How can we improve construction productivity in India?

4 min read

Construction in India is an important growth driver for rebooting the country’s economy. Government initiatives in areas such as urban developments, housing and infrastructure are attracting an influx of financing from foreign direct investment and players in the private sector.

With challenges imposed by the global coronavirus pandemic still looming, it has never been more critical to look for solutions that will transform the construction industry for the better.

Mace’s regional director for India, Pawan Maini, outlines three key areas where international best practice in project delivery can help drive productivity in a faster, safer and less labour-intensive way, while reducing timelines and cost.

For construction to be able to contribute effectively to economic recovery in India, developers must reap the benefits of accelerated project delivery. Construction suffered a 50% contraction at the height of lockdown, nearly bringing the sector to a complete halt. To boost productivity in the industry, the focus should be on transparent project management, digitalisation and health and safety.

Why transparency matters

It is not uncommon for projects in India to overrun by a staggering 20-25% in terms of cost and time. This figure may be even higher for large infrastructure projects. For most residential or mixed-use schemes, which provide much needed housing and cater to an increasingly impatient consumer base, a 20% cost overrun can compromise the completion of the entire project and delay it indefinitely.

Unexpected cost hikes can be caused by the difficulty in land acquisition and sequencing the stages of a project. Many of the productivity set-backs creep in at the pre-planning stage of delivering a programme or project, due to lack of transparency and access to project data.

Let’s take the example of a residential project. It’s important that the groundwork is finished on time, so that the construction team can start its work onsite immediately. However, unless everyone has visibility of the project data, it can be difficult to sequence these stages, which becomes time consuming and cuts productivity as teams scramble to get up to speed.

The solution is a project controls system that brings all the live information about the construction progress on a single platform. Teams can connect and sequence their activity onsite, so that clashes don’t occur. As basic as it may sound, this is a fundamental way to save cost in the long run.

Leveraging digital tools

Rigour and process is key for productivity in construction. Implementing international best practice around the introduction of digital tools and IT infrastructure will enable clear processes and rules to be followed. To embark on a digital journey means that everyone involved in the project, including the supply chain, will be upskilled along the way and putting newfound skills to practice at future projects. As a result, the entire industry will benefit.

It is a matter of gradually introducing digitalisation and establishing a working practice that can be expanded with more advanced and efficient methods of construction.

Bringing radical technologies onsite, such as drones and body cameras, will require the ability of manage its implications on construction sites, as well as having the digital capability to interpret the data collected.

Above all, a digital approach will help to enforce quality standards, rules and processes that are clear and easy to follow, again ensuring that the project delivery stays on track.

Prior to the pandemic, the construction sector in India employed more than 30 million people. With so many workers employed on sites, it is critical for health and safety standards to be implemented, measured, and reported.

While construction organisations in India have set out principles to ensure safety on construction sites, it’s down to the industry to implement these measures and track the outcomes.

Realities on the ground often differ from the guidance, with many working hours lost because of exposure to different risks on sites, from physical overexertion and stress to dangerously low lighting. The recent passage of ‘The Occupational Safety, Health And Working Conditions Code, 2020’, by the parliament, will bring additional conditions for employers that will result in a safer working environment for all.

So, what can be done about it?

To put it succinctly: international best practice should be introduced in a health and safety implementation plan that addresses local challenges. 

It is crucial to capture live data on safe working hours to achieve any health and safety goals. Dashboards that measure worker productivity onsite, and how many safe working hours the project team has achieved, indicate when interference is needed onsite and patterns are off track.  

On a larger scale, the value realised in continuous improvement for health and safety goes beyond benefits to the immediate project. Lessons learned will be brought forward as best practice to the next development. It is about keeping the standards of quality and health and safety while reducing timelines and cost without making any of the parts mutually exclusive.

The construction contraction witnessed in India on the back of the coronavirus pandemic clearly calls for a transformation of project delivery. The only way to support communities on their return to economic growth and social progress is through a thriving construction sector.

By focusing on the ways that transparency, digitalisation and health and safety can drive productivity in project delivery, wheels will be put in motion for a wider positive change.