Lean Implementation – Start Starting: Helping Lean Beginners Begin
We’ve all heard the “stop starting, start finishing” mantra, but there’s something to be said for “start starting” as well. Beginning a Lean implementation is often the most daunting part. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the new terminology or confused by different interpretations of what Lean construction should look like in practice. This can lead people to give up prematurely, or to merely go through the motions of Lean without addressing the roots of any of the issues they sought to solve.
There’s always a reason not to start, and we hear them all the time:
“This is the wrong project…”
“This isn’t the right team…”
“I wish I could, but my trades won’t do it…”
“We don’t have time for all the meetings…”
“We have to use CPM already so why add something else?”
These concerns are understandable, but they’re also not going to go away. The key to a successful, long-term Lean implementation isn’t waiting for all the ideal circumstances to fall into place, but rather making the best of the situation at hand and aiming for incremental, ongoing improvement. Here, we’ll discuss several other steps you can take as a beginner that will set you up for success.
Change is scary, especially when you’re under pressure to deliver. It’s inevitable that some on your team won’t be eager to go along with the new processes you want to implement. If they didn’t need it before, why do they need it now? But the question isn’t whether projects CAN be completed without Lean (spoiler: they can) it’s whether they can be completed at the same level of speed, quality and safety.
“[You’re] getting them to break away from the traditions of “here’s what we’ve always done on projects to develop, to build a fully detailed program” and to think about the project in a new way, about “where does the work really happen? Who really knows how it happens?” It’s not those that are planning the work, it’s those that are executing the work. But [the key is] getting those concepts embedded into teams so that you have a critical mass of understanding on the projects that you’re on, that you can actually propagate this philosophy and actually successfully implement it without a lot of kickback,” explains Brad Thompson, project services director at Jacobs.
Want to accelerate this process? Try to get beyond theory and into tangible improvements as fast as you can. You can expound on production laws as much as you want but people will start to listen when they see some proof. If you can identify some improvements that will directly benefit the holdouts on your project, all the better. “If we don’t have companies and individuals that are really invested in the process, then it’s almost competing with the progress that you’re trying to make,” notes Troy Steege, vice president at Zimmerman Architectural Studios.
Don’t Berate, Motivate
As you make changes to your processes and you begin to see results in your key performance indicators (KPIs) like percent plan complete (PPC), it can be tempting to start ranking different teams (either within the same project or across different ones) and drawing comparisons. Resist this urge.
While it can be motivating to those with a competitive streak, it can also reward people for fairly arbitrary circumstances (like the weather), and worse, it will confirm the suspicions of those who worry that the hidden agenda is to start getting rid of people. They now have even less of a reason to buy into the process if they think it’s working against them.
“They get this “aha” moment of the visibility they have to the other trades and what those impacts are to each other. They just buy into it and — as long as you use it properly and not as a stick to punish people with — then they want to buy into it. Then they use it and then they’re calling you on stuff that they need in order to get their job done, and it makes it a good place to be in that the team is collaborating as it should be,” says Mayme Brusoe, manager of construction at Jacobs.
Incentivize improvements and reward positive results, but don’t make people feel like they’re on some construction-themed spin-off of Survivor.
Keeping the end goal in mind and communicating it often will help keep things on track. “Technology or no technology, we’re trying to coach a mindset, right? Looking for people to learn how to reduce waste better and to plan better, and regardless of if it’s electronic or manual, just getting the buy-in from the foreman and the PMs of the subcontractors to truly be on this Lean journey with us, and not just fill out the sheets of paper with installing drywall,” says Ross Rosen, Lean manager at Turner Construction Company.
Avoid falling into a pattern where teams are merely going through the motions of Lean project planning. “They said five days, which is great. They didn’t go over five days, but we don’t know where they’re installing it. They’re not being helpful in that, they’re just trying to make a task go away, as opposed to truly plan out their work to the level of detail that we’re looking for,” adds Rosen. Ticking boxes shouldn’t be confused with achieving genuine improvements.
Take the First Step
Beginning is the hardest part, so get it behind you. With solid communication and a realistic expectation of what will be required to bring your whole team along, you’ll see an impact before you know it. If you can, identify people on your team who may have prior Lean experience and can support others. If it’s new to everyone, select a few people who can take point on certain aspects and help you keep the team accountable.
“Engage people with something that they’re comfortable with so that you don’t set the expectation too high, but you establish a good communication at a level that’s appropriate to where they’re at,” adds Steege.