Analyzing and improving productivity with computerized questionnaires and delay surveys


Bechtel Power Corporation


“Good quality, high productivity, lower cost and on-time completion are management goals for projects the world over. Unfortunately, even with good leadership and proper planning, things go wrong, and as costs rise and schedules deteriorate, the program crumbles, leaving discouraged owners searching for reasons and demanding better control” [11]. Construction productivity paced national productivity growth in a period prior to the mid-1960's but, since 1967, construction productivity growth has been characterized by a declining trend. The evidence overwhelmingly supports a productivity problem far more severe than that of the general ecomony [3]. Managers and project owners must make the first move to improve productivity and cost effectiveness to ensure their survival in the industry.

Management Must Reduce Costs

“Our work is only beginning,” says Charles D. Brown, manager of the Business Roundtable's multimillion dollar effort to guide construction toward improved cost-effectiveness. According to Brown, the worldwide economic slump and growing recognition of productivity problems in all industries are combining to make 1983 an opportune time for attempting to bring about change in construction [8]. The rising costs of construction and financing have made the productivity issue very important. In response to the problem, owners, contractors, consultants, and workers have devised ways to identify and eliminate unnecessary costs and to improve management and craft efficiencies [5].

Productivity Can Be Improved

Productivity can be improved when management recognizes the problem and takes steps to remove the barriers to productivity. Bechtel Power Corporation's experience indicates that on very large complex jobs, management often creates barriers that make it difficult or impossible for workmen to accomplish a task within the programmed time and budget [11]. Management must remove the barriers that prevent motivated craftsmen from working. On several large projects, productivity teams, representing client and contractor, have focused on the same goal: Reducing or eliminating the barriers that keep craftsmen from doing their job [5]. These programs, and others, like Daniel's SCAT CAT program and Monsanto's TOPS program are based on cooperation among the project participants. The TOPS program was developed on the basis that construction productivity can be improved by better utilizing the knowledge and skills of the craftsmen and field personnel [6]. The SUPER BEE program, developed for a large Monsanto-Conoco project, adhered to the concept of participative decision making which involved the craftsmen [10]. Estimates of $5 million in savings by Bechtel, and $4 million saved by Brown & Root, are examples of what can be done to improve project productivity through utilization of the craftsmen's skills [5].

Measuring And Evaluating Productivity

Research done by Dr. John Borcherding of the University of Texas, for the Department of Energy [2], and work done by consultants, project owners, and large contractors have shown that questionnaires and delay surveys administered to a percentage of the project's work force consistently provide productivity information that can be used to improve project productivity. Questionnaires and delay surveys are effective, but they are tedious to analyze because of the amount of data involved. With the microcomputer, however, the time for analysis is reduced and management action to reduce or eliminate productivity problems can be taken within hours of the surveys. According to Dr. Borcherding, using the computer for questionnaire and delay survey analysis makes the surveys more useful as productivity information sources. This is because of the speed at which the data becomes available to the people who can takes steps to reduce or eliminate productivity barriers. Productivity management demands timely information. Productivity measures must provide data to the people who can improve project performance; for this to happen the information must be current [1]. There is a need for a system that can provide management with timely information that can be used to improve productivity at all project levels. There is such a system designed for immediate use by owners and contractors.

The System

During the last two years, two micro-computer systems designed for the analysis of questionnaires and project surveys were developed, tested, and documented. One of the systems, QUEST I, is written to produce results-oriented data from the General Project Questionnaires. The other system, DELAY, is designed for the Project Delay Survey which is usually administered to foremen and other supervisory personnel. The QUEST I system can evaluate five areas, five groups, and up to 80 questions. The DELAY system is time based, and can evaluate and plot data for five areas, five groups, and 45, 25, and 15 questions for one, two, and three months, respectively. The questions ask about the availability of things like tools, equipment, materials, and information. Each group of questions in the QUEST I questionnaires asks how many hours are lost, why the problem exists, and what can be done to eliminate the problem (See Figure 1). The DELAY questions ask for the problem, how many men were delayed by the problem, and how much time was lost because of the problem.

