- Establish a consistent work flow. Don Simon Homes, a large volume builder in Madison, WI, slashed its cycle time to 65 days by switching to even-flow production in which the company started and finished a house each working day. Even-flow production gave its trades a routine, dependable schedule and knocked at least 10 days off its production cycle time. Previously, the company built its homes in 75 to 80 days.
If your volume’s not large enough to warrant a new start every day, starting homes on certain days of the week (Mondays, for example) will make your production cycle more regular and help tighten up trade contractors’ schedules.
- Remove bottlenecks. Troubleshoot your construction process and you won’t need safety nets for late pours, misplaced framing, unscheduled demo work and the like. You’ll have fewer glitches, too.
“We conducted focus groups with our trades to find out how to do the job right the first time,” says Jeff Simon, vice president of operations for Don Simon Homes. “We took out variables we’d put in for delays in the interest of better building practices.”
- Make sure your sites are ready. If a trade contractor comes over for nothing because the site isn't ready for him, that’s called a dry run. Contractors don't like dry runs. “We’ve measured dry runs as high as 60%,” says Emma Shinn, a business consultant with the Lee Evans Group in Littleton, CO. “That’s a killer for trades and they won’t show up on time.”
San Diego-based Hallmark Communities had that problem until Joe Lawn, director of construction and customer service, set up exacting site-prep and clean-up procedures. That move, and giving trades production schedules a month in advance, cut about 16 days from the company’s cycle time.
- Share info upfront. “Know your song well before you start singing it,” Lawn says. “Otherwise, if you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” During pre-construction meetings, Hallmark’s trades go over the schedule, receive plot plans and cut sheets, and discuss what worked — and what didn’t — on plans they’ve built before. The trades are expected to scope out sites beforehand so they have all dimensions and other information they need to hit the ground running.
- Track homes regularly. “If you set up a schedule and look at it when you’re all through, you’re kidding yourself,” says Tom Standky, president of Pulte Homes’ Minnesota division. His supers meet with trades each week to iron out problems and ensure that trades adhere to the production schedule. “If there’s a trade contractor who’s consistently causing a problem, sit down with him and discuss the reasons,” Standky advises.
- Don’t let customers dawdle over selections. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a month. Instead, write selection deadlines into your contract. If customers don’t pick out products by a certain time, do it for them.
- Train your construction crews. Everyone may have different ideas about the way homes should be built. You need to train field workers in standard operations so they do things the way you want them done. Besides trimming cycle time, it’s a good quality assurance practice.
- Document your process. You have written specs, right? Write down your production processes, too. Don’t rely on your memory. You may get lucky and produce a great home this time. But if you forget a step or forget to pass on some information to a superintendent on the next one, you won’t do it again. The next home will probably take longer, too.
- Benchmark your company. Compare your production processes with those of other home builders. Do they deliver homes faster than you do? If so, what can you learn from them?
- Look outside the industry, too. Studying Harley-Davidson’s “lean manufacturing” process gave the folks at Don Simon Homes ideas for cutting their cycle time.
How do you know when you’ve achieved the “right” cycle time? There’s no magic number, because so much depends on your product and resources. However, when you complete homes sooner, your customers are happier, profits go up and costs stay at reasonable levels, you’ll know you’ve got a good grip on cycle time.
After you've trimmed your cycle time, don't rest on your laurels. Keep at it constantly. “There is never a finish line for cycle time,” says Shinn. “You can always find ways of doing it better and faster.”
BuilderBooks.com offers several books to help you systematize your business and reduce cycle time. All are available online:
NAHB's Business Management Department offers a variety of resources to help you run your business better and more profitably. For articles and information about human resources, financial management, sales, production, technology, customer service and other business-related topics that are available on the NAHB members-only Web site, click here.