The Upside Of Down Time

Use it to your advantage

Down time erodes profit, frustrates field employees and annoys managers. Even the best scheduling won’t completely eliminate all gaps in field productivity. A late material delivery, broken piece of equipment, crew relocation or design change by your customer can leave everyone standing around looking for guidance.

Down time is increasing, due to poor scheduling and project coordination, fast tracking without proper planning, inadequate plans and specifications and constant heel dragging in submissions and approvals. Foremen, supervisors and project managers must be trained and encouraged to use down time creatively. Below are several suggested ways your key employees can use a few unexpected minutes to expedite future progress and even build better relationships on the job site. Try using the STRAP system. STRAP stands for “See, Trap, Record/Update, Analyze and Plan.”


People are bombarded by so much sensory input that they block out or filter whatever doesn’t seem important. Removing filters takes practice.

• Walk the job with the crew and ask what they notice. Are there safety problems or obstacles in work flow?

• Inspect completed work; look for and correct minor problems before they appear on a punchlist.

• Review the plans and specifications and make sure you haven’t overlooked something.


Turn waiting time into training time for the crew. Reinforce their knowledge and ask for their feedback. They know their jobs better than you do, and they will appreciate being asked.

• Hold a toolbox talk or briefing session on regulations, procedures or project safety.

• Recognize an installer who has developed a great method for performing a task, and ask him or her to teach it to the others.

• Brainstorm with the team on ways to improve project productivity.

Record and Update

There is always paperwork to do. Even 10 minutes of available time will allow you to catch up on one of these tasks.

• Review documents and finish reports and correspondence.

• Check on the status of outstanding claims and change orders, and follow up on pending approvals and payments.

• Walk the job and photograph progress, note any changed conditions, or answer questions from installers, the design professional and your customer. Look at the big picture and concentrate on solving existing problems and preventing future ones.

• Document progress toward completion and prepare data for the next invoice.

• Confer with customer or design professional on design decisions, changes,or value engineering ideas.


If you wait until the project is complete to analyze cost vs. budget, it’s too late to implement suggestions for expediting progress. Try doing these things during the project, while there is still time to benefit from the information.

• Analyze your job cost alternatives by using the “what if” feature on your spreadsheet program, and flag ways to save money as the job progresses.

• Transmit feedback to the office staff (estimators, accountants, managers) instead of saving “lessons learned” until the job is complete.


Do you spend so much time in crisis mode that you have no time to plan? Unanticipated down time provides the opportunity to do one of these tasks.

• Break down the schedule for the next two weeks and allocate resources or purchase supplies and materials. If you have already done this, get a head start on the following time period.

• Get the crew together and review the layout of upcoming work. Ask them what can be done to improve the work plan.

Often, we assume that down time is beyond our control, especially when it is caused by a vendor, customer or Act of God. The productive use of down time requires you to actively seek and prepare for opportunities to catch up on data management, ask for feedback, solve problems and build stronger customer relationships.

Using the STRAP system will not only improve profit; it will also reduce boredom, frustration and stress for your employees. Most importantly, you will show your customer how creative and efficient you are, and gain a marketing advantage by becoming a partner, not just another electrical contractor. EC

NORBERG-JOHNSON is a former subcontractor and past president of two national construction associations. She may be reached at


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