Slim Down Your Jobs: Lean Construction

by Brian Frederick
October 11, 2017

Minimize waste to maximize profitability

It seems like a no-brainer: minimize waste to reduce costs and maximize profits. This makes sense for most industries, right? But lean construction is particularly important to contractors looking to improve their bottom line.

But how do you get started? It’s easier than you might think.

Lean construction begins with identifying and eliminating waste in all its forms. This, in turn, creates a predictable, reliable workflow. From planning and pre-groundbreaking all the way through completion, it is a non-stop process through all project phases.

The principles of lean construction

Lean construction embraces a culture of collaboration, efficient scheduling and delivery, and consumes as few resources as possible. Here are its basic principles:

1. Determine project scope and what constitutes value for stakeholders.
2. Minimize waste.
3. Create a smooth, reliable flow of resources and processes.
4. Utilize modular and pre-fab materials wherever possible.
5. Constantly seek to improve every area of the process.

It starts with collaboration

To effectively apply the principles of lean construction, you must begin with collaboration between all stakeholders. Owners, engineers, architects, contractors, suppliers and labor all must have an understanding of the project and its goals. Everyone must be engaged and work towards the goal of improving processes and eliminating waste.

Find a system that works for your organization and this project

There are many different approaches for adapting lean construction principles, but no set answer for every situation. Instead, you need to find the system that works best for your particular needs. Here is a quick look at a few of the more popular lean construction processes.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream maps are flowcharts detailing each step of a process, information and its value. Items on the chart fall into two categories: those that add value and those that don’t. This helps you find ways to eliminate waste and remove or adjust steps that don’t add anything of value, while minimizing delays and rooting out causes of downtime.

Integrated Project Delivery

Using a collaborative delivery method, this approach uses the knowledge and experience of stakeholders to create value and eliminate waste through all project phases. This approach often requires a shared vision backed by signed multi-party agreements, as it depends on a high level of transparency from everyone involved.

Pull Planning

Working backwards from the end goal, pull planning identifies and reviews milestones by breaking the project down into manageable phases. Usually structured around weekly work plans, it’s a collaborative effort between stakeholders to identify and work together towards common goals. Tasks are completed independently, but everyone is required to adjust or tweak their schedules in the name of the greater overall project.

The 5 Ss

A means of controlling and maintaining order, the 5 Ss eliminate waste by improving organization. The 5 Ss are:

• Sort — Only necessary tools and equipment are onsite, with all unnecessary items removed.

• Set in order — Items are organized in designated areas based on frequency of use. Everything is labeled and has a specific spot to which it is returned after use.

• Shine — Jobsites are kept clean at all times to reduce clutter and wasted time.

• Standardize —A system for organization is created and applied throughout the site. A schedule and tasks are outlined.

• Sustain — Stakeholders regularly inspect processes and tasks to assure standards are being met as outlined.

Lean construction demands adaptability

Every job is different — that’s why lean construction principles should be adapted to each specific situation. But the principles remain the same. By approaching every task on every project with the goal of minimizing waste, you can improve profitability considerably.

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