How Can Construction Companies Follow Lean Construction?
Lean Construction is a decades-long initiative to create safer and more efficient job sites.
Our recently published article discusses how construction companies can follow lean construction principles with Linarc. What is Lean Construction, and how can software help implement it? Lean Construction is a term that’s discussed but is challenging to implement.
According to the Lean Construction Institute documents, Lean Construction aims to maximize value while minimizing waste. This is done through process optimization and streamlining production. That sounds simple enough. But what does that look like in practice? We’ll explore that and outline some steps construction companies can take to implement Lean Construction.
Construction Needs to Be More Lean
Some studies report that 50% of the work done on a construction site is non-value-added effort, also known as waste. Moreover, the effectiveness of an hour of labor in construction hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years. Other industries have seen significant improvements in their efficiency. Lean Construction principles can help the construction industry follow suit.
The first step to address the inherent inefficiencies in construction is to understand better why it is that way in the first place. Part of the inefficiencies of construction is due to the nature of the work. Job sites are generally dynamic and evolving environments where multiple people operate large and potentially dangerous equipment. Safety is a constant concern, and construction’s ever-changing nature means unpredictable situations can arise at any moment.
Other factors may include following habits that aren’t the best but are deeply ingrained. Some people may still cling to their notebooks rather than digital ones since pen and paper have always worked for them. Or maybe workers are at times inclined to work slower since they’re typically paid by the hour, not based on the profits.
Manual processes abound, such as preparing call lists for procurement and dispatch. There are many essential parts of construction projects handled by individuals rather than by systems. Redundant data entry is one of the most egregious examples of wasted effort. Not only does it take more time, but it’s prone to create errors as well.
So You’ve Decided To Implement Lean Construction. Now What?
Lean comprises numerous goals and high-level rhetoric, but how does this translate to day-to-day work on an actual job site? How do you take the concepts extolled by Lean research and case studies and implement them into your project?
According to one source, “Lean Construction is concerned with the alignment and holistic pursuit of concurrent and continuous improvements in all dimensions of the built and natural environment: design, construction, activation, maintenance, salvaging, and recycling.”
So does that mean you recycle better and call it Lean? In a way, yes. But Lean is best understood as making continuous improvements more than a clear set of steps that one follows. It aims to accomplish a reduction in inefficiency and to be more profitable. How can construction companies and contractors consistently complete everything they want in the planned timeframe? Perhaps we might evoke the image of the opposite of Lean, which is excess. How can companies reduce extra work and time spent to accomplish their goals?
Six Tenants of the Lean Institute
The Lean Institute lists six tenants, three in the waste category and three in benefits gained by reducing waste.
Lean Attempts to reduce:
- Wasted time
- Wasted movement
- Wasted human potential
Lean Aims to achieve:
- Better time productivity
- Reduced safety hazards
- Cost savings
So, taking each of these in turn, to be Lean, you need to make the goal of reducing unproductive time. For example, if the crew shows up at 8 am ready for work, and the truck with the supplies arrives two hours later, that’s a quarter of their day wasted. Better planning would prevent that.
Or let’s say that truck delivers the materials on the edge of the job site, so someone needs to get a forklift to haul it off to its desired location. That’s a transfer that didn’t need to occur. Consolidating shipping and reducing transfers adheres to Lean principles.
Wasted human potential is often more of a long-term concern. Let’s say someone can become a foreman or be the best in their specialty. If they don’t have the opportunities and support to grow in these areas, they might never rise above being a laborer. Lean Construction takes the long-term view and opens up the opportunity for growth, rather than keeping them at the laborer position.
Identify the Bottlenecks That Are Keeping You From Being Lean
So how can companies tangibly reduce those areas of waste and achieve those goals? The first is to open up a dialogue and have recap sessions. Periodically companies and crews need to set aside time to review everything that happened. This conversation aims to identify areas in their project that didn’t meet expectations. They can then name the root cause and discuss ways to address it. Root causes could be improving the scheduling of trucks or implementing any number of other operational efficiencies. It varies per project and the type of construction. Too much paperwork, accidents, being short-staffed, poor communication, RFIs, are all common causes for work time to be wasted on the job. It may be tempting to single out individuals or contractors. It’s essential to take the time to think about ways you could have better supported that person or crew.
Evaluate the Movement of People and Resources
While discussions about lost time are likely to occur through the ordinary course of business, it’s probably less common to think about the optimal paths people or resources could be taking. It’s essential to think through where to move materials and where to assign crew members. Using a site map can help visualize potential efficiency gains by reorganizing materials and teams.
