Improving Frontline Supervision in Industrial Construction

RT-330 Topic Summary
RT 330


Co-sponsored by CURT

Frontline supervisors – Foremen and General Foremen – are responsible for translating construction plans into productive practice. Despite the importance of these roles, RT-330’s experience and research findings indicate weaknesses in frontline supervision and associated opportunities for improvement.

Several hundred surveys and interviews conducted by RT-330 validated the hypotheses that, in general, the Foremen and General Foremen working on today’s industrial construction sites lack the competencies needed to adequately lead and manage their workforce.

The principal conclusions of the research include the following:

  1. Ten core competencies are uniformly seen as important to Foreman and General Foreman performance. These fundamental competencies are the same across all project types (i.e., traditional, maintenance, and Advanced Work Packaging).
  2. Survey and interview data support the hypothesis that both Foremen and General Foremen competency levels in the industry are below desirable levels. This is particularly true for Foremen. Investment to improve these competencies may be one of the biggest opportunities the industry has to improve construction productivity and performance.
  3. On projects of all types, survey results show that Foremen and General Foremen spend a considerable amount of time away from what the RT-330 research designated as ideal or target time budgeted for their primary tasks. While some variation is to be expected, better allocation of frontline supervisor time could yield significant productivity improvements.
  4. There is evidence that Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) improves frontline supervision time on task compared to traditional projects. Time differences are significant in aggregate. Interview results demonstrate that AWP project frontline supervisors provide more uniformly focused answers about their tasks than do traditional project frontline supervisors.
  5. AWP training is generally seen as beneficial to Foremen and General Foremen on both traditional and AWP projects.

RT-330’s overarching recommendation is that the capital projects industry must collectively invest in training and educating frontline supervisors. This especially holds true for Foremen. The transient nature of the position, moving from project to project, makes it difficult for individual firms and projects to justify investing in a Foreman’s professional development. The needed training and education should focus on the 10 competencies outlined in the RT-330 findings, and the research team finds that this recommendation applies equally to both union and open-shop construction. A supporting recommendation is that AWP training, as part of the proposed broader education efforts, can prove beneficial to Foremen and General Foremen, whether they work within AWP or traditional execution environments.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Ten Core Competencies or Skills Are Common to Both Foremen and General Foremen

Ten Core Competencies or Skills Common to Both Foremen and General Foremen
  1. General Construction Knowledge
  2. Trade-specific Knowledge
  3. Verbal Communications
  4. Written Communications
  5. Pre-Planning
  6. Problem-solving
  7. Ethical Values System
  8. People Management
  9. Leadership
  10. Proactive and Goal-driven

These competencies comprise a variety of skills, but their foundations are the same across Foremen and General Foremen.

Reference: (FR-330)

2 : Foremen Perform 10 Common Activities Each Day; General Foremen Perform Eight

Ten Common Activities Foremen Perform Each Day          Eight Common Activities General Foremen Perform Each Day
  1. Meetings – Client/Coordination/Scheduling/Look Ahead
  2. Plan/Prioritize Tasks & Fallback Work (“Plan B”)
  3. Safety-related Activities – Meetings/JHA Development/Inspections/Action Items/Sign/Review FLHAs
  4. Complete Paperwork
  5. Coordinate with Other Crews/Support
  6. Supervise/Motivate/Execute
  7. Plan for Future Work
  8. Work on Tools with Crew
  9. Receive/Check/Verify Materials in Area
  10. Move Crews to Contingency Work
  1. Meetings – Client/Coordination/Scheduling/Look Ahead
  2. Plan/Prioritize Tasks & Fallback Work (“Plan B”) with Foremen
  3. Safety-related Activities – Meetings/JHA Development/Inspections/Action Items/Sign/Review FLHAs
  4. Constraint Management – Ensure FM has all crane support/scaffold/material/equipment
  5. Follow up with FM & Crews Throughout Day – Work Area Reviews/Productivity Check in Field
  6. Work Package Development – Model Review/FIWP Review/FIWP Schedule/Close-out FIWPs
  7. Communicate with Field Engineers – Develop Estimates for Extra Work/RFIs
  8. Complete Progress/Timesheets/Forecasts/Review Installed Quantities/Cost Codes

Based on its review of the typical responsibilities, RT-330 established daily target time ranges for each of these activities that Foremen and General Foremen perform.
Reference: (FR-330)

3 : Foremen and General Foremen Self-report Spending Time Suboptimally

Self-reporting by hundreds of Foremen and General Foremen shows that many are spending time above or below the target for each of their tasks. The spread of time is very wide and indicates a large opportunity for the industry to improve. More time on productive tasks (and less time on required but non-productive tasks) will likely increase field productivity metrics.

Reference: (FR-330)

4 : Foremen and General Foremen Need More Training and Education

Training and education are seen to be lacking among Foremen and General Foremen. While the majority of frontline supervisors report receiving education and training on basic tasks, they self-report having received little training on basic construction management skills (e.g., scheduling and estimating), and even less training on more advanced skills (e.g., 3D models, Lean Construction, and Advanced Work Packaging). These data support RT-330's proposition that the industry is under-investing in education for frontline supervisors.

Reference: (FR-330)

5 : AWP Training Appears to Improve Frontline Supervisors' Productivity

Both Foremen and General Foremen with AWP training are shown to spend time closer to target times in several areas, suggesting that training does have positive effects beneficial to productivity.

Reference: (FR-330)

6 : AWP Projects Demonstrate Better Construction Productivity

Irrespective of training, on several tasks both Foremen and General Foremen allocated their time closer to target on AWP projects than on Traditional projects. This result supported findings from CII research teams 272 and 319, that AWP increases construction productivity.

Reference: (FR-330)

Key Performance Indicators

Field productivity, Construction cost, Construction schedule

Research Publications

Improving Frontline Supervision in Industrial Construction - FR-330

Publication Date: 12/2018 Type: Final Report Pages: 60 Status: Tool

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Improving Frontline Supervision in Industrial Construction

Publication Date: 08/2017 Presenter: Number of Slides: 37 Event Code: AC2017