Ways of Improving Your Lean Construction Strategies

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Lean Construction

Want to eliminate common sources of waste and increase the value of your construction processes? Consider using lean construction for your next project.

The US construction industry has been championing lean construction for a few years now. While the uptake hasn’t been what was hoped for, as we continue to move towards a more collaborative way of working, adoption of lean should increase, as collaboration is at its core.

In a nutshell, lean construction is a team-led effort that, when successfully implemented and sustained, provides the means for workers to become more efficient and improve the quality of their work. Because a lean program requires continuous problem solving and improvement, it can’t be instigated by an outside party and then thrust upon an unknowing group of people. It must have the buy-in from bottom-up as well as top-down, as it is the workers who make it successful.

Lean Construction in Actual Project

When it comes to implementing lean construction principles in an actual project, we can take so much from the Japanese-original 5 S philosophy. 5S is a philosophy and methodology first used by Toyota as part of its lean manufacturing strategy. As its base level, it is a simple team-run organizational tool that helps standardize working practices and provide a clean, safe, and efficient working environment. The result is improved productivity.

Going over it, 5 S stands for:

  •         Seiri – sort, clean, classify
  •         Seiton – straighten, simplify, set in order
  •         Seiso – sweep, scrub, shine, clean, check
  •         Seiketsu – stabilize and standardize
  •         Shitsuke – sustain, self-discipline

In American construction, these philosophies can be translated into:

  •         Sort – What’s necessary? What isn’t? Eliminate the unnecessary, be it tools, documents, or materials.
  •         Set in order – Create a place for everything and keep everything in its place. Arrange things with a mind to a workflow. Items should be stored near where they will be used. Workers should have easy and comfortable access to what they need. Labels and demarcation should clearly define what goes where.
  •         Sweep – Keep the workplace tidy. Set aside a portion of time at the end of every day to return things to their place. Cleanliness should be a part of the daily routine rather than an occasional activity.
  •         Standardize – Responsibilities and work practices should be clearly defined and consistent across the board. Every member of the workforce should also understand their personal responsibility when it comes to the first three S’s.
  •         Sustain – Once a system that incorporates the above four rules has been established, the goal is then to sustain it; don’t let old habits creep back in. Sustain should also incorporate reviewing how things are being done and looking at new ideas to help improve ways of working.

Yet another Japanese-original, the Hoshin Kanri is another lean construction classic principle that can help improve your performance at the site. A seven-step planning and implementation process that focuses on eliminating the waste that stems from poor communication (in particular, inconsistent direction) Hoshin Kanri helps to ensure that actions and progress align with company goals and are driven at every level within a group or organization.

The purpose of Hoshin Kanri can be summed up as:

Align strategy (company’s overall goals) with tactics (middle management plans) and operations (employee efforts) to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction at the same time. The approach can be broken down into seven steps:

  1.       Establish a company vision
  2.       Develop a three to five-year strategy (breakthrough objectives)
  3.       Determine annual objectives
  4.       Deploy those objectives (top downward, identifying workable targets and creating plans)
  5.       Implement objectives
  6.       Review monthly
  7.       Annual review

Creating Strategies for Lean Construction

 

  1. Identify Your Goals

While writing down goals can give a sense of progress; the truth is that it is in the action that progress actually happens. Therefore, keep the number of goals limited to ensure that your employees can keep focus. Generally, there should be five or fewer goals at any given time. “When everything is important, then nothing is important.”

  1. Give Each Goal an Owner

Assign each goal to someone who has the knowledge, skills, and authority to see it to successful fruition. This person will serve as a facilitator to remove any obstacles and help smooth the way and as a coach to track progress and move things back on track should they depart from it.

  1. Focus on Doing the Right Thing

While we tend to put a lot of focus on efficiency – aka doing things right– it is a by-product of a process, not a process in itself. Therefore, the focus should be on effectiveness – aka doing the right thing. What is the next right thing to do to take the company or project to the next level? Will it have a broad impact?

  1. Consult with Others

While it is typically top management’s responsibility to set the goals, it is of utmost importance to consult with middle management and other employees before finalizing those goals. To do that, you can:

  •         Consulting with those who are on the front line, the ‘feet on the ground’ so to speak, gives a better perspective for creating better strategies.
  •         It creates a sense of shared responsibility; something that is vital to any successful lean strategy.
  1. Track KPIs

Key performance indicators do not only help track progress, they can also be behavioral drivers. This is another area where effectiveness v efficiency comes into play. Efficiency is a good thing, but when the KPIs drive your workforce to cut corners in order to keep the process going, the end result is actually a less effective workforce, not a more efficient one.

Determining Lean Construction Strategies

 

  1. “Catchball” Tactic

Having a continued back and forth exchange between the top and middle management ensures that strategies and goals are understood, strategies and tactics are aligned, and that KPIs are meaningful.

  1. Review regularly

In order to best align with a strategy, plans may need to change at any given point in time. So tactics need to be flexible. By evaluating results monthly, plans can be adapted as necessary in order to best meet objectives.

Taking Action for Lean Construction

 

  1. Focus on Achieving Good Results

Don’t get stuck looking into your goals and start moving to get results. This step is where worker/employee buy-in is key. Project managers and team leads translate tactics into actions and then determine how best to implement those actions.

  1. More Catchball

On this level, continued communication is the key to ensuring that actions being taken on the shop floor, at the construction site, in the office, and/or out in the field align with the company’s agreed-upon tactics and defined strategies.

Revisit Processes and Adapt Strategies that Work

 

  1. Close the Loop

As well as ensuring that information flows from top to bottom, it is equally important that it flows from bottom to top. Regular progress tracking and monthly reviews provide the opportunity to revisit, regroup, and adjust tactics as necessary.

Flattening the management structure

For lean to work best, it is important to keep the management structure as flat as possible. The fewer levels between the very top and the very bottom mean the fewer risks of the message to be lost in translation between layers. Fewer layers also facilitate faster decision making, resolution and adjustment.

To flatten out the management structure and achieve improved lean construction, you should Share Your Vision to your crew members!

People perform best when they understand not just what they need to do but why they need to do it. So, once again, communication and collaboration is key to ensuring that your people are buying into your vision. By facilitating and nurturing a unified sense of purpose, employees and workers are far more likely to be focused and driven towards achieving company goals, which translates to a more effective – leaner – way of working.

Adopting lean in construction

While the goals of lean are similar across industries, the construction industry work process is notably different, i.e. it moves project to project rather than establishing an ongoing program. That being said, there is certainly room and need for lean adoption within the construction industry. By adopting lean techniques, the industry can:

  •         Communicate more effectively
  •         Produce less waste, make fewer mistakes
  •         Improve planning and forward scheduling
  •         Determine value from a customer perspective, identify processes that deliver value and eliminate those that do not
  •         Drive immediate and apparent change
  •         Provide a cleaner, safer, more effective worksite
  •         Continually improve from one project to the next

And to start with your lean construction, you can re-read our blog “How To Establish Lean Construction Methods in Your Firm.

Conclusion

Lean construction practices lead the construction industry down a new path – a path some are more eager to follow than others. But while we sit clinging to old ways, the world is moving on. They’re embracing digital, they’re working collaboratively, they’re focusing on eliminating waste, and they expect others to do the same. As these new expectations and demands continue to drive change, we must be prepared to change too. Adopting a lean construction philosophy is part and parcel of that change.

Start with the simple ways of improving your lean construction. Turn your traditional methods into modern ones. The use of a simple Project Management software is one way. With Pro Crew Schedule, it’s easier to implement lean construction methods in your projects. So start by requesting for a demo today!

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