The lean construction method is a modern approach building development that delivers a project in the most time-efficient, cost-effective manner. It maximizes value for the customer (the self-storage owner/developer) while minimizing time, disruptions, waste and costs. It makes perfect sense in an industry where these things are so crucial.
Lean construction principles were originally developed by Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage, and they forever changed industry best practices. The approach has evolved considerably over the last few decades and is now widely practiced in different forms including Just-in-time, Kaizen, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management.
Applying Lean Principles
Whether it’s manufacturing or construction, the business goals and priorities of every company are the same: to enhance operational efficiency, lower inventory issues, reduce inaccuracies and stay on schedule. But inconsistencies are an inherent aspect of construction due to fluctuating weather conditions, unreliable vendors, changing inventory requirements or unavailability of labor. All these factors adversely impact progress.
Lean principles don’t eliminate inconsistencies, but they help mitigate the fallout. They enable the construction crew to identify areas of improvement and act upon them in time to see tangible results. When used in conjunction with traditional project-management techniques, they help everyone understand how information, manpower and materials can be used more efficiently to deliver results on time and within budget.
The 6 Fundamental Principles
There’s no cookie-cutter approach to lean project management. It employs several tools and techniques. However, here are six fundamental principles:
Identify value from the client’s viewpoint. The traditional approach to construction focuses solely on what the self-storage owner/developer wants. Lean construction, on the other hand, prioritizes what the customer truly values and why. Understanding his perspective early in the planning phase and bringing together all stakeholders—the engineer, architect, contractor, supervisor and suppliers—ensures everyone clearly understands the end goal. They can then give their input and help shape ideas into reality with on-point execution.
Eliminate waste. A fundamental goal of lean construction is to eliminate waste at every opportunity. It targets eight major areas:
- Transportation: This involves the unnecessary movement of materials or equipment, either from one job site to another or between areas of the site.
- Inventory: Materials that aren’t needed sit idle on site, adding costs and taking up space.
- Motion: This refers to the unnecessary movement of raw materials and equipment across the construction site, especially in multiple trips.
- Waiting: This is very common at a construction site. The manpower is ready, but the materials and machinery needed to perform the job haven’t been delivered.
- Over-production: This is when a task is completed before the next task in the schedule can be started.
- Over-processing: This occurs when features or tasks are added to the schedule without adding value to the project.
- Defects: This refers to incorrect work that needs to be repaired, replaced or redone, including damaged material, rework or punch-list items.
- Skills: Failing to make use of people’s skills, creativity or knowledge on a project is a waste of manpower.
Implement processes that deliver true value. Once you’ve determined value from your client’s viewpoint, establish the processes and procedures needed to deliver it while ensuring all the steps are meticulously mapped out. From manpower to materials to equipment, every aspect should be considered in your blueprint, and any steps that don’t add value should be eliminated.
Achieve a collaborative, continuous workflow. The goal of lean construction is a speedy, streamlined workflow that’s consistent and reliable. Every stage is preplanned and performed sequentially. For instance, the crew wouldn’t start hanging drywall until all the plumbing and electrical work has been roughed in.
To achieve an organized, predictable workflow, everyone needs to consistently communicate and collaborate to avoid interruptions and delays. Dividing a project into predefined zones can help workers and contractors ensure they have the time and resources to complete each task on schedule. This also enables them to make timely adjustments in case any stage falls behind or is completed ahead of time.
Use pull-planning and scheduling for a streamlined approach. A reliable, predictable workflow also depends on work being executed according to downstream demand. Lean construction uses pull-planning or scheduling in which participants work in close collaboration and ensure work is done sequentially. This requires starting with a specific target date and staying on schedule.
With lean construction, pull-planning is accomplished by those who are performing the work. This is because they’re best suited to determine their capabilities and dictate the schedule. They work in coordination with subcontractors and customers for timely handoffs based on downstream demand.
Continuously monitor and optimize. The core philosophy of lean construction is continuous improvement, and its principles are based on the idea that excellence is achieved only when companies strive to learn, grow and optimize their operation on an ongoing basis. It’s through this holistic approach that the crew is empowered to be more efficient and effective, thereby making projects more economical and profitable.
Opportunities for improvement are identified through real-time task monitoring and then applied to current and future projects for better outcomes including:
- Enhanced safety
- High-quality construction
- Improved productivity
- Reduced waste
- Better risk management
- Fast-track project delivery
- Greater customer satisfaction
- Maximum returns
With lean construction, operations are aligned to deliver true value to the self-storage owner/developer. The project timeframe and estimated cost are considered a part of the production system. A centralized schedule governs all coordination and communication, while the workflow is managed by the crew responsible for achieving project goals.
The primary objectives of lean construction are to maximize value to the customer and minimize waste. Constant monitoring enables the crew to make improvements and reduce waste, while clear communication ensures reliable workflow and timely completion, ensuring customer requirements are met with zero delays and discrepancies.
Lean construction emphasizes value generation throughout the lifecycle of the project, even as the market fluctuates, tools and techniques evolve, and business practices advance. Unlike in traditional construction where every activity is governed by the central authority and driven by a predefined schedule, all the action is coordinated through pulling and continuous flow. This decentralized decision-making ensures transparency and accountability with up-to-date information, empowering everyone to take the right action at the right time.
The construction industry is often inclined to use old-school techniques and is averse to change; however, lean principles offer many benefits with far-reaching, positive effects. Projects are accomplished on time at the given budget and deliver complete customer satisfaction.
Kevin P. Hill heads up the marketing efforts at Quality Scales Unlimited, a Byron, Calif., provider of industrial scales and weighing equipment. Besides his day job, he loves to write about the different types of scales and their importance in various industries. He also writes about how to care for and get optimized performance from different scales in different situations. For more information, visit www.scalesu.com.