When you're a facilities construction project manager or subcontractor, your job can be as lonely as that of the Maytag repairman, but for an entirely different reason. Often the company — or companies, in the case of subcontractors — for which you work ask for complete confidentiality when it comes to the specifics of cost and schedule baselines for your projects. So how do you know how your projects measure up to others in terms of productivity? That's where Austin, Texas-based Construction Industry Institute's (CII) Benchmarking & Metrics program (see “The Road to CII Benchmarking” sidebar below) comes in.

CII, based at The University of Texas at Austin, is a consortium of more than 100 owner organizations — some of the major oil companies, chemical manufacturers, and a few pulp and paper companies as well as representation from the federal government, such as the U.S. General Services Administration — and engineering, contractor, and supplier firms from the public and private sectors. The organization is most recognized for its “Best Practices” guidelines, which are methods that, when executed effectively, should lead to enhanced project performance. “The Best Practices program really looks at those kind of activities that project managers will try to get their personnel on the project to do,” says Deborah DeGezelle, CII's systems analyst.

Active member participation is critical to CII's success, so membership to the organization includes annual dues and 75% participation in the organization's surveys, as well as contributions by executive-level personnel in core processes, such as research, implementation, education, breakthrough strategy, globalization, and benchmarking and metrics.

Measuring up. The CII Benchmarking & Metrics program, initiated in 1994, provides the means for members to compare their capital and maintenance projects with other similar projects. “We measure and assess capital project performance with the idea of giving our members the ability to compare themselves to others and then figure out an improvement process,” says DeGezelle. “That ties into all the research products that we publish. It's a cyclical process for us where, in the big picture, we do some research, provide some recommendations for best practices or what we think is good practice, and then get our member companies to implement it.”

The Benchmarking & Metrics program also offers benchmarking training in the form of the CII Benchmarking Conference. Presenters at this year's conference, held in Austin earlier this month, discussed how to get started in benchmarking as well as how to get value from the process. The conference allows the attendees the opportunity to earn up to 7.5 Professional Development Hours (PDH) credits, as well as the chance to become familiar with the hallmark of the Benchmarking & Metrics program: Project Central.

Launched three years ago, Project Central is the program's online database that allows members to enter data about engineering or construction projects and instantly generate a report about how that project compares to the norms of similar projects. “The database is more of a strictly quantitative, numerical type exercise,” says Kirk Morrow, research engineer for the Benchmarking & Metrics program. “What the benchmarking side of this really provides is an external comparison of productivity data, so they can see how they perform compared to their peers.”

Subscription rate. CII has also launched the Benchmarking Participants Program (BMPP), which allows non-member firms to enter 10 projects into the database and review productivity benchmarking and other best practice performance metrics for a fee. Participants receive custom reports on each project submitted and are provided access to all online benchmarking services (see “Non-Members Only” sidebar below).

Participating companies must send someone to training so that CII's benchmarking group can train the person on the system. “That's a requirement to help keep the quality of the data high,” says Morrow. “But after training, the data can be input from anywhere because it's an online service.”

Members that participate in the benchmarking program vary from general contractors to specific trades, explains Morrow. “Most of them are general contractors, but they don't always benchmark in all the crafts,” he says. “That's not a requirement on our part.”

All individual project data is confidential, and CII staff members verify projects before they become part of the database. “Nobody actually sees anybody else's numbers,” says Morrow. “We only report statistical summaries, so for project XYZ you know that your wire and cable rates are 0.04 work hours per linear foot. You can compare that against a statistical summary in our database for other similar projects.”

The database currently holds 97 projects in the engineering projects database with an average project cost of $42 million, and 62 projects in the construction metrics database with an average cost of $65 million. Both groups of projects are oriented in the heavy industry market segment. “Based on our membership, the questionnaire and the data collection revolves heavily around industrial projects,” Morrow says. “Our membership is more from the heavy industrial side.”

DeGezelle agrees with that assessment. “We categorize the different projects: heavy industrial, light industrial, buildings, and infrastructure,” she says. “When you get to the productivity part, of which the electrical is a piece, we generally have the most participation in the heavy industrial area. That's most of the projects, although there's a variety of other ones — some light industrial, maybe even some buildings.”

