Lean construction’s benefits are often described in terms of how they can increase quality, improve jobsite culture, or reduce waste. While these improvements have a huge positive impact on employee experience and client satisfaction, the business case for implementing Lean methods is sometimes overlooked. It can be hard to quantify, and for many, the interpersonal and organizational aspects are more directly experienced and tend to receive more attention. But it’s worth taking stock of how even these seemingly intangible gains can pay dividends.
Whether you’re currently practicing Lean construction or are trying to adopt it within your company, here are some tips to help direct your efforts to achieve quantifiable benefits for your business.
Set and Measure Goals
“Because of the inherent complexity of the projects we undertake, we understand how important it is to build a strong team during the planning stages so our team is well aligned when construction starts,” says Keyan Zandy, COO of Skiles Group. “Shortly after we are awarded a project, one of the first things we will do is assemble the entire team—architects, engineers, key trade partners, client’s representatives, and end users—for a day-long team-building and True North session, which is designed to help us establish and articulate all the goals for the project based on what each stakeholder needs for the project to be considered successful.”
All items are discussed and categorized into one of six buckets: Safety, Environment, Quality, Cost, Delivery, or Morale, and the team collaborates to make each of the goals both actionable and measurable.
“This exercise yields a tool which we are able to rely on for process mapping, decision-making, and measuring our collective successes throughout the life-cycle of the project,” Zandy explains. “Monthly surveys gauge and document our adherence to our shared goals, allowing for continuous improvement.”
Identifying your goals at the outset of a project makes it easier to stay on track and heightens the chance that the results will be what you aimed for.
Enable Clear Communication
“There is this mindset that’s been instilled in us since the beginning of time in construction,” says Vincent Maresca, a program and project manager at Skanska. “The general contractor gets initial input into the schedule that he pushes out to trade contractors, and that schedule that he puts together is bringing in personnel and trades when that general contractor sees fit. There’s very little input from the trades when that happens…they’re pushing this schedule onto everyone not really considering any restrictions or conditions of satisfaction for any of these trade partners at the table.”
The result, according to Maresca, is that trades are left to coordinate amongst themselves in the field with little to no oversight, leading to miscommunication, inefficiency and rework down the line that can wreak havoc on a project’s budget. “If your mason is working in an area and he’s about to build a wall, but the electrician is not done with the conduit in that wall, they have to coordinate that amongst themselves, and the general contractor might be left out of this conversation completely…therein the general contractor loses that control.”
So much for command and control.
Another common pitfall is attempting to solve problems in isolation. “The general contractor might often coordinate and solve problems by trade, rather than by the issue. What I mean by that is if there’s a piece of ductwork that needs to go through this wall and it involves a structural issue, he might get the steel hangers in there, he’ll definitely have the mechanical contractor involved, but what about everybody else? What about the fire suppression system that runs through that area that we know we have to have?” Maresca explains.
Addressing these kinds of problems as a group, rather than haphazardly as they come up, will avoid creating larger, more costly issues that could have been avoided through more coordinated input.
Play the Long Game
“A lot of people think that Lean is about getting a job done faster and for less money,” says Jeremy Atkinson, a project manager, Lean coach and facilitator at Landis Construction. “That’s effective from a business or corporate mentality, but you really do sacrifice a lot if that’s all that you’re focused on. Sure, you finished the project faster, but at what cost? Seventy-hour work weeks, leading to frustration and burnout, increased risk of injury because of that burnout and loss of focus?”
A focus on short-term gains can harm a company’s reputation and bottom line in the long run, Atkinson explains. “How many bridges did you burn with trade partners, designers, owners, trying to save that buck?” By prioritizing trust and mutually beneficial business relationships, companies can win repeat clients and new ones on the strength of their reputation, which is a much more sustainable way to build a business than by cutting corners.
Look for opportunities to build relationships with trade partners and clients and to learn what constitutes success from their perspective. “It’s about getting better together,” says Atkinson.
This blog post is sponsored by BOSCH | RefinemySite.