Lean Process and Culture
Nearly every Lean construction implementation has been met with its fair share of skepticism. Whether from upper management, trade partners, or old-school superintendents, change can be a hard sell. It’s easy to point to successful projects that were completed without Lean practices, or Lean implementations that didn’t work out. But if you’re committed to changing the way your team works, here are some tried and true ways to get them on board using Lean process and culture.
It’s Hard to Argue with Success
Sometimes the easiest way to convince a holdout is with results in practice. They may never come around until they see the positive effects of the changes you’re suggesting, whether it’s introducing daily huddles, using visual boards for planning, or adopting a digital Lean tool.
Sometimes solving a problem on site can be the most persuasive proof, says CJ Roberts, a superintendent at SpawGlass. “Sometimes, it’s been experience. On one of my first Lean jobs that we were doing, we had a wall blow over, we had major wind come in…We were able to show the client, look, we don’t need a time extension. We’re able to get this job still on time with this issue…Having the full buy-in from the subs and everyone else, it was a true success. Even the superintendent that I was working with on that job, it made him a believer because he was an old-school gentleman that really didn’t buy into Lean at first. But after we did that, we went back to re-pull plan, and it actually worked.”
Personalize Your Approach
Michelle O’Neil, superintendent at Columbia Construction, stresses the importance of addressing concerns on a one-to-one basis and understanding what is motivating an individual’s hesitation.
“I think we’ve taken a slightly different approach. When we have guys that aren’t completely bought in, we don’t necessarily think that it’s them. We look internally and think that it’s us. What we do is with every sub or every foreman, we try to take a different approach. We try to get them to know them on a personal level to figure out what it is that they need, and how we need to communicate the information so that they understand. So, we manipulate each form of communication and how to get them to buy in differently because each foreman has a different view of Lean. If we need to prove to them that it works in a different way, then we do that because it’s adapting to each individual foreman,” O’Neil explains.
Identify the Disconnect
When someone’s disinclination — or active disparagement — is getting in your way, it’s only human to view them as an obstacle, which can quickly turn things personal in a negative sense. But keeping the focus on what is behind their reluctance can help prevent the situation from devolving into a blame game. Drawing them into a low-pressure discussion about their objections can shed light on what’s holding them back and keep them from becoming combative or simply shutting down.
“You’re only going to be able to go as fast as the weakest link is going to let you go,” explains Steve Turner, superintendent and director of Lean improvement at FPI Builders. “So if you’ve got trades that are holding you back, we used to really kind of lean on them pretty hard. Now we’ll bring them in and actually have a conversation with them one-on-one to try and find out the root cause. What is it that’s causing you not to buy in to this area? Is it that you just don’t like it? You don’t believe it? You don’t want to do it? You don’t have support from your superiors? So identify that reason, whatever that is, then we can go to the next level, one way or the other.”
Set Clear Expectations Around Team Culture
“One way or the other” does leave you room to draw a hard line if needed. Turner explains that when he’s exhausted all other options, sometimes it’s time to move forward with the rest of the team. If after trying to get to the root of the issue, there’s still no willingness to compromise, you may be at an impasse.
“We’re going to invite them to leave…If I’m going to constantly be trying to push rope up hill, it’s just going to get in a mess and it’s never going to work out. So we’ll try to find a root cause if we can work with them, we’re going to work with them very, very hard, but very quickly,” says Turner. “There has to be a standard set by which these guys are held accountable. Just like me.”
Jason Schroeder, owner of Elevate Construction and leanTakt, agrees. “We were taught in Lean to blame process, not people. And so sometimes you will have a non-cultural fit…You might have to invite somebody to leave… [but] we don’t blame individual people.”
“How we run the meetings, that’s a culture. The accountability, that’s a culture. The behaviors, that’s a culture, right? So lean process and culture…We have to manage our processes and improve them. And we have to manage and improve our culture. And there will be people who are lovely, wonderful, beautiful human beings, that would be happier in a different culture…you will have times where somebody would be better off and serve the team better if they were in a different company or a different job site,” Schroeder continues.
Once you’ve established the norms of the team culture you’d like to promote, be consistent in enforcing it. If people sense you’re not committed to the changes you’ve introduced, it’s very easy for a team to backslide. Keep in mind that if you’re successful, your results will speak for themselves, which is the easiest way to bring others on board.