This week we talk with Chris Davis, Lean Manager with Turner Construction in Denver, Colorado. Chris has been with Turner for just about a decade now, with half that time fully devoted to all things Lean.
“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.
Chris Davis of Turner Construction
Was there a specific reason or event that got you started on your Lean journey?
In 1997, Leo Linbeck III sent a fax (remember those?) to our Bass Hall project in Fort Worth that basically said, “Hey, there’s this new thing…Lean Construction…need to dig into this. It’s going to change our industry.” Leo was getting his MBA at Stanford in Northern California, where Greg Howell and Glenn Ballard were introducing Lean Construction to America.
I began my construction career with Linbeck at Cook Children’s. The best, most collaborative owner ever. Got coached on the finer points of collaboration by my boss David Stueckler. Once you taste collaboration, you’ll spend the rest of your days trying to have that experience again.
Side note: Joe and I are also alums of Cook Children’s project experiences.
Why do you think many in our industry are resistant to Lean culture?
Because it truly is easier to do things the way we’ve been doing them. And, in the pressure situations we often find ourselves, we need to get the thing done. The sure way to get the thing done is the way we know.
Respect this truth.
If we don’t understand the vision across the ditch that change represents, it’s tough to get across the ditch.
I often think of introducing change as building a small campfire to draw people in with a warm, glowing model of the possibilities. Build that fire with the stuff of the project at hand, from the minds and hands of the people on that project.
I’m reading Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, which encourages you to find and amplify the bright spots, the examples of things already going well in the place where you’re trying to introduce change. Yep.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
Ha. Yes. On Acme Brick’s headquarters in Fort Worth, before I was actively practicing Lean, mechanical contractor TD Industries was always pushing me to get things done so they could do their work and meet their milestones. Sometimes I wished Aaron Rice and Tim McNew would just ease up on me a little. Come to find out, they were actively managing constraints using Last Planner. So, yes, even one trade can work Lean alone to make the project better. TD Industries certainly did.
Lean works at any scale, anywhere: projects, offices, your house.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the Owner and/or design team buy-in?
Well, since it’s been happening without owners and designers on a lot of projects over the last twenty-five years with pretty good outcomes, I’d say yes. Of course, it’s way more impactful if owners and consultants, the people who first shape the project, are on board.
The most important mistakes are made on the first day of the project.
I’m encouraged by the design pull plans we’ve started doing. They seem to be a powerful teambuilding exercise. They also help everyone see how much work the designers and owners must do to get to the milestone. It creates empathy in the builder. There’s a lot of untapped potential in the design pull plan.
How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
Understand that their resistance to change is sensible. See the second answer above.
Pay attention to the super-resistant. They often end up being the hard-core supporter of the new way. Why? Because their skepticism is an honest assessment of the change. Early adopters are often early droppers…easy-come, easy-go. The skeptic is in for the long haul.
What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
5S. A sustained 5S effort (not the 3S spasms we usually do) can be a quiet factor in hitting the schedule, improving morale, improving communication, and improving collaboration.
Turner 5S Manager Jacob Strong, RK Industries Tinner Foreman Robert Wayland, and I will tell our 5S story at LCI Congress in a couple of weeks. I was always kind of afraid of 5S…didn’t know what to do to make it stick. Death by PowerPoint and one-off jobsite box organizing. We did something at the Denver Airport project where 5S stuck, where it was a positive, durable part of the project.
For superintendents or trade partners that are new to Lean, where should they start?
At home. Fix something that bugs you at home a la Paul Akers’ Two Second Lean. At home, you can think through the concepts and understand cause-effect on a manageable scale. Bonus: you improve your personal situation. Improve your clothes cleaning process, organize your garage.
What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
Making the construction industry less brutal, more of a place where people can imagine having a career and having a life. I think these quotes best sum up the value:
- “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard.
- “People are entitled to joy in work.” — W. Edwards Deming
Do you think Lean should/can be practiced on all/most projects, if not what percent do you think it can be effective?
Every project, every corner of the organization, every business relationship.
Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
My hair is on fire right now thinking about the inflection point we’re at with technology. Really cool technologies and platforms have been developing in silos out there for some time, and it seems we’re on the cusp of bringing these things together.
I got a peek around the corner at the Advancing Construction Analytics conference here in Denver recently. I was there to tell the story of using OpenSpace (a 360 photo documentation platform) to improve delivery of our Denver airport project. Companies like OpenSpace and Structionsite are now giving us visual, granular quantification of work-in-place, so that we might better tie planning (pull plans) to doing (weekly work planning and plan percent complete).
Platforms like Bosch RefinemySite, allucent, and Smartapp are creating smart, integrated pull planning and Last Planner tools. These tools surely will merge with photo-documentation quantity reporting. Can’t wait for the synergies that will happen here.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Companies like Smartapp are creating robust frameworks that will host the above and more and give us a physical sort of “internet of things” that will passively gather a full, granular view of our projects. We’re about to spend a lot less effort to know a lot more about our projects.
Last Planner will become less of an administrative burden on our superintendents and Last Planners, even as it delivers easier opportunities to improve processes, planning and collaborating.
Hair on fire! I can’t wait.
NOTE: If you’re heading to LCI Congress next month, you can hear more from Chris and the Denver Airport team when they speak on 5S Manager: Countermeasure to Chaos on Oct. 19th from 1:30-2:15pm.