Embracing Lean Six Sigma in construction and utilities with FYLD

The construction and utilities sectors are frequently plagued by delays, interruptions, and unexpected challenges, leading to significant cost overruns and project delays. According to the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC), approximately 72% of projects encounter delays, with the majority experiencing cost overruns, adding an average of 24% to the project’s budget.

These financial implications impact both contractors and project owners, potentially straining their relationships and leading to contentious communication during the project lifecycle. In response to these challenges, we see our customers across the sector increasingly embracing Lean Six Sigma methodology paired with adopting digital transformation tools powered by AI. This combination offers a robust framework to drive efficiency, enhance quality, and reduce variability and waste, as demonstrated in manufacturing and service sectors.

It is clear that the sector needs to adopt more rigorous and structured approaches, aided by technology that helps provide reliable data on performance. Lean Six Sigma offers just such a proven methodology to drive efficiency, enhance quality, and reduce variability and waste, as demonstrated in manufacturing and service sectors.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma combines Lean’s principles of waste reduction and flow improvement with Six Sigma’s focus on reducing variability and enhancing quality. This methodology has been instrumental in the manufacturing sector, where even minor inefficiencies and defects can lead to significant cumulative costs. For instance, on an automotive assembly line, a delay of a few seconds per cycle can disrupt the entire process, leading to substantial financial losses and operational inefficiencies for the company.

Similar to manufacturing, in the realm of field work, unforeseen events or those that are anticipated but not adequately planned for can disrupt operations, leading to significant downtime. An example of this is when a construction crew is excavating a site to install new utility lines. Despite meticulous planning and surveys, they unexpectedly encounter a hidden buried service that went unnoticed during the initial assessments. This unexpected discovery brings the work to a standstill as engineers must promptly assess the situation, reroute the utility lines, and ensure the safety of the crew and surrounding infrastructure before work can resume. These unplanned interruptions not only extend project timelines but also result in additional costs and resource allocation to address the issue. It underscores the critical importance of proactive measures and real-time insights to effectively manage risks and maintain operational efficiency in field operations.

Delays not only incur direct costs and time-consuming efforts to address them but also trigger a domino effect on the entire project schedule. Repercussions cascade through the program, necessitating comprehensive re-planning and rescheduling efforts. Established timelines for material deliveries, equipment rentals, specialised services, and labour allocation all require meticulous revision. Moreover, the advantageous terms negotiated and volume discounts secured are supplanted by ad hoc pricing and premium rates for hastily arranged modifications.

Adding to the complexity, the repercussions on schedule and cost projections are not linear. A delay of just one month can reverberate throughout the entire program, causing multiple months of disruption to the scheduled completion. Furthermore, the financial ramifications extend far beyond the pro-rated value of the delay period, often resulting in costs that are many times greater than anticipated.

Bridging the skills and age gaps

One of the fundamental principles of Lean Six Sigma is to empower employees at all levels, ensuring they have the necessary skills and knowledge to contribute to process improvements.

As the retiring workforce exits, they take with them a wealth of experience and tacit knowledge that is challenging to transfer to younger employees entering the workforce. This generation not only expects access to advanced technology, but may also be deterred from joining the industry upon learning that many companies in the utilities and construction sectors still lack modern tools and digital workforce experiences. Recent findings from a survey conducted among global energy executives highlight a pressing concern: 56% of utility recruiters identify the ageing workforce and inadequate training as their foremost challenge. This sentiment resonates with our utility partners, echoing the reality of a significant skills gap in the industry.

FYLD addresses these issues by offering a digital platform that facilitates the transfer of knowledge through video and audio documentation, real-time data sharing, and intuitive interfaces that appeal to tech-savvy younger workers. By training AI with the expertise of more experienced workers as well as leveraging company knowledge, through tools like our Video Risk Assessments (VRAs), FYLD enhances the capabilities of field teams. This blend of human expertise and advanced technology allows both seasoned veterans and newer fieldworkers to enhance their capabilities and adapt to more efficient workflows.

