Making good profit margins whilst contributing to improving the social infrastructure, by protecting the environment and respecting the people who work for you, is what Lean approach in the construction industry brings you. Lean construction is excellent in managing the construction process and achieving the project’s goals by eliminating waste. Lean construction is also capable of enhancing sustainability in construction thus the quality of life. If you are operating in the construction industry, what are you waiting to take the leap forward and make a step further.
About Lean Construction in the construction space
A growing number of construction firms are embracing the Lean methodology that emphasises on maximising value for the customer while minimising waste. The approach is simple and attractive in an industry where budgets, timeframes, and safety are all critical. Lean is about designing and operating the right processes and having the right systems, resources and measures to deliver things right first time. Essential to this is the elimination of waste – activities and processes that absorb resources but create no value. Waste can include mistakes, working out of sequence, redundant activity and movement, delayed or premature inputs, and products or services that don’t meet customer needs. The primary focus is on moving closer and closer to providing a product that customers really want, by understanding the process, identifying the waste within it, and eliminating it step by step.
Applying Lean Principles in the construction industry
The lean principles can only be applied fully and effectively in construction by focusing on improving the whole process. This means all parties have to be committed, involved, and work to overcome obstacles that may arise from traditional contractual arrangements.
- Eliminate waste
Defects: Defects are anything that is not done correctly the first time, resulting in rework that wastes time and materials.
Overproduction: In construction, overproduction happens when a task is completed earlier than scheduled or before the next task in the process can be started.
Waiting: The most common scenario that leads to waiting in construction is when workers are ready, but the necessary materials needed for the work to be completed have not been delivered or the prerequisite prior task has not been completed.
Not Utilising Talent: Workers on a construction project have a range of skills and experience. When the right person is not matched to the right job, their talent, skills, and knowledge go to waste.
Transport: The waste of transport happens when materials, equipment, or workers are moved to a job site before they are needed. It can also refer to the unnecessary transmission of information.
Inventory: Materials that are not immediately needed are considered excess inventory. They tie up budget, require storage, and often degrade when not used.
Motion: Movement that is not necessary, like the distance between workers and tools or materials creates the waste of motion.
Over Processing: Over Processing happens when features or activities are added that have no value to the client. Ironically, this often occurs when taking steps to eliminate the other types of waste.
- Precisely specify value from the perspective of the ultimate customer
The traditional approach to construction focuses on what the customer wants you to build – what’s included in the plans and specifications. Lean construction, on the other hand, recognises that what the customer values are deeper than that. It isn’t just about what to build, but why. Truly understanding value from the customer’s point of view requires a different level of trust, established very early in the planning phases of a project. Lean construction brings together all stakeholders including the owner, architect, engineers, general contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers. The project team not only delivers what the client wants, but they provide advice and help shape expectations throughout the project.
- Clearly identify the process that delivers what the customer values (the value stream) and eliminate all non-value adding steps
The ideal state of a Lean construction project is a continuous, uninterrupted workflow that is reliable and predictable. The sequence is key in construction, you can’t start building the frame until the footings are set, for example. Clear communication between all parties is essential to achieving flow. When one part of the project gets behind or ahead of schedule, it is essential to let everyone know so that adjustments can be made to avoid the wastes of waiting, motion, and excess inventory.
- Make the remaining value-adding steps flow without interruption by managing the interfaces between different steps
Once you have a clear understanding of value from the customer’s point of view, you can lay out all of the processes necessary to deliver that value. This is called the value stream. For each activity, the necessary labour, information, equipment, and materials are defined. Any steps or resources that don’t add value are removed. Let the customer pull – don’t make anything until it is needed, then make it quickly.
- Creating reliable workflows depends on work being released based on downstream demand.
Lean construction recognises that this is best done by those performing the work, often subcontractors. Participants communicate and collaborate closely with each other to determine the schedule of tasks.
- Pursue perfection by continuous improvement
The belief that it is possible and necessary to continuously improve processes and eliminate waste is the heart of the Lean philosophy. Opportunities for improvement are identified and acted upon during the project and applied to future projects.
The construction industry is not immune to the tendency to stick to old ways and resist change, but the many benefits of the Lean approach are compelling more and more firms to take on the challenge. When projects come in on time, on budget, and with exactly the value the customer expected, everyone involved is better for it. At DigiConsult we encourage collaboration as the first step towards Lean construction.