(excerpted from The Pipeline)


“Which system requires the most capacity?”, asked the intrepid, results-based consultant, pointing to the two diagrams depicting the effect of multitasking.  “Which system carries the most work-in-process?  Which one has the most complexity?  Which one costs more?”

“The one that kills more of my brain cells”, answered one superintendent.

“Let’s try this again”, she said.  “It’s an illustration of the finite capacity and variability buffering we have been talking about.  If you fix the amount of capacity and increase the amount of inventory, and do nothing about variation and uncertainty, the system has no choice but to lengthen cycle time.  That’s the undesirable effect of multi-tasking.

“But, multi-tasking is not the only behavioral tendency that causes the long durations that we are concerned with”, she continued.  “We pad durations to create safety, but then we waste all that safety, by waiting until the last moment, by letting the work expand to the allowed time, and – yes – by working on multiple jobs at the same time.”

“That might be the case in ‘real’ project management, but not on my jobs”, argued another superintendent, one of the younger ones.  “My framers have full crews on each job.  Same with the electricians, plumbers, masons, and everyone else.”

“Bulls–t”, said the VP of Construction.

“I can’t tell you how many times your framer leaves three guys on your job and sends the rest of the crew to get another job started”, he said.  “It happens all the time.  It happened to you last week.  The truss package showed up a week late on Lot 40.  The same day, the trusses showed up on Lot 47 three days early.

“Two jobs with trusses on the ground, and one framing crew to fly them.  Where’s the crane?  On Lot 47.  Which job is behind schedule?  Lot 40.  So, why don’t we send the crane to Lot 40?  Because we can’t.  Lot 40 has a purchase order issued to another crane operator.

“A lot of times, it’s not even their fault.  We tell them to do something, because we can’t seem to get our own act together on resolving the resource conflicts between open jobs.

“But – it’s not one behavior.  It’s all of it – the multi-tasking, the waiting until the last minute, the pacing of work to consume the allotted time.  There is variation in all its forms.  Different outputs from repeated applications.  There is risk and uncertainty.  Things that are indefinite, indeterminate, and unknown.  Weather.  Delays.  Mistakes.  Failed inspections.

“Things that go wrong.  Murphy.

“And – we step right into it.

“If you can’t see this, then you will have to come up with a different explanation – a different excuse – for why your jobs average 180 days, when the schedule itself specifies 120 days, and everyone acknowledges that it should only take 90 days.”


(The Pipeline: A Picture of Homebuilding Production is available on the publisher website (virtualbookworm.com), through the author website (thepipelinebook.com), as well as amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and booksamillion.com)


One Comment

  1. Ping from Bill Allen:

    One of the best commentaries, if not the best, I’ve seen regarding the waste in multitasking. The other dimension is: “How can you efficiently focus on the task at hand when you have five balls in the air?” We have at least two generations of people that accept multitasking as desirable and necessary, and we’ve got to continue proving the inefficiency of that mind-set. You examples are stellar. See you at IBS, Fletcher.