Kaiten-zushi is a sushi restaurant where plates of sushi are placed on a rotating conveyor belt that winds through the restaurant and moves past every table. The final bill is based on the number and type of plates of consumed sushi.

Construction Procurement is the process of finding, agreeing on terms and acquiring goods, services or works from an external source. The process is used to ensure the buyer receives goods, services, or works at the best possible price, when aspects such as quality, quantity, time, and location are compared.

What does procurement for a construction project have to do with conveyor belt sushi? Quite a bit actually. Procurement starts before the job starts, much the same as heading to the restaurant and making a plan about what you are going to eat, in what order, and within the constraints of your budget. On the project it is an ongoing process of product tracking and verification to ensure budget and schedule are maintained throughout the project. At the restaurant it is making sure you get the various flavors of sushi you like, without waiting, and without spending too much.

Planning / Scheduling – Start with ika sashimi, finish with tamago.

Based on the master project schedule, when will you need each specific component? A particular component may typically have an eight-week lead time. But depending on what time of year you need the product, that could vary. From week to week or month to month, a vendor’s lead time can change drastically, and keeping apprised of that can be difficult. Great vendors can really help by proactive communication. They can say “Hey, just so you guys know that if you’re looking for windows in the summertime we are looking at a twelve-week lead time instead of the normal eight-week lead time”. We can then decide that we should get our order in now, so we don’t get stuck in that log jam.

Tracking – I see a tempura roll coming down the belt.

To track the status of our various component purchases, we use what is called a Submittal Log. We then compare it to our Master Schedule and to the current schedule to see if anything has changed on the project. By constantly updating our procurement dates with known lead times we have a more accurate picture of the project’s schedule. If our steel delivery has an eight-week lead time we can put that into our formula and can constantly update the team as the project completion date is updated. Through this process we try to make tracking as least cumbersome as possible and as most useful as possible.

Follow Up – Checking on item availability with the waiter.

In a busy construction market follow up is essential to keeping our project schedule. Suppliers that schedule your complete order to be delivered in two weeks may run into production issues along the way. They may only be able to deliver parts of an order on time. That’s when the project schedule becomes more difficult to manage. It used to be enough to call the supplier and ask them if the order was on schedule to show up to the project on time. If they said yes, you were good. Now, best practice is to ask if specific components are on schedule as well as asking for proof on critical pieces.

Delivery / Verification – What kind of fish is this?

Ensuring that what was delivered is what you ordered comes down to manual verification in the field. Go to the delivery truck and check that the boxes being unloaded match your purchase order documents. Then go a step further and open the boxes to ensure that what is inside matches as well. Don’t take for granted that what the box says is what’s really inside. Don’t wait until a product is ready to be installed on the project to open the box for the first time and find out that it’s not correct.

Surplus – Better take that plate too, not sure when it will come around again.

There needs to be a balance between ordering the perfect amount of an item then running out when spares are needed versus ordering so much of the item that many are left over when you are done. The risk in the first scenario is that extras that need to be ordered could be backlogged and cause delay to your schedule. The risk in the second scenario is that money is wasted. Ideally a protocol can be developed that will accurately predict the required quantity of any given item as well as an appropriate number of spares. One key to controlling an inventory of distinct items is to hand them out only as needed. This allows control over when items are distributed as well as the ability to keep track of current supply more easily.

Storage – Taking more than one plate at a time.

A final tactic that can be implemented during a busy construction market is to receive products early. If your vendor currently has it in stock but you don’t need it for two months, you can have it delivered now and store it until needed. This ensures that the item will be available when it is time for installation, mitigating any impact to the project schedule if the supplier gets busy later and is unable to meet their delivery schedule. The downside is the risk of damage or loss of the items, so care needs to be taken to keep them safe. The other main consideration with storage is giving up valuable real estate within a congested construction site where extra space is at a premium. Prioritization is important in making the decision to have items delivered early as the option to store is usually reserved for items that are critical to the schedule.

Construction procurement takes careful planning and ongoing diligence to create an efficient system that brings a building’s components together in a timely manner, quality controlled, and with little waste. Conveyor belt sushi may be the ultimate in procurement as it brings a variety of food, in a steady stream, right to your table. Now, here comes the tamago.