“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 Scott Friend
Was there a specific reason or event that got you started on your Lean journey?
I remember first hearing the term “Lean” around 2012 when I was working with a project manager at a company in Washington, DC. He gave me the basic idea of doing more with less but there wasn’t much more to it. The company didn’t have a structure set up for it, nor did they have support from upper management. (This proved to be the same case when I returned to the company years later and attempted to implement Lean, but without support. As many know this is very difficult to do when you’re “on an island,” of sorts) I don’t know why that term stuck in my head for years, but it did. Later down the road in my career, I was fortunate enough to work with a company where Lean was quickly becoming part of the culture of the entire company. I became a supporter very quickly and was honored to be able to join a group of around 16 other individuals across the company to help implement the process on job sites nationwide.
Why do you think many in our industry are resistant to Lean culture?
I think people are very resistant to change. We tend to get comfortable in using the tools and methods that work already so people don’t want to change. I agree with this, to a point. Throwing a process at the project doesn’t always work. There are some great ideas out there that might help the design side, or maybe the manufacturing side, but they just aren’t practical (financially or timewise) for the project in the field. My belief is that the older generation of builders has seen many new processes come and go unsuccessfully so they’re resistant to any newer one, regardless of if it’s Lean or something else. People also tend to think it’s going to cost a lot of money to get up and running, which, as we know, is not the case.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
I don’t think Lean will be successful unless you’ve got buy-in from everyone, especially upper management. All that’s going to happen without buy-in is create stress and animosity and headaches for the person trying to lead the change. As the GC, we especially have to be the ones bought in as we are the ones who are able to shape and mold how the project will be run as a whole. If you have someone under your care that is trying to implement it, support them, please. It’s not an easy road to walk by yourself.
Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the Owner and/or design team buy-in?
I do believe that Lean can be implemented in the field without the owner or design team buy-in, as I have done it successfully myself. Typically, the owner and design teams aren’t always present on the jobsite, so this makes it a little easier to implement the process, with or without their buy-in. As superintendents and PMs for a general contractor, the field is our world and, for better or worse, we’re able to mold it. Generally, this is a huge benefit for the one leading the project as we can design how the workflow is in the field. Even if Lean isn’t written in the contracts, the way we lead and manage the job is usually adhered to by our trade partners.
How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
This has gotten a lot easier in more recent years as Lean has gained credibility and shown to be effective. We still have some trade partners who go against the flow, though. However, I’ve found that when we have a small handful of trades who are already bought into the process, the other trades generally tend to go with the flow. Nobody wants to be “the outsider” on the jobsite. Plus, when they see the productivity, positivity, and profitability coming from the other trades, they tend to want to jump on board.
What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
The daily huddles are the biggest game changer. As Lean practitioners, we know that there’s a deep rabbit hole that we can go down with all the tools and processes we can use. However, it all starts with the daily huddle. I’m sure many other superintendents that use these methods have heard, “Wow, a GC that actually listens to me,” or “They actually know my first name.” When we respect our people and take the time to just listen to them or talk to them instead of barking orders it makes a world of difference. Yes, these trade partners are contracted with us, and they have a job to fulfill, but when you interact with them as people first and take a genuine interest in their wellbeing, it changes your (and their) mentality when conflicts arise.
For superintendents or trade partners that are new to Lean, where should they start?
Again, I’d say the daily huddle for this one. Nobody enjoys the one-time weekly meeting that drags on for an hour or more. If we aren’t checking in with our people daily, then we aren’t doing our job. How are we to know what the struggles and conflicts are in the field if we aren’t asking for that information and feedback? I’m the last one to tell you that my plate isn’t full, believe me. However, I’ll go so far as to say I don’t care what size project or what size team you’re leading, you can spare 15 minutes in the morning to sit down and have a chat with field leadership. They want to get the project done as badly as you do. I’m not saying you need to hug it out. It would be foolish to think we’re going to get along with every single person on the project, but respect must be first. We need to humble ourselves to others’ suggestions and solutions to problems. I think many superintendents would be surprised at how rapidly things change when you just take the time to listen.
What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
Relationships. Anybody who has been doing this long enough knows that they can make or break a project, bid submission, client relationship, company retention, etc. While the tools of Lean certainly do make the job smoother, it builds relationships and trust with our people which, inevitably, makes our jobs a lot easier. Who doesn’t want that?
Do you think Lean should/can be practiced on all/most projects? If not, what percent do you think it can be effective?
I do but, depending on the size and scope of the project, some of the tools may not be practical. For example: if you’re running a 25k SF renovation in a high-rise downtown, this is going to be a very rapid project that may last 2-4 months. You may not have the time or resources to procure the materials needed to set up a meeting room or do a pull plan (practically speaking, your pull plan may be as long as the project itself). I’ve found myself in this struggle before with smaller jobs. However, I still stick with the daily huddles, at a minimum. Therefore, Lean can most certainly happen on all projects, but it’s up to you and your team as to what degree you can implement the tools. Relationships, which can be built just by having a daily huddle, can happen on a 1k SF job up to a 1m SF job and more.
Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
I think calling what we do “Lean” will fall by the wayside. By that, I don’t mean that it’ll disappear, but I believe the way we’re successfully running projects using these methodologies is going to become standard practice as a whole and not be defined just by the term. I think we will begin to see these standards being taught in schools/universities and the future leaders of our industry will continue to support the methods. I feel as though I’m seeing the older generation taking a breath as though a weight was lifted off their shoulders saying, “This is how it should’ve been all along,” and the younger generation coming into the industry is becoming more bought into how Lean jobsites are led and getting excited to be the next leaders driving the change.
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