Construction projects are rarely completed without a hitch, but the unanticipated issues don’t have to cause delays and cost overruns. With the Lean construction approach, a project team can more successfully and easily navigate around obstacles — and even prevent many of them from arising in the first place.
Delays arise from countless variables and logistics. One company may have trouble obtaining a needed element such as a lighting fixture because of a hold-up with the supplier. Another company may anticipate being temporarily short-staffed in a coming week.
Enter Lean construction. The method is a series of best practices that encourage close cooperation and communication among all of a project’s stakeholders to respond to such issues. Lean construction creates a unified team that is more nimble and efficient, avoids many complications and identifies collaborative solutions for any issues that do arise.
At LeChase Construction Services, we have employed Lean construction for several years. It recently reduced the timeframe for a Westchester County, N.Y., renovation project from 14 weeks to 12. The time savings, about 14%, came from collaborating on Lean construction initiatives and discussions to work around issues, including the previously mentioned lighting fixture that one contractor had trouble obtaining.
This is just one benefit of the approach, now a best practice for many companies. A 2021 survey of 336 contractors, conducted by Dodge Data & Analytics for the Lean Construction Institute and the Associated General Contractors of America, showed the benefits of Lean construction methods across various areas, including timeframe, profitability and enhanced team culture. Of those that used a “high intensity” of Lean construction methods, 60% reported profitability higher than with typical methods; 56% said the quality of the project exceeded expectations; 41% reported finishing a project sooner than the original schedule; and 73% said they would work with the same company again.
LeChase is deploying Lean construction principles at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., where we serve as general contractor on the renowned museum’s $53 million StudioNEXT expansion. The project will transform the museum’s studio into a pre-eminent international center for students and artists working in glass. Corning already was employing Lean planning methods, so we began the project by providing refresher training to those subcontractors with Lean experience and introductory training for those without any Lean experience. Careful planning is crucial to completing sections of the project while allowing museum operations to continue in other areas.
The Lean Construction Institute describes six tenets of Lean construction. One, respect for people, provides the foundation for the rest. For a project team to function smoothly, trust among the companies and their crews is essential. We build this trust in our daily meetings, in which courtesy is enforced with rules such as allowing one person to finish talking before another speaks.
The other tenets are to optimize the whole; remove waste; focus on process and flow; focus on generating value; and continuous improvement. The tenets, applied to construction and design, serve to “develop and manage a project through relationships, shared knowledge and common goals,” the institute’s website reads. “Through these tenets, traditional silos of knowledge, work and effort are broken down and reorganized for the betterment of the project rather than of individual participants.”
This collaboration and coordination can generate beneficial practices at every step. An example: Don’t set down materials if you’ll have to move them again. Coordinate team members to bring materials on site only when they’re needed. Then, place them proximate to where they’ll be used, rather than storing them elsewhere on site while crews prepare for them in another section.
Lean construction’s benefit may be greater, and more apparent, in larger projects, and Lean construction is not formally applied to every job. Still, when used frequently and proven to be of value, the principles can become part of the company’s culture and DNA. Even when Lean construction is not implemented on a smaller project, a project manager or superintendent experienced in the approach will be more likely to collaborate with subcontractors about potential problems and to find remedies.
Lean construction is not a one-size-fits-all process, but its approach brings value for both the construction company and clients. Success typically results in projects completed sooner and at lower cost.
Ken Osmun, a project executive with LeChase Construction Services, is certified in Lean construction. Learn more about LeChase at LeChase.com.