“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.
Kent Hedges, Medxcel Large Capital Project Manager
Was there a specific reason or event that got you started on your Lean journey?
I started my Lean journey in 2013. I had never heard of Lean but was introduced to it by Bill Seed simply as “this is the way we execute work.” For the next year I was encouraged to soak in as much as I could through the work and with other Lean leaders within our company. I discovered I had much to learn and was excited about the possibilities for improving my skills and our work.
Why do you think many in our industry are resistant to Lean culture?
I think there are two primary reasons: ego and lack of owner willingness. There are so many highly capable and knowledgeable construction leaders who have achieved significant milestones through proven techniques, so why change? Second, there aren’t enough owners willing to try something different. Unfortunately, we’ve litigated ourselves to the point we think we know the liability and risks of the current means & methods, so again, why change? Finally, there’s so much work happening, it’s challenging to take the time to learn something new.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
Lean is simply the active practice of reducing waste; therefore, yes, there are simple Lean practices which can be used on all projects — and even at home. However, the more folks working together with a common goal, the better the results. Also, with Lean different perspectives are considered, which may not have been readily visible if only a few individuals are involved.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the Owner and/or design team buy-in?
Same as above, yes. No single entity needs another entity to search for ways to reduce waste in their own daily practices. I like to ask Lean novices to explain their biggest challenge in their workday. Then I challenge them to figure out one simple improvement. Lean can be that easy.
How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
I ask a lot of questions to build trust. Early in my Lean journey I didn’t have any credibility because I didn’t have any practical examples of successful outcomes using a Lean approach. As an owner, it’s also easy for me to dictate we’re going to focus on a certain direction. However, this approach doesn’t work because others are only doing something because the owner said so; they’re not truly bought in. We must build trust to bring them along the journey and gain buy-in along the way. Small wins create momentum.
What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
Basic pull planning. I’ve been amazed by the progression of field teams when they can more easily connect the dots between major milestones and daily activities. It’s fun to watch salty superintendents get excited because they can better anticipate next steps through their increased understanding of the entire Last Planner System.
For superintendents or trade partners who are new to Lean, where should they start?
Culture. Most often the team is anticipating the typical “this is how we’re going to run this project” from the GC superintendent. Building a foundation of trust, transparency, teamwork, mutual accountability, and shared values sets a positive tone for growth and win-win outcomes.
What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
Being committed to continue the journey. Learning and utilizing Lean principles on a single project are only valuable if the individual is willing to continuously share knowledge with other project teams. Professional self-improvement is a marathon, and Lean values apply in all aspects of our life.
Do you think Lean should/can be practiced on all/most projects? If not, what percent do you think it can be effective?
After practicing Lean for almost 10 years, I’m confident these principles can be effectively utilized in any project, regardless of size and value of a person’s expertise.
Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
I’m hopeful more owners, architects, builders, and engineers — basically anyone connected to the built environment — will be willing to invest time in Lean methods. Construction will never cease to be an industry, and Lean can improve the way we deliver positive results with our clients.