An empirical investigation of the learning effect in concrete operations

Roberta Pellegrino (Politecnico di Bari, Bari, Italy)
Nicola Costantino (Department of Mechanics, Mathematics and Management, Politecnico di Bari, Bari, Italy)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Publication date: 16 April 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to focus on productivity as it unfolds during the execution of a particular task, i.e., reinforced concrete operations. The main aim is understanding whether the learning effect explaining the improvement of productivity in subsequent cycles of a given repetitive construction process is mainly attributable to a pure worker learning (independent on the specific site) or to the experience developed by the crew on the site conditions.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors conduct a research that empirically investigates and compares the change in productivity data of a single worker during his/her working life and that of a crew involved in specific repetitive work, such as the concreting activities of a multi-storey building.

Findings

The findings suggest differentiating between productivity gain as a result of the learning effect of the individual worker throughout his/her working life (which is independent of the specific project and site) and that of a crew composed by more workers which repeat reinforced concrete operations in a given specific project.

Research limitations/implications

Despite the great attention reserved to learning in construction, few researchers discuss on the real applicability of the learning curve (LC) theory in the construction industry. The authors contribute to this literature by empirically investigating the contributions that the learning effect of the individual worker and that of a crew repeating a given task (i.e. reinforced concrete operations) in a given project have on the productivity improvement for subsequent cycles of the repetitive construction process.

Practical implications

The findings of this study have important managerial implications. The shape of the LC of the individual worker implies that learning increases relatively slowly in his/her working life (particularly after one to two years), while the effects of the crew experience are immediately significant in a time range of few weeks. This means that a single “one-off” multi-storey building project will show in the first storey the “historical,” individual productivity of the individual workers (i.e. not going to vary significantly in the next few weeks). The productivity improvement in the further storeys will only depend on the project-specific (and collective, for the crew) “learning” due, for example, to better coordination or to other issues that are progressively solved moving from the first storey to the following ones. So, the project-specific LC increases in a faster way than the individual one, and the overall productivity can be improved by accelerating the project-specific learning rate with more accurate project-specific design and management.

Originality/value

This paper enhances the understanding of the contributions that the learning effect of the individual worker and that of a crew repeating a given task (i.e. reinforced concrete operations) in a given project have on the productivity improvement for subsequent cycles of the repetitive construction process. This will contribute to improve the planning and control of site work activities, avoiding time and money wastefulness.

Keywords

Citation

Pellegrino, R. and Costantino, N. (2018), "An empirical investigation of the learning effect in concrete operations", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 342-357. https://doi.org/10.1108/ECAM-02-2017-0036

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Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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