How do lean design concepts, construction management and methods increase productivity?
A wide range of industries are applying lean thinking with significant success.
In construction, lean construction offers great potential for improving efficiency and overcoming the many challenges of modern construction. Lean enables companies to create more value and minimize waste in the construction process.
Before BBN Times gets into the benefits of productivity and efficiency, what exactly does LEAN mean in the construction industry?
What is Lean construction?
Lean construction is an approach to planning and designing production systems that save time, labor and resources. It is entirely based on the “lean production” methodology devised at the dawn of World War II. The initial objective was to optimize military manufacturing through innovative production management.
Lean manufacturing has since evolved tremendously in business performance management and is now applied to various aspects of the industry – from blockchain and virtual reality to AI in construction.
Since then, the lean building approach has gained popularity among construction companies. Today there are several organizations including the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) pushing for a lean transformation in the construction industry.
In construction, lean practices involve creating a strategic vision and a plan to accumulate more value from the construction process with less waste, whether physical or otherwise.
Traditional construction methods lead to sunk costs and process inefficiencies.
Lean design and build aims to improve labor efficiency in the construction of buildings of any type or size. This construction diffusion approach does this by increasing the value per hour of labor for the end customer. Add to that the rapidly developing green trends, demand is driving technology.
Essentially, lean allows construction companies to produce more with the minimum of materials, costs, labor hours and effort required.
The benefits of applying lean in construction are many: productivity, profit, improved customer and worker satisfaction, and the list goes on.
Lean building principles include:
- Less waste of building materials;
- Increase in production per hour of work;
- Faster project delivery;
- Improved customer satisfaction;
- Reduced costs;
- A higher level of predictability;
- Reinforced safety on the site;
- Improved team problem solving processes;
- Better communication within the construction team;
- Greater job satisfaction and commitment from team members;
- Use of sustainable building practices.
To apply lean, construction companies must first implement a few important prerequisites:
- Strategic planning.
- Strengthened collaboration internally and with external partners (construction applications can help enormously);
- Inspiring change in corporate culture;
- Skillful management and guidance of employees;
- Training of employees and managers;
- Flexible process re-planning.
Remember at all times that lean methods are not a plan of action, but rather an overall philosophy for thinking about the building process.
Concepts and tools that apply Lean thinking to construction:
- Building data modeling (BIM)
- Latest production control planning system
- 5S system
- Integrated project delivery
- Kaizen project development
- and much more.
Let’s start with the general principles for applying Lean thinking to your construction processes.
Principles of lightweight construction
Introducing your business to lean building begins with understanding its guiding principles. Only then can you skillfully apply it to increase productivity.
# 1. Plan with customer values in mind
To apply the Lean philosophy to your construction business, you will need to start by understanding your client’s values and needs. Rather than focusing only on plans and specifications, the Lean approach forces you to capture a client’s underlying goals for their project.
To achieve this, you will need to create a strong relationship with the customer. For example, you can organize exploratory meetings before signing the contract. By doing this, you better see what the client recognizes as “the value” in the project and you can determine how you can meet or exceed the client’s expectations using Lean principles.
You should also involve all parties in the process – from architects and engineers to general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers – to strengthen collaboration.
# 2. Configure the value chain
Once you know what your customer finds valuable, you can move on to defining the value chain.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM) plans all the processes involved in a project, from launch to delivery. Mapping helps you describe the labor, equipment, materials, and data needed for your project.
With the help of VSM, you can remove all non-value added activities at every stage of planning and construction. The concept is widely mentioned in blockchain applications.
For example, you can take meetings that are not essential and equipment that is not required for required tasks. This is how you can avoid steps that do not benefit the project from the customer’s point of view. This naturally increases your team’s productivity, as workers can only focus on essential tasks.
# 3. Optimize planning, scheduling and workflows
One of the goals of the Lean construction methodology is to have continuous workflows with minimal interruptions. This adds predictability and reliability to the construction process.
It is best to establish effective workflows with lean with pull planning. Instead of using a linear planning process, pull planning is based on downstream demand to avoid bottlenecks, worker burnout, and low productivity. Check-out planning works backward through the stages and milestones of the project and takes into account the contributions of the entire team.
For example, you wouldn’t deliver materials to your construction site before they are needed by your team, as they take up space and require special care. You would only be transporting to the location at the right time, neither sooner nor later.
Communication and collaboration are essential in the application of pull planning, as different stakeholders will have to continuously discuss the planning of the project. Lean construction teams often opt for weekly work planning sessions to stay on track.
# 4. Use every opportunity to minimize waste
The basic principle of lean construction is to eliminate unnecessary actions and costs. When using lean construction, you’ll want to identify common places where waste occurs with particular attention to hazardous materials. Along with household properties, durability has many applications, but that is not the case with working on an industrial scale.
Typical problems to be solved:
- Defects that require time, materials and hours of work to be reworked;
- Overproduction due to untimely completion of tasks;
- Bottlenecks caused by late delivery of materials to construction sites or delayed tasks;
- Waste of talent due to a mismatch between a worker’s skills and knowledge and project tasks;
- Transport waste when materials, tools or workers are delivered earlier than necessary;
- Surplus inventory that you do not need on site but need storage;
- Loss of movement due to unnecessarily long distances between workers, sites, materials and tools;
- Activities without added value or “over-processing”.
- External risk of business data leakage.
# 5. Focus on continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is at the heart of Lean thinking, and this also applies to construction management. When you use lean in your projects, you agree from the start to continue to actively review your processes.
As construction projects progress and you get real-time data on what is working and what is not accumulating, you are adjusting processes to reduce waste and add value.
Let’s say your plan includes a crew to install window seals in a building. After two days, it is obvious that they will not get there in time because some members of the team do not have enough experience in the matter. By applying the continuous improvement approach, you can quickly reschedule by redirecting more workers to the site, or reschedule the activity with a well-trained team.
The best part about continuous improvement is that you apply your lessons from one process to another. You learn with every building completed – and you can constantly improve your methods to reduce unnecessary activity, lower costs, and continue to increase value for your customers.
Lean construction improves productivity at all levels
Increasing productivity is a key benefit of lean construction. This is not an extra, but rather a basic characteristic of the Lean philosophy.
Applying lean practices to your construction projects gets you more with less. At the same time, lean also allows you to deliver higher value to your customers not by adding more activities, but rather by removing unnecessary parts.
How do you feel about using lean principles in your construction work? Please share tips in the comments below.