Recently, my company, JC Cannistraro, embarked on the latest and greatest thing in construction, called “LEAN.” Now I heard of LEED, in which my biggest contribution seemed to be using products that are very recyclable. Then I was introduced to “Green.” Was this the next step? Not sure, but it involves sustaining the environment for future generations. That’s good, so when they asked me to participate in “LEAN,” I figured they were combining the two. If one is good then two would be great. Boy, was I wrong.
LEAN is the offshoot of the “Toyota Production System.” A management system Toyota rolled out to compete in the developing global automobile market. With it, Toyota has built a reputation of service and quality that has made them one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world.
Our LEAN training is based on the interpretation of TPS by Art Byrne, former CEO of an electrical manufacturing firm in Connecticut. There is no doubt in my mind that Art is a genius. After all, he sold this program to a company on its last legs. Personally working with all employees from top to bottom, Art transformed the company into an industry leader. The growth was phenomenal. After 10 years, the company sold for top dollar, and Art, the stockholders and the employee’s were all big winners.
My interpretation of Lean in construction would be a group effort by everyone to pre-plan, to simplify, to stockpile less material, and to work in a more systematic way. This goes away from the traditional methods of stocking jobsites, and being the first person on the floor. Less materials to trip over and less workers clawing over each other to get the work done should be a no brainer.
Everyone at Cannistraro will sit through a morning seminar on the LEAN process; where we play games with dice, LEGOs, marshmallows and pasta to show how a little change in thinking goes a long way to increasing efficiencies. For upper management, there is additional reading and research where we spend several hours discussing the pros and the cons and how best to apply lean concepts. After all this studying, I came to the conclusion the real goal here is to streamline processes, making us more efficient. This is accomplished by encouraging workers to think out of the box and come up with ideas to do their job better, and then give them the opportunity to implement. This way of thinking if encouraged properly should create a wealth of new ideas that will bring positive change on how the company operates. They say if you watch your pennies, the dollars take care of themselves, In this case, by making the small processes more efficient, the operation as a whole will follow suit.
Cannistraro has always been on the cutting edge; when I started more than 30 years ago they determined the future was prefab and have since created several large fabrication shops. We also were one of the first into BIM, and to this day I still read about the benefits of BIM that have drawings and sketches we did years ago. So there is no doubt in my mind that we will work hard to succeed in this.
I just finished my book group, and I am rip-roaring ready to go. The next meeting is the implementation class, and after that we are on our way to becoming the leanest contractor out there, or a least we’ll continue to try. Keep tuned.
Mark Perrone is purchasing manager for JC Cannistraro, a Boston-based mechanical contractor.