Figure 1
Partial QUEST I Questionnaire

Partial QUEST I Questionnaire

Reasons for Computer Analysis

Computer analysis provides immediate and timely information for the identification of existing and potential problems that can cause construction delays. The computer is part of the system that produces results-oriented data that identifies the reasons behind many productivity losses in a time frame that is compatible with most project goals. According to John Stull, division manager of construction for Bechtel Power Corporation, “Large projects need special management techniques and qualities in the managers involved if cost and time schedules are to be met. Rapid resolution of problems is necessary for success in construction [11].” Immediate analysis of productivity surveys can insure that management has current information that can be used to identify demotivating and productivity-constraining procedures. Among the advantages of using the computer for analysis is the fact that using the computer is a motivating experience. According to Richard S, Pepper, 1983 President of the Associated General Contractors and chairman of Pepper Construction Company, Pepper Construction's “young aggresive people” are pushing to increase their own productivity [9]. Using the micro-computer in construction and productivity management is another way for people to be even more competitive. Other advantages of using the system are listed below.

1. The data that is provided by the system can be used to identify specific productivity barriers and the reasons behind them. The system provides the data in two user-selected reports. One is the Short Report which provides the numerical data only for concentration on the areas or groups with the most lost time (See Figure 2). The Long Report prints the survey comments that indicate the reasons for productivity problems (See Figure 3). The Classification Estimate Summary is provided for each question, which shows the hours lost for the areas and groups (See Figure 4). At the end of each report there is a Category Summary Report which shows the hours and percentages of work periods lost for the areas and groups (See Figure 5). The DELAY system prints two time-based graphs for the areas and groups showing the percentage of the workday lost on a daily basis (See Figures 6 and 7). The system also prints the craft wage and the total dollars lost for the areas and groups (See Figure 8).

Sample Short Report

Figure 2
Sample Short Report

Sample Long Report

Figure 3
Sample Long Report

Sample Classification Estimate Survey

Figure 4
Sample Classification Estimate Survey

Sample Category Summary Report

Figure 5
Sample Category Summary Report

Sample DELAY System Graph

Figure 6
Sample DELAY System Graph

Sample DELAY System Graph

Figure 7
Sample DELAY System Graph

Sample Craft Wage and Dollars Lost

Figure 8
Sample Craft Wage and Dollars Lost

2. The system allows frequent and inexpensive measurement of improvement effectiveness through follow-up surveys that ask questions about productivity improvement methods and results. The follow-up surveys are important to determine if the steps taken for improvement are effective, and that the craftsmen are aware of what has been done. Every improvement may not help every worker, but if it is generally known that management is trying to help, people will respond with a positive attitude.

3. The system reduces the need for clerical support because the questionnaires can be produced from the computer's word processor and copied for distribution. The system is easy to use and takes only a few hours to learn.

4. Frequent productivity measurement throughout the life of a project gives management a method to document productivity problems and take corrective actions to minimize damages caused by delay claims.

5. The questionnaire and delay survey process can be a motivating experience for the participants. The surveys are a good method to improve project communications while training the project work force about productivity awareness and how they can improve their working productivity.

6. The surveys can be used to cross-check other reporting methods like work sampling. Questionnaire data can reveal problems with support activities like tool rooms, temporary facilities, cranes, and equipment [7].

7. Data can be transmitted from projects to the home office using the telephone modem for productivity comparisons between several projects.

According to Civil Engineering, “The availability of construction and engineering applications programs will fuel an exponential growth of microcomputer use by engineers and constructors.” Civil Engineering goes on to say, “Firms that fail to use micro-computers will be left behind in the dust, unable to compete with their computerized colleagues” [4].

Conducting the Surveys

The survey process involves several steps including Planning, Creating, Informing, Surveying, Evaluating, Identifying, Assigning, and Follow-up. These steps are described as follows:

1. Planning: The scope and frequency of the surveys must be determined. Factors such as area and group costs, sizes, and project importance should be considered. Planning must also include planning for post-survey action for problems that are discovered in the surveys.

2. Creating: The questionnaires and surveys must be produced for the project requirements. Some questions may not be appropriate for some projects. The General Project Questionnaires for craftsmen and foremen are included with the system. The questionnaires can be easily modified and stored for future use.

3. Informing: The project population must be informed by management to reduce any fears the craftsmen or foremen may have. Questions must be answered or the participants may be suspicious and wary of helping management. Fears of job security, criticism, or loss of status are reactions that may be encountered but, if explanations are given, the fears can be eliminated.