Boosting real-time data & visibility

Lean Six Sigma emphasises data-driven decision-making. This is the cornerstone of FYLD, which provides real-time data and visibility, transforming video and audio footage into actionable insights for managers and fieldworkers. Our platform enables managers to monitor multiple sites remotely, approve risk assessments, and allocate jobs efficiently which ensures that decisions are based on current and accurate information. This proactive approach not only reduces job blockers but also elevates overall job quality, setting new benchmarks for excellence in field operations.

While manufacturing heavily relies on precise measurement and statistical analysis (such as determining that “2% of assembled vehicles have a detected defect in final quality, taking an average of 2 hours to fix, with 5% of these defects requiring over 8 hours for repair”), infrastructure projects typically rely on heuristics and rule-of-thumb approaches (“we anticipate needing the crane on-site for two weeks”) rather than data-driven metrics (“based on historical performance data for projects of similar size and complexity, we estimate that the crane will be required on-site and operational from 12:00 on Tuesday, the 4th, through to 15:00 on Thursday, the 6th”).

In scenarios where historical data is lacking, making accurate estimates becomes challenging, particularly for unique projects that follow bespoke programs. Anticipating potential challenges early on becomes crucial for effective project management, allowing time for mitigation, containment, and assimilation of unforeseen events.

FYLD plays a pivotal role in this regard, offering the capability to observe and comprehend on-site activities—a crucial asset in the realm of infrastructure and field engineering. This includes understanding the current state of the site, ongoing activities, and planned next steps. Combined with contextual program knowledge and expertise in identifying potential risks, FYLD equips management with the necessary data to react swiftly to delays and unexpected events, minimising their impact. Additionally, FYLD leverages AI to interpret site observations and predict potential consequences, proposing suitable mitigations to proactively address issues as they arise.

Streamlining communication and reducing reactive management

Effective communication is critical to achieve Lean Six Sigma goals. FYLD bridges the disjointed communication gap that often exists between where work happens (in the field) and where critical decisions are often made (in the office). Our platform centralises data and communication, creating a full audit trail that enhances compliance and accountability. By facilitating real-time updates and streamlined communication, FYLD positions management from reactive to proactive, anticipating issues before they escalate.

Take SGN, for example, a gas distribution network operating in the South of England and Scotland, which faced challenges due to OFGEM’s price controls (RIIO-2) implemented in 2021. SGN needed to transform its operations to reduce costs, focusing on increasing manager spans of control and improving productivity and efficiency. By deploying FYLD and using our Video Risk Assessments (VRAs) and real-time job site visibility features across 750 users, SGN was able to achieve more than a 20% increase in site spans of control, saving 10,400 fieldworker hours and realising £4.2 million in annual benefits.

FYLD helps by providing the ability to “see and hear” what is happening on-site, offering a vital tool for management in the world of infrastructure and field engineering. This real-time data allows management to react quickly to contain any potential impact from any delays and unexpected events.

“The world of engineering and construction is bedevilled by delay, interruption, and the unexpected”, says Jon Bentley, FYLD’s strategic partner. “Unanticipated events disrupt fieldwork, often resulting in significant programme delays and increased costs. FYLD helps by providing real-time visibility and data-driven insights, enabling proactive management and efficient resolution of issues. Even better, interventions can prevent them arising or mitigate their impact”.

While Lean Six Sigma isn’t new in utilities and field engineering, it has not been effectively applied in the field, where bespoke, one-off projects are the norm. FYLD offers a solution by bringing real-time data, advanced analytics, and intuitive digital tools to the construction and utilities sectors. By doing so, we help leaders and field teams apply the principles of Lean-Sigma and so achieve higher levels of efficiency and productivity.

Interested in learning more about how FYLD can support your company achieve Lean Six Sigma goals? Get in touch with us today!