First, I am a Christian and that defines me really in a lot of ways and guides the way that I treat people and interact with them. I am also a husband, father of four children and I lead the Weitz Company’s commercial construction operations in Minnesota. It is just a wonderful opportunity to work for a company that has been around since 1855; and grow our work in the state of Minnesota serving a lot of great customers and working with a lot of great people.
I grew up in a small town in Iowa. My dad is a veterinarian and my mom is an art teacher. I grew up working a lot of farm jobs like cleaning out hog and cattle pens – just really physical manual labor. Working with a lot of farmers, I saw the value of hard work and working with your hands and be passionate about what you do. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for that.
Through the course of my life, God blessed me with some athletic abilities which created opportunities to be on some really great teams. I also had a bit of an awareness and knowledge base in math. As those three things come together of hard work, teamwork and a love for math, I started down a path of construction engineering. What really drew me to the industry is the ability to work with a diverse group of people doing new things to create a really lasting impression that improves the world. I am very thankful to be part of this great industry.
I actually started off through my dad and my experience I wanted to be an MD. I thought that it was my calling but turns out I hated chemistry and biology, so I learned pretty quickly that wasn’t a good fit for me. Fortunately, I have a wonderful godfather who was a construction executive in Chicago. He has been a great mentor my whole life. I talked to him and he offered the opportunity to come in and spend some time with him. I was able to be around him and see how he interacted with people as well as the products he was working on. Through that it became clear to me that I was passionate about the construction industry.
I have been very blessed through my experiences. I came up through the project management ranks and when I think about my role it is always been and will continue to be as a servant leader. I really view my role to be serving those that put the work in place. Superintendents, I have tremendous respect for what they do, the way that they do it and the teams that they work with. I have worked with dozens of superintendents over the years on various projects costing from $90 million to a couple thousand dollars. There are a lot of consistencies within those in terms of what the expectations are but the priority is to lead the team in a safe manner.
Onwards we try to focus on the customer’s success criteria including the schedule, budget and quality of the project. There is also a kind of a hidden success the things that really make the project important to the customer and really focus on those in terms of the experience that they have on the project site for their employees, for the people in the community, those that are really involved in the overall project that they envision. Expectations are high but we are blessed to have some really great people and work with many of them in this industry.
It was 2011 and I was working in Chicago at that time. One of my really good friends came into my office one afternoon inviting me to this Lean event going on downtown. We went to the event and it turns out it was the Lean Construction Institute. Dick Bayer, the Executive Director, spoke that afternoon and there were so many things that just clicked in my head of seeing projects and what worked well and what didn’t work well. The lightbulb went on because of discussions on why things worked and why they didn’t. From that moment on, it has been a passion of mine on a journey of learning which took me from Chicago and now to Minneapolis. I love what Lean can do for our industry.
It has really been the intersection of a lot of areas in my life. I remember when I was being brought up some people told me that I didn’t yell enough, I was too nice, I was trying to help people too much and I should make them do their jobs. Those words bothered me because that is not who I am and that is not how I work with people. I believe that better outcomes come from planning, facilitating, and supporting the team. There wasn’t really data and formal practice that I was aware of at that time to validate that. It was a lot of just the consistent command and demand style of leadership.
Lean construction validated a lot of what I believe in terms of how you intersect my personal beliefs with my professional beliefs. It provided a really stable platform for me to build upon that and help others do the same. Lean has created so much more enjoyment in my work seeing how planning and teamwork improves the lives of those people that I worked with, seeing their stress levels be reduced, their enjoyment increase, barriers being broken down. Lean is a complete game changer and I strive to integrate it in everything that I do personally and professionally.
My aspiration is to really help the person understand how it will help them. Lean is not about pointing out that what they are doing is wrong but it is about doing their job in a way that adds more joy and value to their lives. I think when we can come at it from that perspective, people who want to improve develop a curiosity towards what that might look like.
We then start to introduce elements like the Last Planner®® system in terms of schedule management on their projects. As we are able to support them consistently and they’re able to see the benefits of improved planning and project execution, they start to see those elements a joy and fulfillment. Like many things when there is positive momentum it starts to feed on itself and we start to gain the momentum we need to improve and evolve as an industry.
