What Is Lean Construction? Everything You Need to Know
These days, minimalism isn’t just a popular design concept. The notion of doing more with less has integrated itself into countless industries. The pressure to achieve greater results with fewer resources is immense, and the construction industry isn’t immune to it. Historically, however, the industry has operated under a “more is more” concept. Projects have grown more complex and challenging over time with tighter timelines, regulations and budgets. These factors are often layered with new materials, intricate processes, and customization requests. It all has the potential to add up to high costs, inefficiencies, and waste.
Thankfully, there is a way for construction companies to stay competitive and profitable while maximizing value and minimizing waste. Lean Construction management principles allow companies to do more with less while delivering high-quality output to customers.
You’re probably asking yourself, “What is Lean Construction, and how can it benefit my projects?” We recently released two resources to answer these pertinent questions. Our latest report, a partnership between Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics, contains insights on Lean Construction techniques from over 400 construction professionals worldwide. Get the report now to find out how your colleagues are making Lean Construction work for them.
You can also learn more about the key findings of the report in the infographic below:
Lean Construction: What Is It and Why It Matters
The Lean methodology was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota, to improve processes and remove waste. Lean is rooted in respect for the customer and in continuous improvement. The Lean Construction methodology functions much the same way, with a deep focus on collaboration and accountability. Lean has been a part of the manufacturing industry since its inception. As the construction and manufacturing industries have become more closely integrated, many of the benefits manufacturing has experienced from lean are making their way into construction operations, processes and projects.
Lean Construction is defined by the Lean Construction Institute as follows:
“A collaboration-based system that is founded on commitments and accountability. It requires a significant shift in the trust that each stakeholder places on another. The adversarial relationship that has existed in the industry between contractors and design teams over many centuries is challenged, with all stakeholders having to align with goals and objectives.
“In projects where Lean construction management principles are applied, teams integrate through collaborative tools and search for ways to eliminate waste. Teams seek to continuously improve through reflection. Lean processes are designed to remove variation and create a continuous workflow to drive significant improvement in predictability and strongly encourages respect for all people involved.”
Where Lean Fits into Construction
So, what’s the need for Lean Construction? Can it really help industries adapt to changing demands and maintain profitability? First, let’s take a quick look at the state of the industry:
- 70% of construction projects are over time and budget
- 57% of construction project spending equates to waste
- 50% of raw materials consumption comes from the building industry
While the amount of waste may be astounding, the good news is there’s plenty of room for improvement in the areas of efficiency and consumption.
3 Core Lean Construction Practices to Know
What practices make up Lean? While there are several aspects to the methodology, there are 3 core principles that help drive success:
1. Early Stakeholder Involvement
It’s no secret that stakeholder involvement is critical to project success. However, collaboration between construction crews and contractors often takes place later in the process than is ideal. Lean Construction emphasizes collaboration between these stakeholders from the beginning. Contractors are no longer selected on the basis of cost alone. Instead, the input they can provide during the combined design-build stages drives the selection.
This process helps to eliminate conflicts from the beginning, reducing total project waste and requests for rework. Despite the importance of this process, it’s still relatively under the radar for contractors. In our report, only around half of the global contractors surveyed had a moderate or better familiarity with this Lean Construction process. Integrating it into your operations can give your company a significant leg up on the competition.
2. Pull Planning
Most projects in the construction industry follow a linear planning process. It begins in design and preconstruction, and time frames are only adjusted as issues occur during the process. Despite this planning style’s popularity, it can lead to many issues, including roadblocks, weak profit margins, employee burnout, and poor productivity rates.
Pull planning addresses some of the common issues experienced with linear planning. First, the team defines the final deadline. Then, they work backward to determine deadlines for key milestones, project phases, and handoffs. Teams can prioritize the most critical tasks and determine any dependencies between tasks. Weekly planning sessions and meetings are used to ensure the project plan stays on track.
3. Weekly Work Planning and Percent Plan Complete
Construction companies need an effective way to keep track of deadlines and pinpoint any risks for going over timeline and budget. After all, 70% of construction projects are over time and budget. The percent plan complete (PPC) technique and weekly work planning can help. PPC tracks the total percentage of assignments that have reached 100% completion. The metric is calculated by dividing the number of activities completed on the day stated by the total number of activities planned for the week.
Weekly work planning sessions integrate nicely with PPC to review progress, risks, and next steps. Without the planning sessions, there is a greater risk of delays, wasted resources and missed deadlines. To achieve the best results, include stakeholders from all levels. That way, each team will receive the information and guidance they need to maintain agility and adapt quickly to minimize interruptions.
