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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ward

Eliminating Invisible Waste in Construction Projects

by Michael Ward

Introducing Michael Ward

As a management consultant specialising in the construction industry Michael Ward undertook the Graduate Diploma of Ontological Coaching because he could see that an ontological approach to construction projects could offer significant benefits. He had been aware for many years of the significant waste that occurred in billion dollar projects, however this waste was not always recognised.

Michael emphasises that unrecognised waste is invisible waste. Utilising his learning in the Graduate Diploma of the indispensable importance of effectively making and managing of commitments for organisational performance and workplace morale, Michael has very successfully supported project teams with the Commitments Wall process.

Invisible Waste

Waste is so common in construction projects that it can be invisible to the participants. Some examples of common occurrences of waste are:

  • planned labour and plant resources do not arrive as expected

  • documentation authorising compliance for labour and plant incomplete

  • labour is delayed whilst all pre- commencement requirements are completed

  • insufficient components are available for installation requiring revisit for crews

  • rework in fitting or placing

  • rework of completed work to repair defects or omissions

  • requirements for paper forms and records when electronic processes are available

  • limited administration resources result in bottlenecks delaying production

  • procurement errors and delays

  • workforce resource planning does not allow for leave, training and similar factors limiting available resources

  • design documents do not communicate requirements clearly for work crews

  • plans are not aligned and effectively communicated

Unfortunately, on a day-to-day basis these common occurrences are accepted as ‘normal’, rendering the waste invisible and frequent occurrences do not trigger remedial actions. The measurement to identify the value being lost is not in place. This may limit the response to local efforts or resignation by those directly affected that remedies are organisational and beyond their capacity to rectify.

Collaboration, coordination and trust are essential if projects are to be completed on time within budget. This necessitates high quality conversations and the successful making and managing of commitments, which include the essential conversational practices of:

  • careful listening

  • checking for shared understanding

  • the constructive use of assessments/opinions

  • the skilful application of requests and promises

  • the effective use of moods.

The Commitments Wall

The Commitments Wall is a process that builds performance-based reliability through:

  • provision of clarity in relation to individual commitments

  • a collaborative forum where tasks being committed are discussed and “determined ready for completion”

  • use of visual management to highlight the commitments made

  • review meeting to assess performance

  • posting charts with metrics that highlight the performance trends

  • driving continuous improvement through root cause analysis of reasons behind tasks not being completed

From our attendance at the regular weekly progress meeting following the initial presentation and discussion around the Commitments Wall process the following has consistently been observed:

  • the team appears motivated and is committed to do well

  • the team are open in their conversations and there is a spirit of collaboration

  • team members bring differing levels of experience and involvement with the project

  • there was a strong level of support for the commitments wall initiative

  • there is an opportunity for more definitive ownership of tasks

  • there is an opportunity for defining milestones

  • there is a willingness to pursue higher levels of performance

  • there is a belief in the team that higher levels of performance can be achieved

  • the language used reflects a “will do” and not a “wish”

  • each meeting now has a clear agenda and a process that leads to commitment to act

The Commitments Wall in action

The Commitments Wall provides the common reference point for all team meetings. The photograph provides an example of a Commitments Wall in action, with different groups within the project posting the various tasks they are involved in and when they commit to complete their tasks. This ensures all aspects of the project are visible to the entire project team, providing the opportunity for clarification and discussion about the progress of different components of the project and the project overall. This includes conversations about commitments that have not been met and are past their deadline for completion.

The Commitments Wall allows for structured conversations. Leadership is crucial to ensure that moods remain positive, that constructive conversations for performance and clarifying different understandings occur on a regular basis and that meetings are well conducted.

The Commitments Wall meeting structure is pivotal to the success of the project and this is outlined below:

Step 1. Review last week’s commitments

  • Each individual in turn reviews their tasks and the outcome

  • Tasks are assessed as complete or not complete

  • Where not complete an assessment of “Why” to establish the root cause

  • Completed tasks re marked with a “Green” dot

  • Not complete tasks are marked with a “Red” dot

Step 2. Metrics

  • The metric is % task complete / tasks planned

  • An excel graph is constructed to provide the results over time

Step 3. Next week

  • In turn each team member describes and posts on a post it note the tasks committed for next week

  • The team member will ask other team members in relation to precedent activities confirming input information will be available and precedent tasks will be completed

Step 4. Meeting leader

Meeting leader leads discussion in relation to the tasks posted to confirm:

  • that the posted tasks are aligned with longer term program

  • issues arising for immediate and future action have been identified.

Closing comments

There are significant cost savings on offer for project teams who introduce processes and measurements to improve the reliability of workflow through enhanced communication, planning and focus. Measuring the cost of waste caused by breakdowns in reliability may provide the motivation. Some basic tips to ensure the success of the Commitments Wall process are:

  • make the Commitments Wall attractive;

  • bring positive energy to every meeting;

  • encourage and enable other team members to do well; and

  • be relentless in pursuing excellence through improvement and innovation.

Michael Ward works with Alchimie as a consultant and executive coach and he can be contacted at

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