This week we talk with Greg Stedman, Director Lean with KHS&S Contractors in Anaheim, California. Greg has been with KHS&S for 21 years and spent the last decade devoted to Lean Construction for the firm.
“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.
Was there a specific reason or event that got you started on your Lean journey?
There was an event called LCI Congress that started our journey. In 2010, the director of our CAD department went to LCI Congress in San Francisco and brought Lean back. He began introducing Lean principles and that’s what started the conversation. It took a couple of years for that seed to start growing, but that’s what got the company interested in Lean.
Why do you think many in our industry are resistant to Lean culture?
The easy answer is change. But it’s deeper than that. Some people think, “We’re fine the way we’re doing thing, so why should we put in the work to change.” People or companies that really want to change the industry can’t just ask, “What’s in it for me?” The real leaders in our space are not approaching Lean with an attitude of “What’s in it for me?” They are invested as well in “What does it do for the common good?”
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
Absolutely. Over the last 12 years, 98% of our projects have been that way. We do it with our own company. I’ve had had lots of sessions with general contractors to get them into the fold, and it’s getting better. We set our own direction and drive Lean internally. Getting others to follow, adopt, and embrace Lean is just frosting on the cake.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the Owner and/or design team buy-in?
That’s virtually the same thing. You can practice it on your own on anything. For us, it’s become company culture. As a company, you get more bang for buck if the entire team on a project from ownership all the way down. That’s nirvana – it’s rare. It’s hard to find that unicorn.
How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
That’s like what I said before. Everyone asks, “What’s in it for me,” and “Why?” You can’t force them. You must show them and convince them to some degree. I try to convince them to take the first two steps. If I can get them walking in that direction, then there’s hope. It may take a year, but I can try to get them in the mindset.
Sometimes people try to go too fast. Everyone has their own “aha” moment. Some people take 3 hours, some 3 years. You must be consistent. I’ve been known as a nat. So, when it comes to convincing people to try something new, don’t be a bee. Be a nat.
What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
For the field, it’s the weekly work plan. I started my career in 1977 as a 1st stage apprentice. That’s 46 years if you’re counting. We think we plan our work. When we started this process, I told the CEO of the company that the hardest thing for our supervision is to put their plan on a piece of paper. There are a million excuses for the plan to change. The Foremen say all the planning is in their head. “It’s all in my head, it’s all up here,” they say. It’s too easy to change when it’s up there. It’s better written out. The weekly planner is the best for that.
For superintendents or trade partners that are new to Lean, where should they start?
All I can use is what I did here, and it’s the weekly work planner. I took the weekly work plan, and I standardized it. It’s the same today as it was when we started it. We made Monday blue, Tuesday red, Wednesday orange, Thursday green, and Friday purple. I just started having them write it out with a pencil. They must create a plan for the week and with their entire crew. It all starts with planning. That’s what the founders of Lean Construction said. It’s simple. Just start planning.
What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
Respect. When I grew up, my dad was in construction. My brother was in construction. It used to be a ruthless industry for respect. It just perpetuated itself. When you got into the industry, you always wanted to be a foreman. So, when you achieve that title, you think, “Now I get to do to you what they used to do to me.” Lean enforces respect and treating people with Respect. Everyone has a voice, and Lean allows us to benefit from others’ knowledge.
Do you think Lean should/can be practiced on all/most projects, if not what percent do you think it can be effective?
Lean should be done on 100% of jobs. Every project. The hard part about that statement is people’s level of engagement or knowledge. It must be driven by the GC; the GC is the Dad on the job site. If we can get them to buy in and teach Lean, that’s where we’ll get traction. We’ve had owners say, “We want a Lean project.” But if the GC doesn’t take the time to educate their team and trade partners as we go through a project, it’s going to be a long road.
Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
The future is prefabrication. You’re seeing buildings now that are being built offsite in warehouses and then erected with not many workers. I don’t know how long that will take but it’s already gone quite fast. We do a lot of prefabs at my company. For one, workers are harder to find. We’re not getting an influx of workers. So prefab is where the business is heading.
Anything else to share?
If you make it about the intention and not the tool, you will get a much better response and outcome.