Loss of Productivity & Learning Curves

By: Daniel M. Drewry

Although there are numerous causes of project labor inefficiencies, one culprit not often discussed is the “learning curve” of an employee or crew.  In the construction industry, the time required for a worker to perform a repetitive activity decreases with each repetition performed by that worker.  This is referred to as the “learning curve.”

There are essentially two types of learning curves.  The “basic curve” is the learning curve necessary for an untrained worker to acquire training, knowledge and skills fundamental to a particular trade.  This curve is necessary in order for the worker to achieve an average level of proficiency.  In contrast, the “experience curve” is the worker’s attainment of the specialized skill set required to perform a specific repetitive activity.  Experience curves for repetitive tasks apply to both individual workers as well as to crews.  The “experience curve” is the curve most likely to have an impact on productivity because it is more project specific.

In short, work accelerations, extended overtime, delays, crew turnover and even missing or additional crew members can directly impact labor productivity by reducing the number of repetitions of a given task and the timing between those repetitions – both of which reduce the planned level of labor efficiency, and increase costs.  While tying decreased productivity claim components to learning curves involves a more thorough discussion and analysis, even mere familiarity with learning curves will better enable a contractor to identify and document problems as they arise, thereby increasing the likelihood of recovery of productivity claim components.