Pipeline Workshops: Learning Beyond The Builder 20 Club Level

SAI Consulting has benefited from its long involvement in the homebuilding industry, so we make a point of giving back to the industry, particularly at the trade association level.  For many tears, we have been presenters at IBS;  when we are asked to speak at Builder 20 Club meetings, our policy is to waive the fee portion of our work.

Earlier this year, I was asked to make a presentation at one of the Builder 20 Club Fall meetings;  the requested topic was improving cycle time, and the request was for a presentation spanning eight hours.

Since cycle time improvement is not really an eight-hour topic, I thought it would be more beneficial for this B-20 Team’s members if I presented a contextual view of cycle time, using the production principles and disciplines we teach in Pipeline workshops, which would also allow us to include the production simulations we use in the workshop.

Following the presentation, I told John Lingerfelt (the NAHB networking groups facilitator for this Builder 20 Club) that, in retrospect, B-20 Club Team gatherings are not well-suited for an eight-hour presentation on this kind of topic, if the same learning objectives used in a Pipeline workshop are applied.

I told him the meeting agenda is distractingly full.  I also told him it is not possible to craft material that will apply uniformly to every club member’s circumstances, business environment, or operation.

I told John, if I had been aware of the B-20 mindset concerning learning objectives – that members preferred to receive information they can take home and quickly implement in their businesses – I would have been more clear with the group at the beginning of the session about how difficult the material is, and that they are not going back to their shops with a few easy-to-implement solutions.

I would have told the group, more emphatically, that improving performance on the velocity side of ROA is extraordinarily hard work, that it requires an extraordinary amount of resolve and persistence to do it.  I would have told them how unsettled the solution is in homebuilding, given the unique attributes of production in this industry.

Several club members approached me to share what they felt had learned, what they thought had been worthwhile about the presentation;  there was agreement on the importance, the relevance, of the material;  it was just not what members wanted – they said the discussion was “a bit too focused on the academic concept and not focused on its practical usage”.

Fine.  I think that is an honest and accurate assessment;  I can live with it.  The next time I do a B-20 Club meeting, I will bullet easy-action items and make it a three-hour presentation.  It was not a waste of time to make this presentation, but it does point to the need for production workshops dedicated to deeper learning.

One of the team’s members said, “Our members understood the general concept of increased velocity and how it can improve the bottom line.”

Comprehension of a general concept is not sufficient.  There is a big gap between understanding the general concept of increased velocity, and possessing the deep, instinctive understanding of velocity that enables you to create sustainable competitive separation by implementing the principles within a enterprise-specific set of circumstances.

Pipeline workshops promote wholesale changes in the thinking about production and business management that needs to occur in this industry, often a 180 degree reversal in perspective and understanding.

Escherian is not the right term, but these changes represent paradigm shifts of an order that bring to mind the “Two Women” illustration the late Stephen Covey used in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Two Women

What do you see?  Yes, it’s a picture of a woman.  Is she a young woman?  Is she an old woman?  Which direction is she facing?     

Or, the shape published by Louis Albert Necker, his so-called “Necker Cube”.

Necker Cube

What do you see?  Is the blue panel at the front of the cube, or is it at the back of the cube?  Does the angle of the cube project upward to the left, or does it project downward to the right?

Learning how to thrive on the velocity side of Return on Assets presents these questions:  What do you see?  Do you understand what you are seeing?  The implication is that there is more to it than what you see, and you may not be seeing what is really there.

Learning to see requires a different perspective – a different set of mental models – regarding the same set of facts.  You have to understand the principles and disciplines that apply to homebuilding production – before you try to manage it, before you try to make changes, before you try to improve performance.   

We say that a homebuilding production system is a pipeline.  How big is the pipe?  What is its capacity?  How long is it?  What does it cost?  We say that operating decisions drive business outcomes.  How do you connect them?  What connects them?  What do the measures of operating performance and economic return hold in common?

Paradigms are cognitive frameworks containing basic assumptions, perceptions, beliefs, ways of thinking, methodologies that are commonly accepted by members of a group.  What is the general paradigm builders hold about size?  About growth?  About capacity?  About productivity?  About costs?  About production balance?

Is even-flow a mechanism or is it an outcome?

In a particular production system, what is Necessary WIP – the amount of Inventory/WIP required to operate the system?  What is Maximum WIP – an amount that is excessive?  What is Minimum WIP – the amount that is insufficient?

When do you measure cycle time, and when do you calculate it?  What do the two methods mean?  What are their different uses?

When you schedule the system, do you start jobs at a pre-determined rate, or do you start jobs according to the condition of a pacesetting resource?

What do you see?  Do you understand it?

We say homebuilding production is a system.  How do you improve the performance of a system?  How do you determine its capacity?  What restricts its capacity?  What is the nature of the workflow?  Is it process management?  Is it project portfolio management?  Regardless of what type of workflow it is, how do you schedule it?  What do you schedule?

How does the system handle the conundrum posed by a predictable reaction to variation?  What does variation really cost a homebuilding operation?

What do you see?

How do you reduce the duration of a job, and still protect its completion date?  What is it about a job schedule that you actually manage?  How do you deal with both task dependency and resource contention?

What do you see?


The next Pipeline workshop is March 11-12, 2015, at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  Sponsored by Hanley Wood (Builder/Big Builder) and Continuum Advisory Group.

Registration opens January 2, 2015 at www.buildervelocity.com


One Comment

  1. Ping from Hoyt Lowder:

    Great viewpoint.