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On opening up my emial when I got home this afternoon I saw the e-mail newsletter I subscribe too had “Home Building” as the focus this week. I clicked through to read an article by Lynnette Simpson entitled Modular Homes Revolutionalize Home Building with Better Project Management. I didn’t find anything particulary startling there but it came with a poll that said

What seems most appealing about the system-built process?

  • Assembly line construction.
  • Lower costs.
  • Quality control.
  • Speed to market.

…I wanted a fifth choice:….All of the above.

Not having that available I gave my vote to “Quality control” in that I could see how “Lower Costs” and “Speed to Market” could be included as sub-sets of or results of “Quality control” improvements. Also I’m finding myself now thinking “Assembly line construction” could be good or bad depending upon how its applied or accomplished. If were talking about concepts like Flow, Lean, Pull, Drum-Buffer-Rope, or the Theory of Constraints as applied to a production line then I can see “Assembly line construction” as appealing or a beneficial construction method.but otherwise its just the same old problems all of us in construction face in a different wrapper.

Then again another interesting thought come to mind reading the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) being quoted as saying: “system-built construction is the fastest growing segment of the industry.  These factory built structures take advantage of a repeatable process, with lower costs, proven quality, and a quicker time-to-market.”

A little over a month ago in the project management forum I run as part of this site a contributor there was telling me that some of what I was saying was contrary to or contradictory to what the NAHB (officially) publishes regarding scheduling and production management. While I was sure that the books that the NAHB offers under their Builders Books label weren’t touching any of those concepts I mentioned above (yet) I wanted to see what they had to say about using CPM (Critcal Path Method) and most importantly how they addressed the effects of statistical variation in developing schedules. Having practiced CPM for some twenty something years I discovered empirically what TOC began to teach me (through understanding Herbie and the “hike”) seven years ago; that having no float or slack along the critical path gave you a schedule that was statistically and/or virtually impossible to achieve without crashing it or changing its scope. If you made promises based on a no float- no safety schedule you were essentially promising your client something you really couldn’t deliver on or you were promising you’d work overtime to deliver it (crashing).

This fellow was taking me to task essentially saying that the NAHB books say Critical Path activities absoultley can’t have slack where the Critical Path definition I was arguing for was that the Critical Path “is the longest sequence of activities in a network. Usually, but not always, a sequence with zero float.” (Critical Chain Project Management by Lawrence P. Leach Feb 2000 ) or “The series of tasks that must finish on time for the entire project to finish on schedule. The line of project activities having the least float , especially when float is close to, or below zero.” There is an important difference between those two definition in my estimation.

Soooo,…I went online and ordered the book that this fellow was holding against me to see what it really had to say. In the process of placing the order the website informed me that it would take three to five days to process the order and then I should allow another thee to five weeks for delivery. Hmmmnnn,… right then I began to wonder….

That was back on Monday, June 16

It’s now July 21st and it still hasn’t arrived yet.

Geez I’m thinking, this is the NAHB approved book on production management and scheduling? Just how good or authoritative can the book be if they can’t deliver it to me within a week or much less a month? It’s been over a month now and if I take the scheduling information they gave me they’ve already passed the best case scenario and if if I doesn’t arrive by next Monday it is in ever sense of the word (both theirs and mine) LATE.

I’m going to put my money on it NOT getting here on-time.

Back on Wed July 9, 2003 I contacted their customer service through their website where I ordered the book saying “I would like to cancel this order for this book how do I do that?” and I never received a reply or even an acknowledgement to that message and my VISA hasn’t been credited with the price I was charged for the book so I’m thinking it’s still on it way.

The NAHB may very well be correct and accurate in saying: “system-built construction is the fastest growing segment of the industry.” but I’m sorry to say I would not look to the NAHB or the building and remodeling industry in general as an example or model of better project or production management practice.

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J. Jerrald Hayes
Primus Inter Pares at Paradigm Projects, Ltd.
I am an architectural woodworker and general contractor turned IT, Business and Project Management consultant, software developer wannabe senior division triathlete and ski racer, Yankee fan and founder of, 360 Difference, and now too.
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