A wide range of industries are applying lean thinking with significant success.
In the construction field, lean construction holds great potential for improving efficiency and overcoming the numerous challenges of modern-day building. Lean allows businesses to create more value and minimise waste in the construction process.
Before BBN Times gets into the productivity and efficiency benefits, what exactly does LEAN stand for in the construction industry?
“Lean construction” is an approach to plan and design production systems that save time, work, and resources. It is based entirely on the “lean production” methodology devised at the dawn of World War II. The initial drive was to optimise military manufacturing through innovative production management.
Lean production has since evolved tremendously in business performance management and is today applied throughout various aspects of the industry — from blockchain, virtual reality, and all the way to AI in construction.
The lean building approach gained significant popularity with construction companies ever since. Today there are several organisations, one being the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) that push for a lean transformation of the construction industry.
In construction, lean practices entail creating a strategic vision and plan to accumulate more value from the building process with less waste, be it physical or other.
Traditional construction methods come with the so-called sunk costs and process inefficiencies.
Lean design and construction aim to improve labour efficiency in erecting buildings of any type or size. This spreading approach to building does so by increasing the value per work hour for the end customer. Add on top the rapidly developing green trends, demand thrives technology forward.
Essentially, lean allows construction companies to produce more with the minimum required materials, costs, labour hours, and effort.
The benefits of applying lean in construction are numerous: productivity, profit, improved customer and worker satisfaction, and the list goes on.
Lean construction principles include:
To apply lean, construction companies first need to implement a few important prerequisites:
Remember at all times that the lean methods are not an action plan, but rather an overarching philosophy for thinking about the construction process.
Concepts and tools that apply lean thinking to construction:
Let’s start with the general principles for applying lean thinking to your construction processes.
Getting your company into lean construction starts with understanding its guiding principles. Only then you can apply it skilfully to boost productivity.
To apply the lean philosophy at your construction company, you’ll have to start with understanding your customer’s values and needs. Rather than only focusing only on plans and specifications, the lean approach requires you to grasp the underlying goals a customer has for their project.
To achieve this, you’ll need to create a strong relationship with the client. For example, you can hold exploratory meetings before signing the contract. By doing this, you better see what the customer recognises as ‘value’ in the project — and you can determine how you can meet or exceed the customer’s expectations using lean principles.
You also need to involve all parties in the process — from the architects and engineers to the general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers — to boost collaboration.
Once you know what your customer finds valuable, you can move on to defining the value stream.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM) plans out all the processes involved in a project — from its initiation to its delivery. Mapping helps you outline the labour, equipment, materials, and data required for your project.
With the help of VSM, you can remove any non-value-adding activities at every stage of planning and construction. The concept is widely mentioned in blockchain applications.
For example, you can take out meetings that are not essential and equipment that’s not required for the required tasks. That’s how you can avoid steps that don’t bring any benefit to the project from the customer’s point of view. This naturally boosts your team’s productivity, as workers can focus only on the essential tasks.
One goal of lean construction methodology is continuous workflows with minimal interruptions. This adds predictability and reliability to the construction process.
Establishing effective workflows with lean is best done with pull planning. Instead of using a linear planning process, pull planning is based on downstream demand to avoid bottlenecks, worker burnout, and low productivity. Pull planning works backwards through the project steps and milestones and considers input from the entire team.
For example, you wouldn’t deliver materials on your construction site before they’re needed by your crew because they take up space and require special care. You’d only transport to the location at the right moment — not earlier, and not later than that.
Communication and collaboration are key in applying pull planning because the different stakeholders will need to continuously discuss project scheduling. Lean construction teams often opt-in for weekly work planning sessions to stay on track.
The basic principle of lean construction is to eliminate unnecessary actions and costs. When using lean construction, you’ll want to identify the common places where waste occurs with special care for hazardous materials. With domestic properties, sustainability has many applications, but that’s not the case with work at an industrial scale.
Typical issues to address:
Continuous improvement is at the heart of lean thinking, and this applies to construction management too. When you use lean in your projects, you accept from the start that you’ll keep revising your processes actively.
Let’s say that your plan includes a team to install window seals in a building. After two days, it’s obvious they won’t manage in time because some of the team members don’t have enough experience with that. Applying the continuous improvement approach, you can quickly re-plan by redirecting more workers to the site, or reschedule the activity with a well-trained team.
The best part about continuous improvement is that you apply your lessons from one process to another. You learn with each completed building — and you can constantly improve your methods to cut down on unnecessary activities, lower costs, and keep increasing value for your customers.
Boosting productivity is an essential benefit of lean construction. It’s not an extra, but rather a basic feature of the lean philosophy.
Applying lean practices in your construction projects helps achieve more with less. At the same time, lean also allows you to deliver higher value to your customers not by adding more activities — but rather by removing the unnecessary parts.
What are your insights on using the principles of lean in your construction work? Please share tips as a comment below.
Dimitar Karamarinov is an award-winning digital multi-instrumentalist coming into practice as early as 2006. Over a decade of audio, graphic, visual design, along with versatile know-how of business, marketing and communication. Dimitar grows experience with Entrepreneur Franchise 500, Inc 5000 and multi-continent brands under his belt.