This week we talk with Nick Clemens, Senior Superintendent with O’Shea Builders, in Springfield, Illinois. Nick has been with O’Shea for nearly 15 years.
“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?
In 2017, while developing our three-year strategic plan, the O’Shea team identified “advanced project planning and execution” as one of our strategic initiatives. Our leadership team spent the next two years researching and investigating how the construction industry will produce work in the future. In summer 2019, O’Shea senior leadership read the book Better Building by Klaus Lemke. In fall 2019, Klaus Lemke with LeanProject was contracted to do an assessment of our operations, and he recommended the implementation of the Last Planner System (LPS).
O’Shea introduced the organization to Lean with the implementation of the Last Planner System in January 2020, when we started developing LPS on three pilot projects. We started with a workshop to train the three project teams about LPS and then used the pilot projects as a learning lab for others in the organization. In fall 2020, the entire operations team was given The Lean Builder book by Joe Donarumo and Keyan Zandy, followed by a remote training session with Joe and Keyan. In December 2020, O’Shea’s V.P. of Operations was introduced to the book Elevating Construction Superintendents by Jason Schroeder and developed a vision for elevating field leadership and Superintendent 2.0. Jason worked with our Operations, Employee Development and Engagement, and Business Strategy teams in spring 2020 to create the O’Shea Production System (O.P.S). We also began implementing Takt on our projects.
In May 2021, after having time to experiment with LPS and a few other Lean tools, I attended an Elevate Superintendent/PM Bootcamp in Phoenix. This opportunity and experience were game-changing for me, both professionally and personally. Since then, O’Shea has kicked off the Superintendent 2.0 program and two cohorts have completed their introduction and development into the O’Shea Production System. We are currently working with cohort 3 and plan to have cohort 4 through the Super 2.0 development by the end of 2023.
We have recently hired a full time Lean Practice Leader, and I am transitioning into a role as Field Excellence Leader to serve as a resource to our team in coaching the O’Shea Production System, Superintendent 2.0, supporting field development, and elevating the role of Superintendent.
Why do you think many in our industry are resistant to Lean culture?
First, change is hard. Change forces you outside of your comfort zone and into a growth mindset. Early in a company’s Lean journey, it is difficult to show the team value and return on investment. When the team is stretched thin, it is hard to convince them to step out and try something new without first seeing the value.
Second, I think that when you perform your craft or profession a certain way for a while, it becomes your identity. If we do not have a high level of trust with our team, then change can be viewed as a threat to the person’s identity. The need for excellent communication skills is critical. The way we develop a conversation in our head, and the way it is received, can often sound like two different messages. If you are practicing true Lean, it shifts your leadership from focusing on the tools and processes, to focusing more on the people who are delivering the project.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
Yes, I think you can practice it and walk away with some small wins and success. To take full advantage of what Lean tools and philosophy can bring to a project, the GC and Trade Partners need to all be on board. The Last Planner System is an awesome Lean tool when the entire team is engaged and working in the same direction.
I represent the GC side, and in our regional market, we are leading the charge and developing the Lean systems on our projects. We are seeing great buy-in from our Trade Partners and most are starting to develop their Lean journey with improvements internally to their organizations.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the Owner and/or design team buy-in?
Yes, it can be practiced and will yield success for the GC and Trade Partners. We implement Lean on all projects and are also starting to see client and design team buy-in and participation on projects. With the client, design team, and project team all working in the same direction toward a common goal, it is much better than the different teams working in silos. In a collaborative environment, the success and rewards from practicing Lean are spread across all project stakeholders.
How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
Sometimes, we think learning and development is a one-size-fits-all, but it is important to meet each person where they are. Knowing what level your team is operating at with their level of awareness and understanding for the system is key. The foundation for O.P.S. is Respect for People and Resources. If we respect the individual, meet them where they are, build trust, and show them what winning looks like, they will start to see the value. We have seen our Lean buy-in start out in thirds: 1/3 of our team bought in and embraced the change immediately, 1/3 were not sure initially but have since embraced the system after developing an understanding, and we have had a couple of our team members decide that change was not a good fit for them and have left the organization. I have found that when it takes someone a little longer to develop buy-in, they have the potential to be an awesome field influence and advocate for the system.
What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
I have worked in healthcare construction for the last 15 years and spent the last 10 years partnered with the same client. I supervise numerous projects, varying in size, across multiple facilities. For me, developing my personal organization system has been a game changer. It starts out with clarity and getting a vision of who you are and how you operate. From there, we develop Leader Standard Work, Time Blocking, Morning Routine, To-Do Lists, and Capturing Notes. If you are not intentional about how you block time and organize yourself, then the time wasted from context switching can be extensive. Having a developed personal organization system that you can hold yourself and others accountable to is a game changer. When we are focused and organized, it gives us back free time that can be spent developing our leadership and project structures.
For superintendents or trade partners that are new to Lean, where should they start?
When I started to learn and develop an awareness for Lean, it was overwhelming, and I asked the same question. The advice I received is the same advice I would give today: start with the Last Planner System (LPS) and go from there.
Lean is a big toolbox and not all projects will require all tools, but the LPS tool is something you can scale across the organization. Start with Respect for People by developing trust with your team in a collaborative environment. When you have trust and a great line of communication with the team, then develop your meeting systems. The most impactful piece of the LPS is having a structured and collaborative daily huddle. When the Superintendent gets the plan out of his or her head and the entire team can see it and remove roadblocks together, it is awesome.
What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
When Lean is functioning and operating as it should, the construction industry will be more attractive to new people looking to learn, develop, and ply a craft. As a value-adding craft person, Lean is a respectful environment where we are empowered and have a voice to develop project conditions that will lead to success. We should be working safer, smarter, and going home in the same condition that we showed up that morning.
I am a carpenter by trade with a love for plying my craft. For me, the most important value achieved from Lean is making the construction industry a desirable profession, so that others will have an opportunity to develop a love for plying a craft.
Do you think Lean should/can be practiced on all/most projects? If not, what percent do you think it can be effective?
I mentioned earlier that Lean is a toolbox. It is also a state of mind, and the environment you create. As a project leader, you set the environment and the tone on your projects. When thinking about Respect for People, Stability, Reduction of Waste, Flow, and Continuous Improvement, I think there could be an argument that says all of the above could and should be built into all projects.
Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
The focus will be on how to flow work through the value stream. In most, if not all, markets, we do not currently have an opportunity to add more manpower to meet project demands, so we must adjust the way we perform and deliver projects with limited resources. The idea of “slow down to go fast” helps take a project from organized chaos to calm predictability. Sometimes, we need to slow down and hold the line to establish flow, and by doing this, we can accomplish more with less because we are pulling waste and variation out of the project system.
Follow Nick Clemens on LinkedIn.