcing 90% of the work, with all of the attendant duplication in overhead and difficulty in coordinating schedules and resources; one in which, instead, homebuilding companies actually build the houses.

— One which understands that a homebuilding company is first and foremost a project portfolio organization.

— One in which geographic expansion and increased market share is not the only models for growth.

– One on which the absurd cost approach used in the NAHB Chart of Accounts Income Statement is changed, so that homebuilders can actually use the information that it provides to make decisions. Small, inconsequential decisions, like determining community contribution, breakeven and the cost of production capacity.

— One in which a preoccupation with “Industry Best Practices” is recognized as the self-limitation that it is.

— One in which agility and speed counts for more than size. One in which a savvy, accountable, and motivated homebuilding team trumps an executive committee.

— One in which the mental model is “More-for-Less”, not “More-for-More” or “Less-for-Less”.

The Song Remains The Same.