Offer Training & Growth Programs
While construction is hard work and laborers will always be needed, some people on the job site can make a more considerable impact. Some may have a knack for training and leading others. Or they may be exceptionally skilled at operating heavy equipment. Offering crew and contractors the ability to grow within their organizations is a great way to improve your overall efficiency. Not only does it help make them more productive on the job, but it can also aid with employee retention. Supporting employee and contractor growth will help them to improve continuously. Human Resources can assist with designing employee skills development programs.
Formalize Lean Construction Safety Protocols
Safety has made great strides over the years, with workers being continually trained and educated on reducing job-related accidents. Prominently placed posters let people know the safety guidelines and the number of days since a safety incident. Daily safety huddles are common as well.
Ensuring that the project continuously promotes and enforces safety protocols is essential to not having people get hurt. Implementing safety protocols takes a significant toll on the individual and is costly for the overall project. By maintaining a safe environment, you’re simultaneously following Lean principles.
Evaluate the Budget
Not everyone on the job has the bottom line in mind. Many workers are just there to do a job, get a paycheck, and go home. Continuously evaluating the budget and identifying where you may be running over is one of the best ways to practice Lean Construction. When reviewing the budget, you discover many labor cost overruns in a specific area, and you can follow up with the foreman to figure out what’s going on. Most problems will appear in the budget at some point, so you can use it to gauge the health of every aspect of your project.
A key point here is that the budget needs to be granular enough to identify where the overages are. If one looks at the money going out and coming in, it might not illustrate where the issues are. Make improvements by being detailed down to each task.
Incentivizing productivity sounds simple enough, but it’s not. What happens if an hourly worker finishes the job in half the time? If the answer is that they get half the pay, then that worker is incentivized to work the maximum number of hours allocated for the project. Some workers may work at their optimal efficiency regardless of whether that financially benefits them or not. Structuring their pay to reward the best and most efficient workers will go a long way in creating a Lean construction site. Lean Construction is inherently a managerial initiative. Part of the waste they hope to recover comes in the form of funds that might have otherwise ended up in laborers’ bank accounts.
Some projects have rewards if you meet specific deadlines and penalties if you miss them. Sometimes those rewards trickle down to the workers, but bonus programs vary from project to project. Thinking through the bottom-line realities of how being more efficient will affect the workers’ financial reward is part of getting workers to embrace Lean Construction.
Use Construction Management Software to Promote Lean Principles
Linarc fosters Lean Construction. It’s up to each construction company to implement them, but Linarc provides the tools and resources to facilitate gradual improvements to your processes.
- One master schedule for Lean Construction. Linarc keeps all personnel, resources, and budgets in one schedule. Keeping all the project information in one singular timeline allows us to analyze that data to highlight process improvements for you. This entails proactively preparing procurement call lists, so all materials arrive on site when expected. Our reporting and alerts system pinpoints where projects are running off course. By keeping everything in the master schedule, we can leverage that information to aid with every aspect of the project.
- Open lines of communication. Putting the entire job site on one universal platform opens the door for communications across differing groups. If one team sees a problem, they can alert another to plan a resolution. Knowledge transfer, issue resolution, and team building are all facilitated by giving people a way to connect.
- Automated workflows. When Submittals, RFIs, or Change Orders occur, it can stop or delay the project until resolved. We offer automated workflows that resolve these much faster. Since our system will do it for you, project managers no longer need to track down specific documents or people. Set it up once, and let Linarc racetrack your approval and review process and resolutions.
- Preplanned Dispatch. One of the busiest jobs on a construction site is calling all the vendors and resource providers to keep the job site supplied. Each needs to be planned for in advance to ensure the suitable materials are on-site and ready when crews arrive. Linarc evaluates the master schedule and prepares a list for the dispatcher to call and secure the required materials. All they need to do is review it and make the calls.
- Company-wide Reports. Evaluate how each project across the company is performing. This high-level view can show opportunities to reallocate crews to different jobs or get bulk discounts from consolidating orders to a single, more significant purchase. Gaining these cross-project improvements helps with the overall company bottom line. We also provide performance reports for all contractors, so it’s easy to see where the best workers are.
- Focused Mobile Apps. One of the biggest causes of inefficiency is a distraction or unclear job requirements. Linarc offers a variety of separate mobile apps, each designed for specific roles within the company. Crew members only need to know where to be, what to do, and how to submit their timecards. So that’s all we give them, along with some helpful communication and safety resources. Supervisors also have specific needs, as does executive leadership. Linarc has multiple mobile apps, each custom-designed for the person’s role using it.
In an industry that hasn’t made significant improvements in labor efficiencies over the years, it’s time the tech industry offers its hand to assist it. Often the most significant barrier to change is simply not knowing a better way exists. With construction software, you can create an environment that’s part of the process. Doing so can help foster the environment where construction crews are inspired to work as quickly and efficiently as possible and realize a genuinely Lean Construction site.
What’s your experience working with Lean Construction? Have you had any successes? How about significant inefficiencies? Tell us about it here.