Basics of Lean Construction
While attending the 2008 Lean Construction Institute Annual Conference, Strahm S3 recalls the founders of the Lean Construction Institute describe the application of Lean Manufacturing Principles the following way:
“Lean manufacturing seeks to improve productivity and quality by reducing variability. Lean construction techniques seek to improve productivity and quality by increasing predictability.”
Listed Below are the foundational principles of Toyota Motor Company’s lean manufacturing processes. These principals were outlined in a fantastic book, The Toyota Way by Jefferey Liker. Strahm S3 uses the principles, outlined in The Toyota Way, as the basis to explain how these principles apply to the process of a construction project.
Principle #1- Base Your Management On A Long Term Philosophy
During the design phases of a relocation or productivity improvement project, it is wise to explore what your business model will be in five years. Planning for growth during a phase of change may add a little cost today, but help your facility be infinitely more flexible in the future. You are already making changes, now is the time to plan for the future!
Principle #2- Create A Continuous Process Flow
Does it make sense to frame twenty door openings before you set the first door frame? No. By planning and scheduling your construction crews in smaller teams, working closely between trades, you can increase productivity and decrease costly mistakes by having all team members working together. Strahm S3 recommends having composite crews of different trades working together, has an intrinsic value and provides the end user with a much more functional space.
Principle #3- Use “Pull” Systems
In a construction or relocation project scheduling the project starting with the final task and working backwards to the first task allows the for the maximum benefit to the design team. There is no need to finish work that will sit idle for three months before it is touched by the next trade. This can be a costly mistake, since any future changes required by unforeseen design issues, mean tearing apart completed work and purchasing new materials.
Principle #4- Level Out The Work Load
Large fluctuations in manpower, up or down, are bad for productivity and quality. Taking a crew of plumbers from 2 installers to 30 installers and back to 2 installers in a short period of time, for example, creates an opportunity for mistakes. Each of these additional installers must be brought up to speed on job site safety, project design, project installation, materials and details. Each of these steps is necessary, but these steps do not add value to the finish project. Additionally, these extra installers will increase the demand for inspection and may limit opportunities for design conflicts to be addressed. Project quality and productivity benefit from stable crew sizes.
Principle #5- Build A Culture Of Stopping To Fix Problems
Training a group of installers to recognize problems and stopping to address them is key to bringing value to the end user. Time and money are wasted when trades install work per the drawings, casting a blind eye to design errors. These types of mistakes create waste. Waste can be in repairing or removing work that will not yield the desired result. Waste can also be from a final product that does not function as it was intended. Stopping to correct errors is rarely more expensive than fixing poorly functioning final products.
Principle #6- Standardized Tasks
Why would an mechanical engineer specify four different equipment sizes for the same project? Is it necessary? What is the cost benefit relationship to install four identical units? Standardizing equipment, construction details, and processes during the design phase eliminates confusion during the project implementation and yields a great benefit to the end user of the facility. Specifying four identical air handlers, for example, allows the owner to stock one size of filter and parts, have standardized maintenance intervals and allows their staff to only learn the maintenance requirements of one piece of equipment. Standardizing equipment and procedures has infinite applications in the delivery of a construction project.
Principle #7- Use Of Visual Controls
Posting a comprehensive, short term, construction schedule allows each trade and team member the ability to plan their activities at a micro level. If the construction schedule is updated regularly and posted clearly, the front line employees can be aware and planning their next activity without senior management dictating their next assignment. This practice allows for a smooth work flow as the installers begin to plan just in time material deliveries and ensure that they have the tools required in the time frame appropriate to maintain a continuous work flow. Visual controls can also encompass standardized instruction sheets for equipment hook up, marking areas of the site where there is a safety concern and simple visual crews that describe project progress.
Principle #8- Use Only Reliable, Thoroughly Tested Techniques
Keep it simple! Whenever possible, solve a problem utilizing a technique that you have used before. This eliminates uncertainty and wasted time and money. If it is not possible to use a previously tested practice or equipment, do your own test. Complete a mock-up, on site, with the team members responsible for the final product. A construction team does not want to be halfway through a project, occurring on a plant shut down, and realize that components are not compatible. Test! Test! Test Again!
Principle #9- Grow Leaders Who Embrace Lean Philosophy And Teach It To Others
Construction and project implementation is a human activity, fraught with all of our strengths and weaknesses. As a design and construction team, we have a minefield to navigate and we will never make it if we don’t stick together. Build your team with people who believe that this delivery method is the best way to construct or implement a project. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements. In fact, there will likely be many debates about how best to utilize the tools and principles created by Toyota. This basis of understanding allows for these productive debates and discussions making the project results better for the end user and the construction team. Excitement and passion can draw people in and create results far exceeding expectations.
Principle #10- Develop Exceptional People
Continued education and personal attention is key to building a great project team and a great business environment. Encourage educational endeavors and self-improvement. Nurturing this growth will breed loyalty into your organization and allow you to better serve the client. Exceptional people begin with a person that has the right attitude. Given motivation, educational opportunities and time to mature, a team member with a great attitude can learn the skills necessary to provide exceptional results.
Principle #11- Respect Your Extended Network Of Partners
Strahm S3's best experiences on construction sites begin with a team of respected equals. There is always the inevitable contractual hierarchy that our current business culture accepts, but, that is a contractual relationship. It does not have to define the project implementation relationship. Partner with specialty contractor, not “sub-contractors”. Sub-contractors don’t bring anything to the table but a willingness to take orders. Specialty contractors know there trades inside and out. They will bring immense value to the design process and are more likely spot errors or inconsistencies during the design phase, rather than the construction phase. Look at the contractors in your region and ask yourself, “Which of these are Specialty Contractors and which of these are Sub-Contractors?”
Principle #12- Go And See For Yourself
Making any decision without exploring the root cause of the problem can lead to poor results. Spending time on the construction site, or in the design room, can raise questions and provide insight to improve the current project and all that come after. If you are building mock-ups, have the design team present. The problem solving power of an experienced installer or technician coupled with a design engineer is amazing to witness. One can’t understand the complexities of a project sitting at a desk. Get your hands dirty and have fun doing it!
Principle #13- Make Decisions Slowly By Consensus And Implement Rapidly
Strahm S3 has been involved with many projects that are, jokingly, referred to as “Build Design” as opposed to “Design Build”. One never sees a Formula One pit crew behind the wall discussing who is changing the tires and who is filling the gas. These decisions were made well before the race and practiced to perfection. Why is it acceptable in the construction industry to start a project before the basic design is finished? What is gained?
Our construction culture does not currently value the planning and design phases of a project. There is tremendous value in a plan produced by a team of professional designers, specialty contractors and end users. The participants are stakeholders. Their reputations and financial success are directly tied to the success or failure of the plan produced. A well designed and executed construction plan should resemble a racing pit stop. Extensive preparation executed in the blink of an eye.
Principle #14- Create A Learning Culture
Keeping a design and construction team together allows for a continued learning experience that is unparalleled. Each and participant brings their own years of experience, plus you gain the collective value of shared experience. Each team member continues to hone their skills inside and outside of the team environment and bring the industry best practices back to the team.