In the news: New research sheds light on productivity and competency

This article originally appeared in the Journal Of Commerce (retrieved June 28, 2016 from

by Russell Hixson  


This month in Edmonton, industry and academia met to explore research advancements in construction productivity and organizational competency.
New research sheds light on productivity and competency

The one-day event was hosted by the University of Alberta Hole School of Construction Engineering under the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Strategic Construction Modeling and Delivery (SCMD).

“Today’s workshop was an important milestone in this long standing research program, wherein we were able to share our very significant and ground-breaking findings in areas of great concern and impact for the construction industry,” said Dr. Aminah Robinson Fayek, chairholder of the NSERC IRC in SCMD.

IRC board chair Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, adds: “Canada’s construction industry can only benefit from this type of robust engagement between academic research and real-world project-level application — especially as it relates to improving productivity and efficiency.”

The research focused on improving construction labour productivity, critical project practices and people skills related to project performance.

The research is a collaboration between the University of Alberta, the NSERC and nine construction industry stakeholders under NSERC IRC in SCMD.

An extensive multi-year productivity study was conducted to collect job site data from several projects across Alberta.

The research found that management and trade workers view productivity factors differently, particularly in relation to crew experience, training, and co-operation; fairness of work assignments and treatment by foremen; frequency of accidents; stringency of safety rules; availability of drawings and specifications, required hand tools and quality of materials; and frequency of rework.

Researchers also found that tool time is not a good predicator of labour productivity; however, improving tool time while simultaneously improving factors and practices impacting productivity can yield significant improvements of up to 1.5 times better productivity.

De Jong stated that the findings of this study provide the construction industry with valuable insight into how to improve labour productivity on their projects by identifying the most significant factors and practices affecting productivity.

Another study was conducted with several owner and contractor organizations across Alberta to identify the levels of competencies on projects in terms of organizational and project practices (functional competencies) and project team members’ skills (behavioural competencies) and relate them to project key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure the success of projects against planned values in terms of cost, schedule, safety, quality, productivity, and satisfaction.

Although owners and contractors evaluated the importance of certain competencies differently, they agreed on the relative importance of functional competencies related to safety, engineering and procurement, cost, risk, integration, quality, communication, human resources competencies, and behavioural competencies related to training, consultation, motivation, negotiation and crisis resolution, self-control, reliability and commitment.

Owners showed a higher maturity level in some competencies including safety, environmental management, contract administration and commissioning and start-up, while contractors showed a higher maturity level in other competencies including scope management, cost management, time management and resource management.

On the behavioural side, owners agreed more strongly than contractors that their teams possessed certain behavioural competencies. By modelling the relationship between competencies and performance (KPIs), it was found that significant improvements in project KPIs could be realized by increasing the level of maturity of a functional competency or level of agreement of a behavioural competency; when simultaneous improvements in multiple competencies were made, the improvements in KPIs were even more significant.

The findings of this study provide construction industry practitioners with a method by which to evaluate their projects and teams and benchmark their competencies against other owners and contractors.

It also provides organizations with a method to quantify the relationship between project competencies and project performance and to identify areas for improvement, leading to more targeted and effective training programs and a greater return on investments in training. Enhancing productivity and performance has become a core focus of the Alberta industrial and commercial construction industries, which face significant pressures to reduce capital costs and compete with international markets.

According to de Jong, both studies are being expanded with additional data collection on projects from different construction sectors, so that results can be targeted to specific project contexts. Implementation of the data collection and reporting methodologies in database software form is complete; the next stage in development is to link the databases to the intelligent models that can be used to improve construction labour productivity and project competencies and performance.