This week we talk with Buddy Brumley, senior superintendent with Skiles Group in Richardson, Texas. If you’ve been around the industry for a bit, you’ve no doubt heard of Buddy’s name and maybe listened to him being interviewed on Hoots on the Ground or even read a few blogs he did for us early on. I’m excited to chat with him for this series.
Be sure and follow Buddy Brumley on LinkedIn!
“A Field Walk” is a Q&A-style series that features Lean practitioners sharing insights on their journey as well as advice on securing buy-in, tips for implementation, and more. As our community is built for shared learning, we trust you’ll find value from reading about their experience and examples.
A Field Walk with Buddy Brumley
Was there a specific reason or event that got you started on your Lean journey?
My journey started 8 years ago when you joined Skiles Group and introduced us to Lean Construction. While the concept wasn’t new to the industry, it was new for us, and you really educated us and took the concept to another level. Now, I’ve done Lean on just about every project and everywhere you can think of.
The theory was that the older guys – like me – wouldn’t want to do it. But when you proposed that we find some small wins, internal champions, and efforts connected to culture, I immediately saw the value. I’ve been one of our biggest champions ever since.
Why do you think many in our industry are resistant to Lean culture?
The old adage goes, “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?” People resist change. But the Lean concept has been around long enough that documentation now exists to show the benefits of it. It starts with management. If management doesn’t buy into it, it won’t work. And just having one or two jobs completed with the Lean approach won’t create a culture in the company. If people take an honest look at the old way of doing things, they’ll discover that there really is a better way to build. If they’re open to it, it doesn’t take long to sell them on Lean.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
No, I don’t think so. The inclusive part of Lean building is in commitments. The team must commit to hit milestones together. While a small percentage headed one direction can have influence, the GC also needs to be on board. Cultural changes always encounter resistance, but it’s worth the fight. You’ve got to encourage the change across the board. You need every group to personally buy in to gain the true value of Lean.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the owner and/or design team buy-in?
Yes, and we’ve done that. Early on, we tried to get our owners and design teams to see the value of what Lean can do. They can observe our numbers and see what our plan is for that day or that week. Sometimes they can learn just by standing and listening in on weekly or biweekly meetings. If a facility director needs to know something, we can stand there with my board and they can figure out what’s going on. Sooner or later, that gets pushed up the chain. We’ve had a lot of interest in the last several years just from owners and design teams seeing how we do things. When they can see the planning phase early on, they can see how it will benefit them.
How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
Through a “show and tell” process. We give them the tools and training to get started. Then, we suggest they start with the daily huddle and build from that. When we write things down at the huddle, you’re not just telling someone something that they will forget; it’s on the board. When superintendents see it up on the board, it’s like a lightbulb comes on. Even if they don’t buy into it 100%, putting it on the board lets everyone see and ask questions. Everything you need to do, that you carry around in your brain, is on the wall. We’ve got visual boards on the wall. If someone has a problem, we circle that part on the board. If we can just keep pointing things out to the people, we can eliminate their biases.
What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
For me, the biggest thing was The Lean Builder book. It makes Lean approachable for everyone and teaches everyone how to do it. There’s a playbook to keep you focused on the visual aspects. It also helps foster accountability between team members and trade partners. When we first started Lean, we had a scoreboard. When we completed a task, we would score. We marked it complete on the scoreboard. I expected the failed promise would mostly be architectural issues, but it turns out it’s a variety of things. Lean methodology includes tracking materials and responsibilities. It makes it harder for people to shirk and evade their roles. There’s no room for complaints like, “it’s not my job” or “that’s not my responsibility” or “this didn’t work like it was supposed to.” With Lean, everybody is accountable to each other. They talk to each other. Communication has opened so many opportunities during our collaborations.
For superintendents or trade partners that are new to Lean, where should they start?
The daily huddle, that’s the most important thing. You can’t do anything without the daily huddle. You still have legwork and paperwork to keep up with. But the Lean approach says that if you get people talking to each other, the rest takes care of itself. It helps everyone see the value in what is done and why it’s done that way.
What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
Lean made my roadmap a little clearer. My job is to get people to work together, have discussions, and act as a unit. Lean has been incredibly helpful for that. Furthermore, Lean has improved the culture on the job. People see that they’re not simply coming in and doing their specific activity. They must interact with everybody else. They develop a regard for others. Everyone has a voice and Lean makes that happen.
Do you think Lean should/can be practiced on all/most projects, if not what percent do you think it can be effective?
Smaller jobs would be easier. On a smaller job, you have fewer trade partners to deal with. We made a different iteration of the dashboards just for smaller projects. The more familiar you are with Lean, the easier it is to adapt your project. But small jobs still have milestones to hit. A vision board helps the team focus, regardless of the size of the project.
Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
When we started our system several years ago, we did our boards by hand. We still do them that way. However, a lot of people are trying to go paperless. That’s not my preference, but I’m open to listen. We need to train people up in new technologies in the field. We need to invest more time into the onboarding process to encourage new people and to research new ideas. That’s the only way we will continue to improve.
Anything else to share?
I’ve been involved in this for the last couple of years. What amazes me is the sharing across company lines. The culture is changing. People aren’t just using Lean for the benefit of their own teams. Whoever cares about this book won’t keep it a secret. I do my best to tell everyone to do it. When we all get better, the industry gets better. Lean motivates us to talk about what’s not working and what is. We’re not learning if we’re not talking.