One of the real insights that I have been blessed to see firsthand and I think back to what defined a great superintendent when I started. It was very much the guy that knew it all, one that would sit in the trailer till all hours of the night, and he would be the first one in the morning, and his phone would never stop, and he is looked worn out all the time. Now I see people that maybe later in the career, maybe the middle, maybe at the beginning that have the skill of facilitation to them; and are able to literally get so much more work done.
Lean is about a better way, such as empowering, informing and facilitating trade partners. It has been a really very cool progression in the time that I have been in the industry; and fire-fighting I respect those that do it for a living greatly but those doing construction there is a better way.
Flow revolves around a natural coordinated progression of something. Visually, it is like a river which flows in one direction, very linear, smooth fashioned and always moving. Work on a jobsite can embody the same characteristics as an always progressing, flowing river
Constraints are all around us and they are ripe for removal. It is the typical things that impact our ability to do the work that adds value for the customer. Constraints can be information, materials, equipment and resources. Increasingly, it is manpower, and the more trades people retire the more that we lack manpower on our project sites.
I aspire to be a servant leader. What I strive to do is remove constraints for our team wherein it is helpful for them but not invasive. If there is a key decision that needs to be made I am there to help them so that they can do their jobs effectively.
The superintendents are asked to do a lot in terms of their roles on the jobsites. They are always making decisions in terms of how to best facilitate on our sites and that is really where we strive to help. Our superintendents are servant leaders to our trade partners allowing them to be most efficient and effective in putting the work together with emphasis on safety, quality, schedule and budget.
It is interesting because my role within the team is similar to superintendents within our project structure. Our superintendents are expected to remove the constraints and coordinate the work with our trade partners. Increasingly, it is focused on facilitating our Last Planner® process in an optimal way that allows them to coordinate their work, to be efficient and effective so that they can all do the work that they love to do. Our best superintendents are very good at interacting and helping our trade partners to be successful on our sites.
In terms of process, I ask people to focus on safety first. Foundational safety supports us to help each other do the work that we love and go home at the end of every day. Foundational safety is the first place to focus, it supports our Lean initiative. It is about looking out for other people, it is about maintaining clean and organized worksite. Once we have that taken care of, now we can start to talk about Lean. Lean always starts from a place of respect – an attitude of respect – all of our trade partners should share. The attitude of our trade partners is critical to be able to be successful as part of the team. The best trade partners we work with know how to plan and execute their work in the best way. That is different for every organization, but great trade partners thought and planned their work before showing up to the jobsite. Ideally, we have integration events to plan different things but safety come from a place of respect, come prepared, plan and execute the work.
I think it goes to the simple things. “Know you work” is when you know what you are going to do and the optimal way in which you would like to do that. You can come into any planning session and you are able to coordinate in an efficient and effective way with other trade partners. It is not a trick, it is a process. There is a process to being able to really plan and execute the work and it can be really fun. It allows you to come in and help influence the outcome as opposed to just show up and say, “Where do you want me to start.” The trade partners that we love working with, they come with that attitude, they come with that preparation and they come with a great outcome.
Unfortunately, that is usually not the case. The typical arrangement is that the project management and estimating team for the trade partners gets the work. The actual field team that executes usually does not have knowledge of the specific scope, terms, and other items considered foundation knowledge. What most of them understand well is how to physically perform their work and that is different from planning and executing the work. Anybody can show up to an opening and install something but it is about knowing which opening at which time in what sequence and what flow and what rate are we looking to achieve the work. The best trade partners know how to plan, communicate, coordinate and execute their work, which allows the entire team to be successful.
I am a sports guy so I would love to draw sports analogies. Have we ever heard of a high-performing team that didn’t practice before the game? Would you say a high performance team is overproducing by practicing, studying the game plan and communicating? The answer is NO. I would say they are preparing.
I am fan of Patriot’s Bill Bellchick, he says, “Proper planning prevents poor performance.” Therefore, without the plan you are going to miss the ability to perform at a high level. Definitely not over preparing or over production in my mind.
It is actually fairly simple. No project manager in the industry will say NO if the trade partner called and says, “Hey, I would like to talk about how to really efficiently plan this work with you.” No superintendent with enough notice and enough planning that would say no to that as well. It is about proactively communicating and planning that intent. We create cultures where this kind of communication happens. It is simply about sitting down with the team, starting the communication, and then as things progress involve the rest of the trade partners and other people who are part of the team, and that coordination will allow you to execute your work better.
