Don't Multiply Your Problems

Crawl, Walk, Run Toward Faster Improvement

Jordan Easterling

You thought you measured properly, but the cut was off.


The old adage "measure twice, cut once" echoes in your mind as you clean up and restart. It’s not a bad thing in isolation—mistakes happen—but it can become a real problem when you try to get too much done, too quickly.


In construction, staying ahead of schedule is often the name of the game. But in prefab and modular construction, this tension between the urge to stay ahead of schedule and the necessity for meticulous planning can feel especially heightened.


By adopting a "Crawl, Walk, Run" strategy, it's possible to navigate these challenges. This methodical approach allows for building with an eye on the long game, prioritizing consistency, scalability, and sustainability without compromising on speed.

Photo by Ono Kosuki

Crawl: start with the minimum

To clear the air quickly: this step cannot be skipped, for two reasons. First is that each step builds on the previous, so you need these mini processes in place to get to the more advanced steps. Second is that each step provides value by itself, meaning if you only ever did this “Crawl” step, you’d still see more value than a completely ad-hoc process.


With that in mind, here’s how you Crawl:


Prioritized goals: Name all your goals then put them in priority order. Which are most critical? Goals such as X number of units completing this station per day, less than one unit requiring rework every week, and the maximum amount of overtime you want to happen.


Team steps: Take your goals and identify what’s needed to make them a reality. For example, pulling materials from storage is a key step before you can begin to build. Then write those steps in human terms, clearly defining routes, stages, and steps that a single person (or team) needs to follow. Finally, list out bill materials so you know what raw resources are needed.


Document as you build: Start building! This is simply doing the work your team already does. But as they work, document things that go well, that cause scuffles, or that cause delays and other problems. This becomes the foundation for optimizing in later steps.


Measure as you build: While documenting the qualitative issues such as the cause of a delay, also keep quantitative records such as length of time, cost of issues, and the number of people or hours required to fix it. Keep in mind this can be low-tech—use a pen and paper if you want. The key is to review things as a team (see the next point).


Communicate your learnings regularly: Set up check-in times on a regular basis for teams to talk about learnings (cadence should be based on your cycle times). The core of these meetings is “directional accuracy,” meaning you talk about general fixes that will address the core issue even if it doesn’t solve every single problem.

Walk: set up (some) autopilot

Crawling was about getting into a process and giving yourself a baseline. “Walking” is when you set up some autopiloting to help your process get even smoother and more predictable.


Review solution opportunities: You likely don’t have the resources to fix every problem named during regular check-ins. What you’re doing here is reviewing all problems to see if they can be solved via automation—routine, rote tasks that are tedious for humans but essential to achieving your goals such as metrics tracking or sending out alerts. You’re also identifying tasks that might not be worth automating if the manual solution is simple enough.


Build baseline automation: “Automation” is anything that can be done the same way every time. So that often means using technology to do all the work for you. But depending on how your shop operates, “automation” could simply be a process or checklist to follow so that your employees can get through a step more efficiently.

Run: accelerate your process

With a process and some automation in place, “Running” is the time to accelerate.


Invest in better processes: Take a holistic look at your new process, a combination of the Crawl and Walk steps. Chances are you can make some further efficiency changes.


Build and reinforce your methodology: By the Run stage, you should have some benchmark data for each step in the process. Now is the time to identify what worked, what didn’t yield much, and where people may have forgotten steps in the process. Use this information to guide further process changes or technology updates.


Kee measuring: As you progress toward your goals—and hopefully have more growth to contend with—keep measuring every step of the process. You might notice certain areas falling behind that will give you a higher return on investment than fixing other, smaller issues. For instance, if you need to make 100 units per hour and each unit passes through three stations, look at the capacity of each. If station one has a 100-unit capacity per hour, station two has a 90-unit, and station three has a 75-unit capacity, investing in station three will give outsized returns than replacing stations one or two.


Think about the long term: Industrialized construction is a game on long-term consistency and iterative improvement. Leverage this incrementalism for long-term success.

Shorten learning to speed up production

The key to speeding up your production isn’t making the machines go faster. It’s to speed up your own learning cycles to identify which levers to pull for maximum efficiency. Skipping learning steps and thinking you can simply run the machines more is a recipe for maintenance disasters, delays, and ultimately higher costs. Make the learning investment now to set up processes with both qualitative and quantitative tracking—that gives you the foundation necessary to automate and scale up for the long term.

Please wait..