This month we’re kicking off a regular blog feature called, “A Field Walk With…” This Q&A style series will feature 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.
Lean Practitioner Q&A
This week we talk with Steve Turner, Superintendent and Director of LEAN Improvement with FPI Builders in Fort Worth, Texas, about his Lean Construction journey.
- Was there a specific reason or event that got you started on your Lean journey?
For FPI Builders, the Lean Construction concept came about when we were working with George Montague when he was with Cook Children’s Healthcare System. We were doing quite a bit of work with Cook, and our owner, Kevin Drake, realized the Cook team was making process improvement changes within their system that directly affected our daily construction activities. George invited Kevin to attend LCI Congress 2016 in Chicago to learn more. Our official journey began about a year later with the implementation of Last Planner System on a year-long project for the City of Fort Worth.
- Why do you think many in our industry our resistant to Lean culture?
I think of this often when we begin a new project and new trades are involved. The age-old excuse of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” just doesn’t hold water with me. By the same token, the trade who says “just tell me what you want me to do and get out of my way” becomes problematic in a totally different way. Two things I’ve settled on: 1) We are trying to target the wrong people in the organization for change, and 2) They simply don’t know what to do first.
Regarding the first one, everyone wants to target the owner or boss first with culture change, so we can get buy-in from the top. We’ve been told for so long that change starts at the top and trickles down. This baffles me if the purpose of the Last Planner System is to get the guy doing the actual work to be involved in scheduling the work! Let’s put our culture focus on the crew members onsite – teach them to look at the project, scope of work, and their involvement with other trades differently, and we begin making progress.
To my second point, there is so much conflicting information about how to begin improvement, sometimes companies just get paralyzed. You don’t need to find a BIG ROOM to have a meaningful meeting. You don’t need to order a bunch of pre-printed, laminated boards and make everything look pretty to start.
If you’re still having weekly meetings, tomorrow morning start a daily huddle meeting. Rip the cover sheet of your plan docs off and tape it to the wall. Grab your foreman and draw a simple plan for the week, detailing each trades’ daily activities. Review the previous day each new morning and discuss the activities for the day. Talk about material, manpower, and any obstacles which might be in the way. You’ll begin to work through and develop a system that works for you.
- Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the major trades and/or GC buy-in?
Absolutely, however, I think there will be limited success, and the project won’t realize its full potential. Sometimes it is easier to create change in a smaller trade who has limited time on the project. Other times, the bigger guys are more open to new options. I’ve seen one trade create a wave that others want to ride. That’s the trade you want to stay close to, nurture and bring them along.
As for the GC, it’s going to be tough to standardize and be consistent without a superintendent who’s fully committed to LEAN principles and practices. Something as simple as a super walking by a piece of trash on the ground and not picking it up, will derail progress quickly. You can’t have a superintendent talk a good storyline, but then not practice what he preaches.
- Do you think Lean can be practiced on projects without the owner and/or design team buy-in?
I’m not sure. We’ve only had one owner (Cook Children’s) and never a design team partner who practiced LEAN principles. We discuss this often in our LEAN meetings internally, and it’s a frustrating topic for sure. I’ve said more times than I can remember, we need to get a better architectural base focused on LEAN delivery. As for an owner, I’d love to have an owner who started our project journey focused on LEAN culture.
- How do you convince trade partners or other superintendents who are resistant to change to try something new?
Ah… I wish I had a magic bullet to offer up here! There are so many variables, but one thing we’ve had success with is 2-week challenge! When we introduce something new to our trades or staff, all we ask is for them to try it for 2 weeks. We ask them to be all in for 2 weeks, and then let’s review and see what’s happened. It’s the ever-present PDCA cycle!
This has worked well for us in many areas – some things stick, others get adjusted, and some just don’t fly at all. But for sure, we can get almost 100% buy-in all the time with asking for just 2 weeks.
- What Lean process, tool, or methodology has been a game changer to the way you run work in the field?
There are many things we’ve done over the past several years, but I’d have to say the biggest impact has been the addition of 5G enabled iPads in the field. We are 100% digital in the field – our superintendents and PMs work from iPads. We don’t have paper plans in job trailers (our trailers have reduced in size from 14’x60′ to 12’x30′ as a result). We don’t have paper RFIs or Submittals. We don’t have a paper schedule.
We utilize BIM360 for all project documentation – plans are uploaded and all trades have a seat in BIM. All trades work their submittals and RFIs through BIM, and our digital scheduling is done thru Bosch’s RefinemySite scheduling program. (Again, all trades have access to the schedule. They participate in phase pull meetings, and our daily huddles are around a video monitor, updating the schedule in real time as we move through our huddles). The iPad has literally become my “job in my back pocket” – no more running back to the trailer to look at plans. All markups are saved, and the file becomes the as-builts. It’s great, and you’ll never see me on a site without my iPad!
- For superintendents or trade partners that are new to Lean, where should they start?
Suppose I’d have to refer to question number 2 – the bottom part. I think the easiest transition for most companies would be the adoption of a daily huddle – a meaningful daily huddle. Start simple, just basic info and let it transition.
The one caution I would offer is for the superintendent to be a facilitator only – let the trades run the meeting with the super’s guidance. It’s useless for the super to stand in front of the guys and tell them what they’re doing today or tomorrow – nothing has been shared among the trades, no buy-in created, and no controlled accountability.
And if any of you readers don’t know how to start a daily huddle, they can call me. I’d be happy to invite anyone to our huddles.
- What is the single most important value achieved from Lean?
By far, it’s the community of LEAN practitioners I’ve met and who have offered support and guidance as we continue down our LEAN road to improvement. There is so much support from the industry – from coaches, consultants, other superintendents, PMs, and trades. All of us who are currently practicing LEAN methods, understand the need to lift the industry up as a whole, so everyone benefits from the effort.
There’s no privacy act when it comes to sharing our experience, both good and bad. We want the next guy to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes.
- Do you think Lean should or can be practiced on all or most projects? If not, at what percent do you think it can be effective?
I’m not sure about other companies, but we have standardized our LEAN practices throughout the company, and all projects are treated the same way. Whether it’s a ground up $10M, year-long project or a 12-week remodel, we start them the same way and proceed the same way. It’s one process no matter the job.
- Where do you see the future of our business heading in terms of how projects are led in the field?
Technology is gaining so much traction and much faster than ever before. This is where the major changes will occur. Digital scheduling will become more mainstream with large and small companies. Takt planning will make a major impact on the scheduling and flow of our projects – no more relying on a CPM schedule. And we’ll have more trades involved in LEAN practices, pushing the GCs to make changes.
I’ve got three major trades who have adopted the use of iPads in the field for their foremen. They came to me and asked us to load our programs on their iPads, so they can see what we see, when we see it. As a result, they’re more efficient, spending less time on the project with better control while they are there, and ultimately making more money. The future is bright for LEAN companies – change is inevitable. Hang on – it’s going to be a terrific ride!
Come back soon for the next episode of “A Field Walk With…”