Be respectful of each other’s time. Come prepared to that conversation knowing that you have reviewed the documents, the scope of work and identified the specific questions you would like to work through. Ideally, it is visual in some fashion so we can use technology to support that. Again, it is actually quite simple; know your work, ask the questions, collaborate and execute your work. There is process that goes behind that and that’s a lot of what we do within the Last Planner®® system and within project level execution.
The scope of work is going to really drive how the costs are allocated and there is a lot of variables that go with it. Typically, 80% to 90% of the total construction cost is allocated to trade partners. That is why we say, “We are only good as our trade partners are.” That is why these efforts that we are all striving to undertake to improve the industry are so important to involve our trade partners in how we communicate and how we move forward as an industry.
It is difficult but the industry can achieve around 5% to 10% cost reduction. We see far greater than that depending on the nature of the work but that on itself is very reasonable.
We got a long way to go. There is so much opportunity but we have started. I have seen a lot of progress in the industry. It is a little bit disappointing to say, but we are not even half way there. I think about the amount of trade partners, the amount of coordination that we can improve upon. There is a lot of opportunity in our industry.
I would go ask my people, “How I can do a better job of supporting your efforts?” We need to talk with the people who do the work and find ways to support them to be more efficient, effective, and gain enjoyment in their work. The important thing is we need to ask, and then we need to act, and follow up. By doing that our people will grow an increase level of respect and appreciation for us as leaders. The better we do in supporting them, the better we do as an organization by being financially successful.
Value-wise we want to start with safety. There has to be a clear expectation of what the safety culture on the jobsite looks like. We need safety, communication and trust; it is difficult to do anything else well.
I believe that everything we do is a process – interaction with your team, family and friends – if you can make subtle improvements to those in a consistent way then you can naturally improve your organization. As a leader, having that mindset is really essential in the improvement of the organization.
I reflect on everything that is meaningful in my life that were all hard to accomplish. A parallel example to that is Fitness. It is not easy but that is why it works. If we are going to change behaviors, improve, and go to work in a different way we need to go through the growth, struggle and progression to be different.
I would just keep encouraging people to have perspective on the journey, it will be hard, so embrace the struggle as they are growing and changing. The outcomes, the improvements, the smiles on people’s faces make it completely worthwhile.
I love mornings like many of our superintendents do so I don’t see that necessarily changing. My hope is that – because of the improvements – our superintendents can go home at a set time each day to have quality time with their family and do the things that they love to experience life in its fullest.
Practice in terms of a construction team is like a professional sports team. None of those professional teams have ever showed up for a game day without first practicing together. In parallel with construction, since we are involved in motion and interacting together, it is really critical that we know the what, why, when and how we are doing our work.
Those conversations and that level of practice amongst trade partners needs to occur. An example would be any type of roughened sequence. We need to know what the other parties involved are doing directly – before, during and after us – so we understand what that integration looks like. We need to practice when we have an interaction and integration with our fellow teammates on the site. That is where I would see value added time in practice and that is what I would coach our teams to do.
There are different phases of practice, like before a game, it would be planning. This is our “get to know” phase with our trade partners where we talk about what will be our interactions and coordination. We have been implementing the concept of P4, and it has really improved our ability to interact with our trades to help get them into the work to really coordinate work sooner and to help us in that upfront planning stage. However, practice doesn’t stop there. Like a team, it is a season, we have multiple games so we want to focus on the learning – what went well and didn’t went well and how to improve our team.
Another phase of practice is the retrospective, where we do check on how we performed and then we execute again. Typically, we do post mortems with our trade partners and talk about the culture and execution. Another retrospective comes at the end of the project where we ask what did we learn as a whole? I love practice. I believe that practice and planning really helps us achieve success and continue to improve as an industry.
There is an old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” There is a bit of a contrary clarification to that that goes into the detail of “Perfect practice makes perfect.” Interestingly enough, both actually applies to construction. We are in a world that has many variables with what we do. In construction, to expect perfection is highly unrealistic. If we are going to wait for perfect practice to practice, we are going to wait a long time. We have to start, and the way we start to improve is by starting to practice as we continue to learn through our PDCA process – make those adjustments and continue to improve. We will not achieve perfection but we will get on the path to improvement. The better we can practice at a perfect level and a pursuit of perfection the better we will continue to be.