According to Morrow, there's been talk about including other markets, but CII is a volunteer organization as far as the development of new products. Therefore, in order for the organization to branch out and set up productivity metrics for the commercial and building sector, a core group of member companies would have to volunteer some of their people's time to serve on a team to develop those metrics.

The projects do vary in size, if not by market. “Most of these projects tend to be very large,” says DeGezelle. “But we've got maintenance projects that are maybe only a few hundred thousand dollars, and then we have some projects that are a few billion dollars.”

There are two questionnaires for the database. One is for small projects that cost between $100,000 and $5 million, don't last longer than 14 months, log 100,000 or less site work hours, and do not require the resources of a full-time project manager. The requirements for a larger projects is that it costs $5 million or more, lasts more than 14 months, logs in site work hours of 100,000 or more, and requires a full-time project manager.

According to DeGezelle, even though most of the projects in the database qualify as large, the comparisons are still a good fit for electrical work, no matter the size or market. “We look for things like engineering work hours for equipment, and it breaks down between electrical equipment 600V and below or bigger than 600V,” she says. “But the questionnaire matches electrical pretty well.”

Data entry. Members and subscribers can perform engineering and construction productivity benchmarking. Within each of those two categories, there are subcategories broken down by craft: concrete, structural, steel, pipe, mechanical equipment, and electrical. In each of the subcategories, there are different classifications. The electrical subcategory comprises electrical equipment and devices, conduit, cable tray, wire and cable, other electrical (lighting, grounding, and electrical heat tracing), and rework hours.

“The system for measuring productivity is based on hours per quantity,” DeGezelle says. “The hours are the actual work hours, which includes any rework. So if they put it in and had to tear it out and put it in again, all those hours are included. The quantity is the installed quantity, which is either the length or the count of the devices.”

After the project data is entered, the companies then get a ratio of the hours per quantity, and then they get a comparison of that ratio against the database. “The database is going to try to find the best comparison slice,” says DeGezelle. If the company is looking at one particular metric compared to that metric in similar projects, the database can give the company that particular productivity rating — in which quartile it falls. If it falls within the first quartile, that means the project was on average faster than any other project for that particular metric. The database can provide scores for all the different metric elements, leading up to an overall picture of productivity.

The database also compares schedule performance. From that, a company can determine if it planned well, and if so, did it meet the schedule that it planned? “That's not always the fault of the subcontractor,” DeGezelle says. “If they're not ready for you, then they're not ready — and it blows your schedule regardless.”

However, tracking that information may allow a subcontractor to make a more informed decision about the contractors it works with in the future. In the end, the members and subscribers are given a key report, made up of all the scores compared against the database. The firms can then ask themselves if it was a successful project or not. “It's the ultimate goal of trying to find what went wrong, what went right, and what can they do next?” DeGezelle says. “That's the basis of it.”



Sidebar: The Road to CII Benchmarking

What can you expect after your company decides to get onboard with CII's Benchmarking & Metrics program? Because this process relies heavily on active member participation, company leadership must designate a project manager and company associate for training and implementation. Following are the duties of both the project manager and company delegate:

Company project manager

  • Selects projects for analysis and initiates project in CII database.
  • Initiates questionnaire during project execution.
  • Reviews and acts on interim CII online recommendations.
  • Completes and submits questionnaire at project close-out.
  • Performs self-analysis and develop improvement plan.

Company benchmarking associate

  • Attends CII training.
  • Conducts training and feedback sessions.
  • Preloads project in CII database.
  • Validates questionnaires.
  • Releases questionnaire to CII.



Sidebar: Non-Members Only

Non-member organizations can obtain the services of CII Benchmarking by joining the Benchmarking Participants Program (BMPP). The program offers companies the opportunity to submit up to 10 projects for analysis for a $10,000 fee that covers the administration costs of the program. Participants receive custom reports on each project submitted and are provided access to all online benchmarking services.

Owner and contractor non-member organizations are encouraged to participate. Learn more by visiting the CII Benchmarking Web site at http://cii-benchmarking.org/bmpp.cfm. Additional information on the program can be obtained from Steve Thomas, CII associate director for benchmarking at (512) 232-3007.