Symphonies Played in the Dirt

Jan. 1, 2008
Gx Bug Web

Grading & Excavation Contractor spends a lot of time investigating and talking about technology and how it in its various guises helps make your efforts more productive and thereby more profitable, but as we begin this new year we want to make it clear that we know that the operable word here is help. It is, as it was in the beginning, the person at the stick, wheel, lever, or (yes, it’s happening) the keyboard who puts all the neat stuff into motion.

The truth is that I can’t pass a job site without stopping to watch and marvel at the concert of activities on display, brought into being through—if I may be excused for borrowing terms normally reserved for extraordinary musicians—the virtuosity of whole cast of performers. Rarely am I the only gawker awestruck by variety of separate skills brought to bear on a project whose objectives—like those of a symphony—unfold over time, and I find myself wondering how many of my fellow watchers wish they too possessed the talents displayed by people who in other realms would receive a welcoming round of applause upon taking the stage, followed by a thunderous ovation at the conclusion of the performance.

While the music analogy is appropriate to the construction world, there are some glaring exceptions, perhaps the most conspicuous of which is the “fleet up” process. In construction there are no grade-school bands, high-school orchestras, or entry-level rock bands where a sour note, while painful, is expected. Not so in dirt-moving activities at the job site. Here a clinker has consequences that range from costly to fatal in the blink of an eye.

Orchestrating Change
As we advance through the first decade of the 21st century, we have in our hands increasingly productive equipment and management systems whose capabilities often require new approaches to the way we do business. While much of what we see in the way of equipment change falls into the Kaizen system of continuous improvement (“10% more horsepower” or “17% more glass area”), the more technologically advanced areas of site measurement and machine control systems are mandating fundamental changes in the way we approach, manage, and accomplish construction projects.

On one level, it’s the equipment along with the underlying software that are bases for change, but that’s only a piece of what amounts to a revolution taking place not only in construction but nearly every field of endeavor on the planet … a revolution rooted in the way we perceive and then manage projects. It is the second great revolution of the computer age and it belongs to those willing to take the leap from task orientation to one that encompasses an entire project … and beyond.

While this vision begins with you and your project managers, its successful employment rests in the hands of your operators, and as such it’s critical that they share the vision as well. Where there’s buy-in by management and the operators, good things tend to happen, but where there’s reluctance on either side to adapt to the requirements of the new systems, the result can be costly from the standpoint of the investment involved and the squandered opportunity.

A case in point is the situation in which a contractor purchases a machine control device only to find that the transition gets in the way of meeting schedules or that his operators feel they can do just as well without it.

Meeting the scheduling dilemma is a matter of finding (or making) holes in your schedule to accommodate the necessary learning activities.

Configuring your machinery for machine control may no longer be the challenge it was in the past, but its adoption is not a trivial undertaking either from the standpoint of getting the system in full working order and becoming familiar with its operating characteristics, or—and this part is critical—coming to grips with the far more challenging process of understanding and then taking advantage of the opportunities lying in wait in the electronic work site.

For this transition to take place, it is essential that all of your operators understand not only the equipment and technologies at their fingertips but the underlying reasons for their adoption. With so much at stake, anything less than an all-hands commitment is unacceptable.