My relationship with Lean got off to a rocky start.
One day I came into the office, and I was notified there was a new template to how our office desks needed to be laid out. We were to mark off everything on our desk with blue tape. The keyboard, stapler, mouse, etc. all had to be in perfect position on everyone’s desk. I thought it looked ridiculous. (Probably because it was ridiculous.)
I was in a sales position at the time and had a lot of people coming into my office. When clients and vendors would come in my office, they would almost always ask, “What’s that all about?” I would say, “I don’t know, I’m just doing what I’m told.” Some would get a pretty good laugh out of it and make fun of the blue-taped desk setup. I’d join them by shifting the stapler outside the blue lines, covering my mouth in disbelief. After the laughs, we’d carry on with the business at hand.
The next “Lean” initiative involved time-tracking. We were given a template that required us to fill out everything we were doing each day. “Went to the bathroom, five minutes.” “Talked to Bill in the hallway, 8 minutes.” “Lunch with client, one hour.” “Phone call with Samantha, two minutes.” The daily logs were to be submitted, tracking your every move. This is when the laughs started to turn into frustration.
My frustration wasn’t about telling people what I was doing. The frustration was the time suck completing this sheet every day would cause. We had sales CRM software, to do lists, project lists, the Outlook calendar, etc. This didn’t replace those items. This effort was in addition to those already established items. My plate was already overflowing. How is this helping me? Who is this helping? How does this make us better?
Be efficient. Eliminate waste. Be efficient. Eliminate waste. This was the drum being beaten each day. I wrestled with the idea that the first item of waste I would eliminate would be some of these “Lean” initiatives. After some time and conversations, I was given some exceptions on initiatives. I don’t think many others were so lucky.
In that season of my career, I could have been a better team player. I was stubborn, egotistical, and thought I had figured out more than I did. As I look back at that season, I get what was trying to get done. There was a conscious effort for the overall team to get better. It didn’t matter if you were an A player or not. Company-wide initiatives should include everyone.
I equated Lean as punishing the people. “Here’s a bunch more work to do on top of the work you’re already doing.”
That was until I started meeting people leading and living the Lean journey in a way that resonated with me. In a way that made sense. In a way that was truly Lean and not the haphazard “Lean” I’d experienced before.
Over the course of the last several years, I’ve built a tremendous friendship with Keyan Zandy (co-author of The Lean Builder). I knew his heart, what he stood for, and the purpose he was living out each day. I respected him for all those things and thought Lean was just another part of his tool belt.
He showed me that Lean isn’t just templates and processes. He talked about there being a better way to build. That was a simple, yet profound statement. The construction industry is broken in a lot of ways, but it is made up of beautiful people trying their best with the resources they are given.
The concept of Lean finally clicked when I attended a Lean Construction Institute event. There were two presentations slotted for this event, and I knew the people giving the presentations. Initially, I was going to support my friends. (Everyone needs some cheerleaders in their corner!)
Additionally, the titles of the presentations caught my attention. Jennifer Lacy with Robins & Morton and Jesus Hernandez with Depth Builder, LLC did a presentation called “People Before Tools, Culture Before Rules.” Keyan Zandy with Skiles Group and Joe Donarumo with Linbeck did a presentation called “Builder 2.0. Adapt or Be Left Behind.”
Jennifer and Jesus kicked things off and talked about a lot of the frustrations that I had with my initial Lean journey. They challenged us to watch the people, not the building or outcomes. Are they straining? Is it unnecessarily hard? Can I make their life better and easier? If initiatives are rolled out to cut costs but it hurts the people, where will that get you? I was blown away. It had me feverishly taking notes.
Next up at the LCI event was Keyan and Joe to present Builder 2.0. They shared how we talk about how awesome the construction industry is, but here’s the beat down porta-potty onsite as your restroom. Oh, and by the way, you must find your own space against a wall or vehicle to eat your lunch. Is this industry as good as we are promoting for our craft professionals?
They then began to talk about mental health. Construction is a leading industry in suicide, addiction, mental health issues, etc. Why aren’t people talking about that? Is this something that we look past or sweep under the rug and tell folks “but look at how much money you can make!” This section hit home for me since I’ve faced several of those mountains in my journey. I’m so glad I attended this event to broaden my perspective.
So, what was my biggest takeaway? Lean is about people, not process.
It’s about reaching the heart of people. It’s about trying to make not just their job better, but their life better. How can you empower someone to be the best version of themselves? How can you ensure that their effort is valued and appreciated? How can you make a consistent effort to add value to their life? That may include processes. But you don’t start and end with processes and a stopwatch. Now that’s something I can get behind!
At the end of the day, Lean is about people. Construction is about people. Leadership is about people. The byproduct of consistently pouring into people will be efficiency, processes, buy-in, and all the other things we are striving toward. So, try pouring into people on for size. See how it will impact things!