One of the basic problems in housing construction today…in terms of achieving the cost benefits of assembly-line efficiency…is that not enough houses are built at each building site to allow trial-run debugging to extend or project itself over tens of thousands…or hundreds of thousands…of identical products.
For most housing construction projects, after all of the construction problems are resolved…the construction is complete…the house is built…and we move on to a new and different project.
Problem-solving and debugging are an integral part of every new housing construction project…usually from start to finish…because the same product is not repeated in large enough numbers to “build” upon past experience to the point of assembly-line perfection.
An assembly-line approach cannot be used because of the practical reality that houses are too large in size to be fully assembled at one location and then transported overland to another. Each new house must be assembled piece by piece at its exact location on the building site…and because houses occupy space…only so many can fit on each project site.
Each new housing construction project is therefore a one-time event…limited in time duration by the total number of houses to be built at that site. Each project is separated from other projects by the distance between building sites…along with the economic competition between rival construction companies.
New housing construction projects have only one opportunity for defensive, proactive problem-solving and assembly-line debugging. Builders, subcontractors, superintendents, forepersons, and tradespeople must be prepared ahead of time to debug the individual peculiarities of each new housing construction project…or suffer the consequences of schedule delays, cost overruns, and dissatisfied homebuyers.
Like baseball, basketball, or football games…new housing construction projects must have both a defensive and offensive game-plan to achieve success.
This is the blunt and brutally honest opening reality to practical housing construction management…because problem-solving is a part of every person’s work experience on the construction jobsite.
From the apprentice finish carpenter on a tract housing project setting “pre-fit” door components into the rough framed door openings…discovering an opening every six or seven houses that is either two-inches too narrow or too high because the framer mistakenly used the wrong header…who tells his foreman who then goes to find the framer to fix it…to the plumber who discovers at the start of the rough plumbing in one of the tract houses a 6×12 structural wood beam in the floor directly underneath where a bathroom toilet is shown on the architectural plans…completely blocking the location for the toilet drain pipe…to the project manager trying to get the framing contractor to hire the right mix of piece-work crews and individual hourly framing carpenters for the optimum manpower requirements to stay on schedule…rather than the optimum manpower numbers that are financially beneficial for the framing contractor but not the fastest in terms of time…everyone on the jobsite is a participant in proactive mistake-prevention and reactive after-the-fact problem-solving.
As stated earlier in the Introduction…expanded upon here…there is a reason why repetitive problems and mistakes occur over and over again in building construction…that reason is geography…and it must be understood as one of the driving factors that makes building construction unique amongst all manufacturing industries.
Geography is the change agent in building construction that makes it one of the most interesting and satisfying industries to work in. No two projects are exactly alike…in terms of architectural style, size, price, and quality of amenities.
But geography is also the limiting factor that precludes building construction from mass-production assembly-line efficiency and economy.
No other fully assembled, massive-sized manufactured product is too large to be transported to its final destination…other than civil engineering projects like river dams or underground subways…because all other large products other than buildings…are mobile.
Passenger cruise ships, cargo ships, and navy aircraft carriers are lowered from dry-dock into the water and motor off to their destinations. 747 airliners are rolled out of their assembly hangars, fueled-up, and take-off down runways to their home airports. Vacation motor-homes are likewise fueled-up and driven down the highway to their sales dealerships.
But houses…the smallest sized buildings… are too large to be transported to building sites after they are fully assembled. Houses are therefore assembled piece-by-piece on their individual sites…and attached to the ground on foundations designed to match the unique size and shape of the structure.
Transporting larger sized structures such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, high-rise office buildings, and industrial buildings…from an assembly plant to their final destination…in terms of practical logistics is beyond consideration.
Buildings of all types are therefore assembled on unique building lots spread out all over the countryside…which in terms of manufacturing debugging and proactive mistake prevention…divides the process into tens of thousands of isolated pieces…isolated, finite pieces of time and physical space.
This geographical separation of building construction projects…the breaking up of the mass-production assembly-line…presents some challenging problems unique to the building construction industry.
Again, two similar housing construction projects, for example, going up side-by-side, built by different companies, can each be making the same costly mistakes without either one knowing about or being able to benefit from the other’s experience. The result is that hundreds of thousands of people working in housing construction alone…not counting commercial and industrial building construction…find themselves at different points on the uphill slope of the learning curve, repeating many of the same hard-earned lessons.
This is one of the fundamental problems still remaining in building construction. Builders, contractors, and architects do not send memos back and forth regarding mistake avoidance. Every new building construction project struggles with some amount of assembly-line problems that were encountered and solved months or years ago on other projects…yet this information is locked-up within the geographical footprint of these past projects, and locked away within the closely guarded knowledge and experience of savvy people and companies unable or unwilling to share this information…because of economic competition between companies and competition for employment.
In my opinion, debugging building construction is the last major area of information remaining to complete the technology of building construction. Because of the uniqueness of every new building construction project, and the lack of communication in the building industry regarding mistake prevention, the only way to achieve progress in this area is record problems and mistakes one-by-one as they occur, and then pass along this information.