I get it, it’s tough managing crews and teams in the field. Even with all the new technology available to us, there are still a large number of problems that you have to react to on a daily basis. Every contractor with crews we talked to has some degree of these challenges managing people in the field.
Lets break down why this is a problem: A Distributed Environment
The primary challenge managing crews in the field is the gap between the field and the office. Superintendents and Project Managers are managing crews over a wide area from a central office. This scenario is familiar, a central location and distributed teams that operate in a semi autonomous environment. I proudly served in the US Army, 82nd Airborne in what seems like a lifetime ago. The military operates in a similar environment with centralized command and distributed units (company/platoon/squad) operating in harsh conditions. Communication tools may be different but the challenges are similar: how to communicate to crews exactly what they are supposed to do with the right tools & materials and how and when to do it.
Operating in a distributed environment creates some inherent challenges:
What can you do about it?
When —not if— things don’t go according to plan, make sure your crew lead or foreman has enough information to make a decision. There will be times that crews in the field will not be able to call you from their cell phones, so they need clear direction on what they can and can’t do. There is a really good book, even better on Audiobook “Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. In the book, the authors discuss the challenges (among other things) of effective communication in a distributed environment where units ‘must’ make decision on the fly without the ability to call someone at HQ. One of the big takeaways from the book was that Jacko and Leif developed a process to make sure everyone knew what they were supposed to do and provide an overall “Mission Goal” that everyone could simply understand. The Mission Goal was critical for setting up the clear objective for leaders in the field to make better decisions.
With the current labor shortage, it’s becoming more important to manage crews effectively to increase labor productivity. This means getting more work done with fewer people. You should be doing this whether there’s a labor shortage or not. Part of your emphasis should be in evaluating and using the tools that help improve productivity as well as looking at your management and work process for improvements on a regular basis.