Same Team, Same Direction

How to Align Your Modular or Prefab Construction Team

Jordan Easterling

Foremen and plant managers, you’ve got a big job to do.


Your team needs to build. A lot. Quickly. Of course, it would be great if the team ran on autopilot, but you know that’s not going to happen (nor is it really fair to assume). And since you already know that your team is the most important part of the project—if they don’t work well or don’t know what to work on, the job simply doesn’t get done—you know you need to align and empower the team well.


The secret to an aligned team is the sharing of information to allow them to see a fuller picture. Below are tips on what to share, why it matters, and how sharing information the right way leads to innovation.

Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

Why the order of information matters

Sharing information in the right order is about increasing productivity. Digging into “productivity” a little deeper, it stems from a few things:


Autonomy: Numerous studies link employee autonomy to both overall productivity and to employee engagement and retention. When employees are given the right information at the right time, they don’t need constant supervision—they can simply get on with their work in a way that makes them happier and more efficient.


Creativity: When someone has the right information, the creative part of their brain activates. This means you might see creative solutions to bottlenecks or problems you previously encountered because individual employees—adding their unique perspectives on top of the right information—noticed something you might not have.


Planning: When you deliver information in a thoughtful way, you can codify the process. With a defined process in place, you can delegate tasks to other individuals. Not only is this essential to a high-quality production process but it’s also essential if you ever want to take a vacation without fear that things will fall apart in your absence.


When you have the right information flowing, teams operate more smoothly. This doesn’t mean you aren’t needed as a leader though—far from it. Rather, your focus can shift to strategic goals, rather than putting out day-to-day fires, so your role becomes more important (and more impactful) than ever.

Step 1: Break down goals before you share them

In any prefab or modular construction shop, the goal is simple: build orders and get them installed on the client’s site.


But you need to break down that goal, working back from the final outcome to the present day, before sharing any key information.


Break the big goal into everyday action: Fabricating orders for whole projects is great, but break it down to monthly, weekly, or even daily goals so the team can build positive momentum.


Explain why this project matters to the company: Some projects are routine and keep the lights on while others are for important new clients or might lead to something big. If you can pinpoint this and share it for each project, the team can rally around an internal goal beyond serving the customer.


Explain why this project matters to employees: Every project can teach employees something. Maybe it’s a regular project and employees get to hone their skills. Perhaps it’s a unique project so employees get to learn a new system or approach. Whatever it might be, describe it so it becomes more real for the team.

Step 2: Ensure everyone has the resources they need

Once everyone knows what they are doing and why it matters, you need to begin the how. This starts with ensuring everyone has the right resources.


Data: The information someone needs depends on what they are fabricating. For instance, the detail that goes into drawings, RFIs, submittals, or schedules for key project milestones.


Materials: Any item someone needs in the course of their work. For instance, lumber and structural hangers for floor panel systems, along with nail guns and tape measures.


Logistical support: This could be either human support or software support. For example, this could be a third-party trucking company to deliver the order to the site, or scheduling software to help plan out the production schedule and sequence.


Physical resources: The physical space someone works in and the items in it. In the framing example above, this may mean a layout table or jig with ample space for storage, build-out, and movement. Or this may just mean a desk, whiteboard, or meeting room.


Having these resources ready—or available when they become needed—will give your team maximum autonomy while keeping them on track. It also reduces the possibility of someone coming to you with problems because they didn’t have the right tools on hand.

Step 3: Share schedule, process, and feedback channels

Continuing the how portion of information sharing, you need to give people their precise schedule, process to follow, and feedback channels to use during the project.


Schedule: This clearly states what needs to be fabricated and by when, so employees know what’s expected of them . Schedules should be both at a high level, so each person can see the whole project, and at an individual level, so each person knows their role.


Process: This explains how you’ll be building a given part and putting it all together. For example, a process document might have step-by-step instructions or use example photos, videos, and mockups to visually demonstrate what’s going on.


Feedback channels: Taking inspiration from the Toyota Total Production System, explain all the avenues employees have to raise concerns, ask questions, or put ideas forward for iterative improvement in the process. You can accomplish this through daily standups or software. This part of the process is often overlooked but could have the biggest impact on the whole process. This not only involves your team, allows you to learn from past activities, but also unlocks creative solutions siloed in each team member.


This step puts everything previous to it in context. When someone sees the schedule, they know how their work fits into the overall goal. But if they have questions or concerns, they know they have an avenue to raise them.

Step 4: Host ongoing meetings with real agendas

Throughout the build, you’ll likely have a lot of meetings. Each one should have a powerful agenda to ensure it’s the best use of everyone’s time and gets the desired result.


Here’s the agenda to follow:

●      Goals: Both top-down (from company goals down to how the meeting supports it) and bottom-up (issues raised by employees on the front line).

●      Cadence: Meet with the frequency necessary for each outcome (e.g. a daily standup helps with ongoing issues, whereas a progress meeting might need to be weekly or monthly depending on project speed).

●      Content: Match the content to the type of work (e.g. quick conversations for daily standups versus using whiteboards for monthly project meetings).


One caveat: people hate being forced to attend meetings they feel are useless to them. But you also don’t want to leave someone out when it comes to information sharing. Don’t invite people to meetings that aren’t relevant, but use a prefab and modular construction software tool to keep all meeting notes in a central place so people can stay up to date even if they didn’t attend the meeting.


PS —Building Swell has templates you can use for daily standups, monthly project meetings, project wrap-up meetings, and quarterly all-hands meetings.

Step 5: Invest in your team’s competencies

The final step in empowering your team is investing in their growth.


Provide regular feedback: Praise quality work and offer guidance on how to improve lower quality work, all with the goal of employees getting stronger at the things they are good at and rounding out their skill set.


Provide training opportunities: Offer chances for employees to learn from one another and in formal settings to learn new skills or sharpen the skills they already have.  


Show employment pathways: Explain how each job might lead to the next—both the transferrable skills and any additional skills someone needs to learn. Then link those additional skills to training opportunities.


This kind of investment pays double dividends. Not only will your team be more engaged in the present but you’re also building your future team, making it easy to handle additional work or grow as an organization.

Align your team and watch productivity soar

Your team is critical to success. But similar to how software needs to be configured and building projects need to be constructed, teams need to be given the right information and empowered. It requires a little work on your side as a foreman or plant manager, but it unlocks enormous efficiencies that help make the whole shop run more smoothly, efficiently, and scalably.

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