We know what lean means (increasing productivity and efficiency), we know what it means (evaluating and streamlining systems), and we know the benefits (more money, happier staff, and more sustainable workplaces). Once the business of forward-thinking, avant guarde businesses, today nearly everyone has their hands in lean in some small way whether they know it or not.
Lean construction is in its own, special realm of possibility because it represents the perfect marriage of people power and material output. Driven by teams working in tandem, construction is a highly complex, working machine that requires just the right balance and constant adjustment to make everything run smoothly. This is where lean really gets exciting. Overview any one component of a project team – designers, general contractor, subtrades, even regulation bodies – and discover any number of ways to tighten productivity and raise the bar. So, how to get started? Read on.
Waste is your Nemesis
Essentially, the enactment of lean means the elimination (or at least mitigation) of waste. But before you can change waste, you have to study, analyze, explain, and prioritize its parts and causes. What is its role? Where does it come from? Who or what is responsible? How much time does it take to manage it? In lean-speak, if it prevents a project from moving forward, it is waste. If it slows down progress, it is also waste. But it is never about one single thing. Study each process, the waste’s ancillary processes, and start there for small things to change and experiment with in order to shift the waste stream.
No Silver Bullets
If there is one thing construction is known for, it is rigidity. Resistance to change is eroding as the industry demands it, but people don’t change overnight. In implementing lean, there is a certain commitment to longevity required. There are no quick fixes that will completely change the game in a heart beat. There is no single way to solve a problem. There are no silver bullets. If lean is your mission, start planning trials and what to do with the errors. Develop and share the plan with your team so everyone is on board and ready to wait out finding the right solutions for you. Larger projects require more pre-planning, so leave time. Once you teach yourself to commit and be patient, it will become second nature and success will fuel momentum for more success.
All In Operations
It is easy to look at the field for improvements. It makes sense that if production is creating waste, the answer lies in streamlining production. If field orders are time wasters, address the field personnel. However, never underestimate the contribution management makes to leaning up a business. The lean way is an all-in way and it is as weak as its least productive part. Be sure your lean plan addresses management and ownership as well as the people in the trenches. This ensures an holistic approach to streamlining and builds a sense of communal teamwork when everyone is doing their part.