“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is an old quote that speaks a great deal of truth – especially when applied to the large scale solar construction site.

One of the core features of a solar power plant is the simple fact that it’s built from a number of very clear and separate ‘component pieces’ which are constructed over and over again. This feature, which is very different from say, a natural gas plant which consists of much more challenging individual pieces and many complex ‘projects within the project’, also means that (if so desired) construction managers and project managers have the ability to track production and efficiency rates of the production teams to a very high level of detail.

To do this effectively, it’s important to do the following:

  1. Break down your various tasks into bite sized sub-tasks – for example, your post install team could be broken up into the following sub-tasks:
    1. Post pinning
    2. Post layout
    3. Post installation
    4. Post remediation/QC
  2. Measure the production of each individual team in a coherent and systematic way
  3. Measure the hours spent by each individual team on a daily basis
  4. Use this information to determine production per manhour spent, and metric this throughout your company and within your industry

The next obvious question is how to track both the manhours and production per task in an efficient and simple way for each individual process? There are a number of methods to achieve this – briefly described below:

  1. A simple ‘cost coding’ function – each team is broken up into very specific sub-tasks and then report back to the office exactly how many posts/rows/modules that their respective team installed that day. Note: on smaller jobs this is feasible, but on large utility scale jobs this can become very difficult to track if your team isn’t extremely well organized
  2. Visual maps which each respective crew lead takes into the field at the end of each day to highlight his progress and note down how many personnel he had helping him during the day. This can then be amalgamated into a central map database which can self-calculate the productivity rates and other key metrics if desired. Note: this system is very effective, but needs constant attention and focus from some designated persons to succeed.

In my personal experience, I’ve seen mapping systems work extremely well – and there is some very powerful functionality that can come out of these programs… but as mentioned above – they do need dedicated attention from the back-end, and rely on good and accurate information being reported from the field as well… the old adage ‘garbage in, garbage out’ couldn’t be more true in this situation!

Assuming that your team can come up with a systematic method of tracking both hours and production per task, simple daily or weekly charts can be generated showing productivity per discipline over time. Over a number of jobs, this can lead to a clear understanding of what a ‘reasonable’ rate per discipline is, and you can use this value both for budgeting and estimating purposes, as well as holding your construction crews accountable on the jobsite.

For more high quality education and information, and some great resources to help you and your team start tracking and improving the individual tasks on your large scale solar project, I welcome you to get involved with the Utility Scale Solar Construction and Project Management course that I’ve put together on Heatspring.

Photo Credit: Hannah Swarner (The West Side Journal)