Digital Lean construction offers a tangible method for implementing Last Planner System® methodology, prioritizing company-wide planning, check in meetings and continuous learning. Lean Construction expert, Rafael Franca of Robert Bosch Power Tools explains why now is the time for the adoption of Digital Lean in the construction industry.
Now Is the Time for Digital Lean Adoption
The impacts of COVID-19 over the past year forced many jobsites to evaluate their productivity and processes. As the virus halted or shut down sites across the country, even those of us who were committed to reducing resource waste before the pandemic recognized how survival in the “new normal” calls for greater transformation and more sustainable change.
Lean construction, which empowers every worker onsite to identify constraints, resource waste and ways to optimize workflows, can also create opportunities to improve resilience. Digital Lean solutions can further this effect by helping us better execute Lean methods like the Last Planner System® (LPS) and foster jobsite cultures able to innovate and adapt in the face of unexpected challenges.
So, how can digital Lean encourage resilience and foster productivity innovations?
Every region across the country was affected differently by the pandemic. Some jobsites remained opened with safety protocols in place and some remained closed even beyond the initial quarantine period. It was during this time that many of us realized how central we’ve made the physical jobsite to executing (and storing) our plans, schedules and communications.
Digital Lean mitigates communication issues that arise from working remotely or having team members do a mix of in-person and remote work. While there are some roles that must be onsite, transferring budgets, schedules and timelines to a digital platform keeps your workforce connected and removes basic challenges such as not having information available in real time.
RefinemySite from Bosch is a digital Lean tool ideal for tackling the productivity challenges we’re all experiencing. Not only is the platform cloud-based (a model the industry needs to adopt as a whole as we move forward), it’s designed for instant communication, enabling project managers, superintendents and trade contractors to share the realities of the project, whether in-person or not.
Valued Team Members
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has opened up a big can of uncertainty that trickles down to each team member. In addition to the pre-pandemic labor shortages (that were only exacerbated with furloughs and dismissals in March through May of last year), there is a lot weighing on the relationship between worker and firm.
Moving forward with Lean, firms can stabilize work and increase productivity by focusing on its four tenets directed at employees:
- Trust: There’s a symbiotic level of trust between firm and employee. This enables the employee to take charge of their role knowing they can align with the firm’s vision.
- Empowerment: Because of the established trust, the employee feels emboldened to do their work and correct the plan/timeline accordingly.
- Communication: With transparent contracts and schedules that are available to all parties, misinformation and conflicts are avoided.
- Responsibility: The work and accountability are shared. This provides both safety and motivation for the employee.
With Lean, every member of a project team must be involved in planning efforts, particularly those doing the physical work. During this time, there are undoubtedly firms who want leadership to develop an “action plan” for bouncing back, but the reality is everyone onsite must feel that they are working toward the bigger plan, feel empowered to take responsibility for their piece of the whole and have the resources they need.
Digital Lean offers a tangible method for implementing LPS methodology, prioritizing company-wide planning, check-in meetings and continuous learning.
Room for Innovation
Key to the industry’s future is how we use this time to innovate beyond the constraints we’re facing now. Costs, risk mitigation and scheduling are all factors that were constant sources of stress pre-pandemic. While we’ll need to account for a learning curve amongst team members, digital Lean fully documents and tracks the percentage of plan completion in real time. This data is not only valuable now, but it’ll be valuable for years to come when management can assess the successes and pitfalls of the last 50 projects while putting together a new contract.
Beyond self-serving benefits, there’s room to add value for future customers in terms of sustainable building. In the next few years, many developers will face repercussions for buildings with excess carbon emissions. In addition, several large-scale general contractors have already committed to drastically drop carbon emissions on jobsites through rigorous best practices and benchmarks. All of this can be more easily tracked and executed using digital Lean tools.
Modular Construction & Digital Lean
Trends such as modular construction will continue to gain traction post-pandemic. Popular in the hospitality and multifamily space, this method involves fabricating individual “pods” indoors and then installing all pods into one cohesive building onsite as the last step of development. Reported to speed construction by as much as 50% and save costs by 20% in the right environment, modular coupled with digital Lean has the potential to become the new standard of building. It also contributes to a safer and more controlled working environment, which will be top of mind for years to come.
As we continue to emerge from the effects of the pandemic, it’s important to recognize how critical optimizing efficiency and productivity are to the construction industry moving forward. By implementing digital Lean, we’re improving our execution today and putting ourselves in position to better adapt for tomorrow.