Lean delivers value
By Jack StathamConstruction Leadership Skills Development
Developed initially for manufacturing environments, Lean is lending its benefits to the construction industry.
Tracing its roots to the Toyota Production System (TPS) that was first developed in the late 1940s by the Toyota Motor Corporation, Lean Construction is a management system that aims to provide the most value to the customer then improving flow and eliminating waste. The customer is defined as any stakeholder receiving finished work from the previous step in the process, or previous process. Value is what they need, when they need it, with the quality and quantity of what they expect.
Although similar to traditional Lean Management used within manufacturing, Lean Construction does have differences. Most notably, the Last Planner System of Production Control, created by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell in the early 1990’s. This was the catalyst for the creation of what we know as Lean Construction.
There are three main tools implemented within most Lean Construction projects, the Last Planner System (LPS), The 8-Wastes, and 5S.
THE LAST PLANNER SYSTEM
Commonly referred to as “pull-planning,” this system is designed to allow the people closest and most familiar with the work to contribute to making the construction schedule and sequence of activities. The construction team works backwards from a milestone outlining the predecessor tasks, durations, potential constraints, possible time savings, and then committing to completing their activities.
By having the construction team create the schedule with the understanding of the entire process, it naturally builds accountability. There are several steps and processes built into the LPS to ensure constraints are removed prior to the start of each task, and daily huddles to track progress or discuss constraints.
This is one of the fundamental tools within Lean. Most practitioners start with understanding the 8-Wastes because typically any source of frustration or delays in a project stem from one of these, and typically any reduction in waste provides substantial benefits to the project.
The acronym DOWNTIME can help recall the components: Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, No Regard for Knowledge, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing. It is important to look at a process when understanding waste because what is observed may not always be the root cause, but instead be a symptom of a larger problem.
The five Ss are Sort, Set-in-Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. This is a management system focused on ensuring working areas remain organized and clean. I believe this is one of the most important tools of Lean because of its ease to implement on any project, and its substantial benefits. When working areas are organized and clean, they become safer, people are naturally more productive, and the environment is conductive to a higher quality product. Furthermore, when the project leadership is committed to maintaining clean, safe, and productive working environments it demonstrates that they truly respect the people—one of the fundamental principals of Lean.
Lean tools are used to assist with the training and implementation of lean practices; however, to truly implement and benefit from Lean Construction it must be embedded into the culture. This is something that I have the most passion behind because I have had the opportunity to see true Lean in action.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody knew what was happening and there was a lot of stress. Our teams knew that to keep working we had to ensure that people were safe, both physically and mentally. Instead of waiting for direction from leadership, our site teams started making improvements to their projects, taking videos of those improvements, and then sharing them company-wide.
These improvements were rapidly improved upon by other teams and reshared. By the end of the first month, we had almost 100 shared videos outlining different improvements ranging from our sign-in process, improved sanitary facilities, digital pull-planning, outdoor pull planning, and everything in between, all with the focus of keeping our teams working and most importantly safe.
Our leadership team also demonstrated exceptional communication through our weekly company wide stand-up meetings and multiple townhall meetings to share information. Additionally, our COO Sean Penn conducted a cross-country tour visiting our projects to talk directly with our field teams. Now, almost two years later, most of the improvements are still in use. Many became standard policy, and Chandos has grown exponentially.
My current goal is to maximize our culture of continuous improvement and direct it towards our Net Zero 2040 commitment. Many of our teams have already made amazing improvements with sustainability as a focus, and I look forward to sharing how Lean can be used to improve sustainability in the next column.
In his role as a lean and sustainability specialist at Chandos Construction, Jack Statham advises project teams on how to reduce carbon and waste across the lifecycle of a project.