Lean Construction

Over the last decade we have seen lean start to permeate many different industries.  Healthcare is one of the most prominent areas.  Another more publicized area lean is permeating is government work. A challenge was even given to all the Presidential  candidates.  This is a great start.  It shows that more and more people are starting to understand lean is about the way we think and see things.  It is not about tools such as: 5S, Standardized Work, Quick Changeovers, or level loading.

Picture from Quality Digest Magazine Article

There is one industry that has been slowly adopting lean, but rarely gets mentioned.  That is the construction industry.  More and more construction companies are trying to adopt lean principles and thinking into the work they do.  Lean construction is more than just the building phase of construction, but also includes the design phase.  Lean construction involves owners, architects, designers, engineers, constructors, and suppliers.   It is all inclusive from end-to-end.

There is even the Lean Construction Institute.  It was established in 1997.  This isn’t a new concept to the industry.  It just doesn’t seem to get well publicized.

There is a good article from 2007 about Lean Construction.  In the article it says:

Lean construction provides a solution that works for all three groups-the owner, the contractor and the worker-because it’s founded on collaboration, communication and mutual respect. Not only does the conventional design-bid-build environment not produce the best results for any of the three groups, it actually pits each of them against each other and creates a downward spiral of lose-lose. Lean construction works because it focuses on maximizing value and eliminating waste.

It is a win-win for everyone with a focus on what is important to the customer.

Therefore, lean construction focuses on identifying and delivering products or services on which the client places high value. A few things that clients often place high value on are:

  •     No change orders
  •     High quality-meaning conformance to requirements
  •     On-time delivery

It is great to see industries outside of manufacturing and healthcare understanding the lean principles and embracing them.

If anyone works for a lean construction company, I would love to hear from you and ask you questions about implementing lean in the construction industry.


Posted on August 27, 2012, in Construction, Customer Focus and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Matt,
    We have been working on implementing lean in our very small (15 employees) company for about 5 years. Change is difficult for everyone, but construction seems to be even more resistant. The positive side to that is although we are moving slowly we are way ahead of the curve. If we were in high tech we would have been vaporized long ago. The other positive is with economic downturn, people are much more willing to try new ideas
    Our best efforts have come from spending lots of time orienting new employees and teaching our current employees the basics of lean and continuous improvement and then putting these ideas to practical use with problem solving, 5S improvements, learning how to spot waste, etc. Every employee is included and expected to participate.
    Craft skills have eroded over the last 25 years for many reasons, mostly lack ot fraining and effort by employers and unions. This has resulted in employees who don’t understand their jobs, huge variance in how things are done and of course inconsistent results for safety, quality and productivity. This waste of human potential, we call it the 8th waste, is probably the largest waste of our industry We have countered by using TWI method for developing processes and training. It is a huge amount of work but the results are great
    The design group, architects, engineers and designers seem to be even farther behind. It seems that owners don’t value spending money on a well developed plan, so they take the cheap route by only hiring designers to come up with the minimum. This causes the wastes of ; 1- contractors building in contingencies for incomplete design, 2- Change orders for incomplete or incorrect design and 3 Slow productivity because of lack or correct infomation
    That’s my two cents worth, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.
    Jim Sommerville

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