Notable speakers at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America's annual convention, this year held March 19-23 in Maui, included Joe Theismann, John Cleese and Tom Ridge; attendees learned practical use of lean construction; and MCAA student chapters grows to 36.

The University of Nebraska - Lincoln took first prize in this year's Student Chapter Competition.

It's always difficult to cover the Mechanical Contractors Association of America's annual convention, this year held March 19-23 in Maui. How do you do justice to a convention that opens with a speech by Monty Python's John Cleese; follows with a trade show the next morning; holds a dozen workshops over the course of a couple of days on quality topics from starting a peer group to weighing alternative insurance options and from training foremen to speaking with more influence; then features quarterback Joe Theismann at an awards breakfast that hands out a number of well-deserved honors; has a grand finale night with Kenny Loggins; and, finally, wraps up with United Association President Bill Hiteandformer Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge? Throw in a dessert party, a couple of breakfast buffets and an opening luau and there you have it.

About the only downside of the convention was that normally sunny Maui had a few uncharacteristic days and nights of rain, which caused many outdoor events to be pushed indoors. We counted only one truly sunny day.

Weather aside, the 2,300 attendees heard plenty to take home. Greg Howell, for example, runs the Lean Construction Institute in Ketchum, Idaho, and led a workshop on how to put these concepts into practice. Howell started out his career as a civil engineer, and while working on his degree, he used to film construction sites.

“We'd ask, why does it look like it does in the field?” Howell explained. While labor utilization remains key, Howell began to see the importance of first improving the predictability of workflow in order to help foremen actually do what they say they will complete.

Howell defined lean construction in terms of production management. “Lean construction extends from the objectives of a lean production system - maximize value and minimize waste - to specific techniques and applies them in a new project delivery process,” he said. As a result, lean contractors may be able to better accomplish the following objectives:

  • The facility and its delivery process are designed together to better reveal and support customer purposes.

  • Work is structured throughout the process to maximize value and to reduce waste at the project-delivery level.

  • Efforts to manage and improve performance are aimed at improving total project performance because it is more important than reducing the cost or increasing the speed of any activity.

  • “Control” is redefined from “monitoring results” to “making things happen.” The performance of the planning and control systems are measured and improved.

According to Howell, lean construction is particularly useful on complex, uncertain and quick projects, and challenges the belief that there must always be a trade among time, cost and quality.

Doing what you say you will do may be an important part of lean construction, but it represents an entire philosophy of management, according to another speaker, Mike Scott of Mike Scott and Associates, Tampa, Fla.

“We all expect 100 percent accountability on the job, but how many are actually getting it?” Scott asked. “We often settle for 98 percent, but we all know no one would accept it if their paycheck were 98 percent of what it should be or that you handed out paychecks 98 percent of the year and said you simply couldn't do the other 2 percent.”

Scott gave the following 10 pointers to help put his management tactics into practice:

    1. Use a consistent system for recording, tracking and prioritizing all tasks and projects.

    2. Create an environment where no surprises are allowed.

    3. Conduct weekly staff meetings, one-on-one meetings and daily huddles to review some of the “most important” activities for that week.

    4. Stop giving excuses to or accept excuses from anyone.

    5. Use standard guidelines for conducting all meetings, such as providing an agenda and reviewing the meeting at its end.

    6. Do not ask, “Why?” or “Why not?” when someone surprises you with nonperformance. Instead ask, “What's your next step to get it done?”

    7. Allow people to say no to a commitment only when they can provide a solution as to how they will get it done.

    8. Give and get specific dates and times for completion for all delegated tacks. Have all commitments repeated back. Repeat back all commitments.

    9. Eliminate the use of the phrase, “I'll try” or “I'll give it my best” by saying, “I know you're going to try, but what I need to know is can I count on you for the results?”

    10. Discontinue the employment of people who are consistently not accountable.

Donald W. Batz became the first service contractor to receive the association's Distinguished Service Award.

In other news, MCAA announced the following winners of its many awards:

  • Donald W. Batz became the first service contractor to receive the association's Distinguished Service Award, MCAA's highest form of recognition for “extraordinary dedication and service to the progress, development and expansion of MCAA and the mechanical construction industry.”

    Among his accomplishments, Batz enhanced the programs and services of the Mechanical Service Contractors of America, where he served on and chaired key MSCA committees before being elected to, and then becoming chairman of, MSCA's Board of Managers. Continuing his dedication, Batz became one of the first service contractors to be elected to MCAA's Board of Directors. In 2005, he received MSCA's highest award, the D.S. O'Brien Award of Excellence.

  • Gross Mechanical Contractors Inc., St Louis, Mo., won the association's E. Robert Kent Award for Management Innovation. The award honors companies for creative and innovative management initiatives that will improve productivity, achieve cost-effectiveness, or otherwise contribute to the advancement of the mechanical contracting industry. Gross Mechanical developed a project management system that defines a sequential series of steps or tasks to be implemented during a specific time frame

    In student chapter news, the following awards were handed out:

  • Dr. Mostafa Khattab, Colorado State University, was named Educator of the Year. Khattab leads the college's Rocky Mountain Chapter of MCAA.

  • The MCAA Student Chapter at the Milwaukee School of Engineering won the Student Chapter of the Year Award.

  • The Student Chapter for Mechanical/Electrical Specialty Contracting at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln took first prize in MCAA's 2005-2006 Student Chapter Competition. During the competition, a record 17 chapter teams prepared proposals for the renovation of the mechanical systems of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., an actual project performed by John J. Kirlin Inc., Rockville, Md., in 2002. The winning team received a cash prize of $5,000. The runner-up, the MCAA Student Chapter at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, received a prize of $2,500. The other two finalists each received $1,000.

  • MCAA presented charters to three new student chapters: Arizona State University; Northern Kentucky University; and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The addition of these three chapters brings the number of MCAA student chapters to 36.