A Path to Building a Lean, Mean Construction Machine
Are you familiar with the concept of The Iron Triangle? The design principle is simple. You can have a product that is good, fast or cheap–but you can only prioritize two of those factors at the expense of the other. But as a construction management principle, the concept presents a tricky choice. Why must you only choose two options–is it possible to have it all? In today’s competitive construction landscape, contractors must prioritize all three. Nonetheless, this can only be achieved with the right strategy.
Which brings us to a problem that plagues the construction industry. Productivity in construction has flatlined in the last couple of decades. As PlanGrid reported recently with FMI, bloated amounts of non-productive activities on projects will ding the industry for $177 billion in labor costs in 2018 alone.
Combine that with miscommunication and bad data being responsible for 48% of all rework on construction projects, and you see the outline of the problem. Namely, that poor communications and resource management cost the industry enormous amounts of time and money.
Enter Lean Construction.
The concept, brought into being by the Lean Construction Institute to improve the management of construction projects, has two simple goals: to reduce waste and maximize value and efficiency. The principles of Lean have already been put to use to good effect in other sectors of the economy, particularly in manufacturing. But the construction industry has yet to adopt them on a widespread basis.
In order to help construction managers navigate the ins and outs of Lean, we’ve put together a handy e-book, now available for download. “The Ultimate Guide to Lean Construction for Today’s Construction Professionals” takes a deep dive into the history and principles of Lean Construction, as well as strategies for implementing it on an industry-wide basis.
Below, here are some of the basic concepts that you’ll find inside our guide.
How It Works: The 5 Principles of Lean Construction
There are five simple principles that undergird Lean Construction:
- Define Value – Put simply, this means figuring out your customer’s needs on a project. What exactly do they want? How much are they willing to pay for it? Coming up with answers requires a lot of inquiry and research, and what you learn gives a roadmap for the rest of the project.
- Map the Value Stream – What does it take to move a project from conception to a final product? Mapping the value stream requires a builder to uncover activities that would be considered waste, and then eliminate them to save the owner time and money.
- Create Flow – You figured out how to get rid of the waste. Now you have to make sure all the necessary work moves smoothly, with no bottlenecks. This might mean training employees on new equipment or techniques, or leveling workloads so no one is saddled with unrealistic goals.
- Establish Pull – Why deliver more materials than you need six months before you need them? A pull-based system delivers only the necessary quantities at the time that workers are ready to put them to use. It’s a customer-centric system, driven by their needs.
- Pursue Perfection – Make the previous four principles a part of your company’s culture. Get everyone striving for perfection in delivering exactly what the client needs. The result: happy customers.
The Top Benefits of Lean Construction
Maximizing efficiency and reducing waste are worthy goals. But there are heaps of trickle-down benefits to achieving both that have an enormously positive impact on your project, your team and your customers.
Improved Work Quality – Because Lean Construction requires tighter integration of delivery processes and goal-sharing, there is a greater emphasis on communication between team members. Employees feel more empowered to point out ways to improve quality without stepping on someone else’s turf.
Increased Employee Collaboration and Accountability – Better communication reduces some of the innate protectionism between varying stakeholders that has afflicted the construction industry in the past. Technological tools and software that allows for collaborative problem-solving is a key component.
Boosts Project Satisfaction – Tighter collaboration is helped by everyone on the team understanding the project owner’s objective. Keeping that objective front and center means every decision is made with achieving it in mind. This leads to faster resolutions of problems, reduces frustration for members of the team, and most importantly, makes the client happy.
Saves Money – Want to keep an owner really happy? A satisfied team that works together to solve problems will also reduce costs.
Increases ROI – An increase in efficiency from happy employees will naturally lead to an increased return on investment. In addition, any reduction in material waste resulting from using a pull system for ordering, or reduced procedural waste brought about by streamlining workflows, will raise ROI.
Essential Strategies and Tools for Lean Construction
Unlike an industry such as manufacturing, no two construction projects are exactly alike. That makes adopting standardized processes and tools a challenge for any company.
But there are a few tools that can help companies as they implement Lean practices for all their projects.
Integrated Product Delivery, or IPD, takes various disciplines–contractors, subcontractors, architects and so on–and builds a team that can work together for the length of the project. This team mimics the structure of a company, giving everyone clearly defined roles and putting everyone under the same contracts and agreements. This way, everyone is working with the same goal in mind: to build a successful end product.
Another available tool is the Last Planner System. Designed by the founders of the Lean Construction Institute, LPS is a scheduling and learning system that helps a project’s last planners build out a timetable for completion of a project and all its various phases. LPS starts with a master schedule, within which planners can set a calendar for completing a project’s phases, looking ahead to future obligations, determining weekly goals and learning what is working for team members and what isn’t, and adjusting processes accordingly.
Finally, the adoption of technological tools, like PlanGrid, that cut out paper, provides advanced tools for planning and visualizing a project and streamline efficiencies are part of the Lean Construction machine.
Why Get Lean
Let’s face it, construction projects are not going to become less complex. If anything, competition, uncertain business climates and unforeseen regulations will make building anything a more complicated undertaking. The construction industry already sees inefficient practices taking a toll. The companies that can mimic other economic sectors by becoming nimbler and less bloated by inefficiencies are the ones that will thrive. Such a shift requires an entirely new outlook on project management, so the sooner companies get started, the better positioned they will be for the future.
Download our ebook today, to start implementing essential Lean Construction practices on projects today: