Sticking to the Plan at SkyHouse

What’s the likelihood of a typical construction project that encounters over a month of weather days finishing on time? What about that same project finishing ahead of schedule?

According to leading industry research, the odds for either scenario could be described as a long shot. The Lean Construction Institute initiated research in which Dodge Data & Analytics took their cue from Jim Collins’ Good to Great and compared the differences between ‘best’ projects and ‘typical’ construction projects. Dodge found that 24% of ‘best’ projects finished ahead of schedule compared to only 6% of ‘typical’ projects.

That’s precisely what makes our SkyHouse Frisco Station project anything but typical. Despite enduring 38 days of record-breaking rainfall— 30 of which were accepted contractually—the team finished two weeks ahead of schedule on this 25-story residential tower in Frisco, Texas. The foundation for their success was an early and unyielding commitment to practicing lean methods.

Value from Lean Practices

That plan began with committing to use their time effectively. One of the keys was obtaining the most value out of the Last Planner® System and integrating lean practices with our critical path method (CPM) schedule practices. In addition, they ensured that every minute spent in meetings created real value. 

Each Wednesday, Balfour Beatty teammates reviewed and updated the CPM schedule. This provided insight on the team’s actual progress in the field and helped identify areas that required attention.

Every Thursday, Balfour Beatty teammates conducted a weekly planning with their trade partners. What differentiates the SkyHouse team is that they intentionally spent the first 10 minutes reflecting on their performance over the last week. They measured their percent plan complete (PPC) to understand how reliable their plan was and performed root cause analysis (RCA) to identify trends that resulted in tasks failing to complete. 

“It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees,” says Josh Laurence, senior project manager. “For example, instead of fixating on the fact that the painter is running behind, you may determine that it’s actually the fire alarm trade partner preventing work from progressing.”

A Collaborative Culture 

Through the leadership of Tyler Brown, senior superintendent, the SkyHouse team fostered a goal-oriented jobsite culture grounded in accountability and collaboration. The team established a goal of not only exceeding the national industry PPC average of 54%—they wanted to prove anything was possible when the right people execute the right plan. Remarkably, the team consistently achieved PPC rates in the 80-90% ranges. 

This achievement was possible, because every trade partner understood their daily production targets. Whether it was hanging sheetrock or completing MEP rough-ins, every trade partner was focused on achieving daily, measurable goals. 

Strategic Decisions 

Measurable goals were a central point of discussion during the SkyHouse team’s daily huddles. While many project teams conduct their huddles before work commences, at SkyHouse, the team made a strategic shift to huddle at 7:30AM every morning. On past projects, the team had found that the staggered arrival of trades to the jobsite often meant vital forepersons or representatives were absent from the huddles, leading to chronic communication failures. 

Yet another strategic decision empowered the SkyHouse team to stick to their plan and finish ahead of schedule. Although the team initially built two weeks into the P6 schedule for punching the job, thanks to an innovative, phased punch plan Tyler Brown developed, the team was able to proactively punch the building as it went vertical. 

Many builders strive to start projects with a solid plan and aspirations to apply lean tools and behaviors, but the moment the unexpected happens, that plan gets tossed aside and it becomes a mad dash to the finish line. 

Our SkyHouse team is proof that the construction industry can improve from a culture in which firefighting is accepted as the norm to a leaner model in which communication and workflows are optimized in a more inclusive and value-creating environment.