The Most Notable Benefits of Lean Construction
What benefits can you expect from the core principles of Lean Construction and the methodology as a whole? Of course, the benefits will vary based on application, the current state of operations, company size and even location. However, the most common benefits usually fall into the following categories:
Higher Quality of Output and Operations
In the world of construction, you are what you build. Yet so many factors must be in sync to deliver a high-quality output. From processes to materials, everything needs to be communicated, understood and coordinated to ensure the best results possible. Lean Construction focuses on trust, respect and accountability throughout all aspects of the project at hand. Teams work together as a unit to uncover value, innovate, and align on the goals from the beginning of the project. Collaboration during the preconstruction process helps to prevent rework, conflict and costly issues on-site, all of which hold up production and can negatively affect the quality of output.
Enhanced Safety and Reduced Risks
Employees are the most valuable resource of any construction firm. The industry has been making strides to increase safety and reduce risks for employees’ well-being and for the firm itself. Leading firms realize that a safe jobsite is often a profitable jobsite. Lean Construction supports these efforts by emphasizing communication, collaboration and a safe, efficient work environment.
The Lean planning methods help reduce risks by empowering teams to monitor progress, identify potential risks and mitigate them as quickly as possible. Decision-makers are involved on the front end to address these matters quickly before they have lasting effects on the project. These methods also leverage both manual and automated review techniques to reduce indecent frequency rates.
Greater Cost Control
By standardizing Lean Construction techniques as your building processes, you can increase productivity and generate cost savings through collaboration. Studies by the McKinsey Global Institute show that collaborative contractual relationships result in an 8% to 9% improvement in productivity and a 6% to 7% improvement in cost savings (when compared to more traditional contractual structures).
The reduction in waste increases project efficiency, improving cost controls for higher profit margins. Lean Construction reduces downtime waiting for materials, equipment and information while rooting out inefficiencies from processes. The emphasis on prefabrication helps to prevent material waste and maximize the use of all materials.
Improved Planning and Scheduling
One of the biggest causes of productivity loss is the inefficient scheduling of workers. This may look like employees working in a congested area where they can’t perform tasks efficiently or scheduling workers in a space that isn’t available. Techniques like pull planning minimize these issues by improving plan to actual ratio to reduce conflicts. As schedules are planned backward to meet the final deadline, stakeholders can consider and address potential problems ahead of time to coordinate more effectively.
Higher Customer and Employee Satisfaction
Lean Construction has been shown to increase the number of successful projects and stakeholder engagement at all levels. A large part of these results is due to higher productivity rates and employee engagement. Employees are involved in the project from the beginning and better understand their role in its success. They are also provided an environment that allows them to work in a more productive way.
Lean Construction increases the number of projects that are delivered on time and in budget, improving customer satisfaction and the construction firm’s reputation. Higher customer and employee satisfaction rates directly impact the long-term success of the firm.
Ready to Embrace Lean Construction?
A shift to Lean Construction may seem labor-intensive and hard to pull off. You can start getting results quickly from the methodology by following a step-by-step approach.
Assemble Your Team
Start by determining roles and responsibilities for each team member, ensuring that they are clear on what’s expected of them. Allow for clarification questions, and take time to address questions about scheduling, planning, and accessibility. Next, help the team get comfortable with any collaborative technology you’ll be using with onboarding sessions. Finally, establish milestones with the owner’s oversight and input.
To build transparency, highlight the individual benefits subcontractors will receive through Lean Construction. Make it personal to them and their role to get them onboard. Integrate these contractors into the planning process early and get them up to speed on the collaborative technology you’ll be using.
Develop Your Schedule
Use backward planning in the pull planning method. Determine the sequence of tasks through milestones, which lead to the final deadline. To create coordination schedules, use last planners for tasking. Progress and milestones will need to be assessed continuously to keep things on track.
During check-ins, take note of areas that need improvement and create action plans to address them. Use this time to discuss best practices with stakeholders and keep communication open. Check-ins are also an excellent time to evaluate project performance with your team.
As you work on the project and review best practices, develop your own standards for operations. Communicate these to your team and set expectations for reporting and benchmarks. During this step, you can also quantify the benefits and results you’ve achieved with Lean to make a case for continued and increased investment.
Discover more steps to embracing Lean Construction in your firm by accessing our latest report.