4. Surveying: The surveys should be done in groups of 10 to 35 for control and personal involvement by the survey administrator with the participants. The questionnaires usually take about an hour to complete. The Delay Surveys take the foremen about five minutes a day to complete.

5. Evaluating: The data are entered into the computer and the report is printed. Operation is fast and easy to understand. Selection of the Short or Long Report will determine the type of productivity analysis that is undertaken.

6. Identifying: Problem areas and groups can be identified for their cost savings potential. The surveys should begin to investigate the problems that involve the largest segment of the project population.

7. Assigning: Once the problems are identified, action to reduce or eliminate the problems must be assigned to people who have the authority to implement productivity improvements.

8. Follow-up: This step is mandatory. After steps are taken to eliminate the problems, the action must be evaluated to determine the effectiveness of the steps taken. The follow-up studies also show the workers that management cares about what is done to help productivity.

The questionnaires and delay surveys make a good foundation for a productivity improvement program. The surveys identify the problems. The improvements undertaken reduce or eliminate the problems, and the follow-up studies insure the improvements are effective.


Productivity is being improved at projects throughout the world and, at many of these projects, the workers' knowledge and skills are being utilized. The questionnaires and delay surveys present productivity improvement needs and awareness to the workers in a manner that is enthusiastically accepted by the work force. The analysis system makes the information timely and, therefore, can help management control their project's productivity at a much faster pace than previously available methods.

Computers are basic tools that managers must use to improve their personal productivity to set the pace in today's construction environment. The simplicity of the system and its integration with the computer's word processor makes it a very practical way to introduce micro-computers into the field. There is a need for immediate improvements in all construction productivity. The place to begin the improvement process is at the management level. Once management can get the information that is needed, and takes action as a result of that information, productivity can be measured, evaluated, and improved on a daily basis.


1. Alfeld, Louis E., Overseeing Onsite Productivity, Military Engineer, 1982.

2. Borcherding, John D., Gardner, D.F., & N.M. Samelson, Factors Influencing the Motivation and Productivity of Craftsmen and Foremen on Large Construction Projects, University of Texas at Austin, 1973.

3. Brown, C.D., Background of the Business Roundtable, Proceedings from the Conference on Construction Productivity Improvement, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, 1980.

4. Dallaire, G., The Microcomputer Explosion in CE Firms, Civil Engineering-ASCE, 1982.

5. Drossel, M.R., Productivity: Programs that Work, Engineering News Record, Vol. 205, 1980 26-29.

6. Hendrickson, F.P., The TOPS Program, Proceedings from the Conference on Productivity Improvement, University of Texas at Austin, 1980.

7. Howell, G.A., Craftsmen Questionnaires, Proceedings from the Conference on Construction Productivity Improvement, University of Texas at Austin, 1980.

8. Kraker, J.M., Man of the Year: Charles D. Brown, Engineering News Record, 210, 1983, 52-57.

9. Pepper, R.S., Be Cost Effective or Die, Engineering News Record, Vol. 210, 1983, 28-29.

10. Steketee, B.W., Super Bee Program, Proceedings from the Conference on Construction Productivity Improvement, University of Texas at Austin 1980.

11.Stull, J.O., Management Holds the Key to Improving Productivity, Nuclear Engineering International, 1982.

The program at PMI ’84 will include a substantial number of structured panel sessions. These sessions will present differing points of view and different experiences. Topics will encourage controversial discussion in the hopes of discovering innovative approaches.

Among the subjects being considered are:

• Project Management under a matrix organization

• Criteria for Project Manager selection

• What Project Managers expect from their superiors

• Educational approaches to improve Project Managers

• Techniques to improve productivity

• Quality assurance

• Client/contractor responsibilities

• Selection of a project control software system

• Experiences with computerized project control

Each of the three or four panel participants will give a 10-15 minute presentation before an intrapanel discussion. Audience questions will follow.

If you want to participate in a panel at PMI ’84, contact:

Eric D. Schwartz

Technical Program Manager

Kelley Schwartz, Inc.

32 Strawberry Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Indicate the subject that you are interested in (not necessarily one of the above). Send a brief synopsis of your presentation and a biographical sketch. Please reply by February 15, 1984.

1This article was previously published in the 1983 Proceedings of the Project Management Institute, 15th Annual Seminar/Symposium, Houston, Texas. Michael Stall was the winner of the 1983 Student Paper Award.



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