Lean Construction: The basics in a nutshell

Lean Construction is the transposition of the concepts and principles of Lean Management to the construction industry.


How to gain time on my construction site?

Before you get to know how to gain time, you need to ask yourself: where are we losing time? The answers can be manifold: lack of coordination between parties, lack of communication about expectations and issues, lack of internal structure with regard to construction work, lack of anticipation of your needs… To each issue its solution!


What’s continuous improvement?

Continuous improvement means putting continuous effort into the evolution of a service, product or process. That approach is also called “improvement process”. In brief, the method is a bit of an antidote to “We always did it that way!”.


What’s Lean Management?

Lean management aims for customer satisfaction (quality, cost and delays). In order to reach that target, the approach focuses on constant improvement of processes through reduction of everything wasteful. These improvements happen thanks to training and implication of personnel in the quest for for solutions and their implementation.


Where does Lean Management come from?

Lean Management finds its origins at Toyota in Japan between the 1950 and 1975, under the name “Toyota Production System”. It also takes after the Kaizen philosophy, which translates as “continuous improvement”.


What’s Lean Construction?

Lean Construction is the transposition of the concepts and principles of Lean Management to the construction industry.


Which phases of the construction work might be concerned by the deployment of the Lean methods?

Inefficiency can be found at every step of the project. Therefore it is possible to get started with lean at the following stages of the project: pre-project, design, structural work, finishing work, facility management/maintenance.


What objectives can I achieve after deploying the Lean principles on a construction site?

At the construction site, the Lean approach will allow to reduce project delays. It also allows to increase productivity of the production teams, and reduce defects and rework. Finally, this process enables an increase in security.


What’s the best time to get started with Lean Construction on a construction site?

The best time is right now! The ideal option is to start as soon as possible in the project’s timeline, which allows to anticipate a large amount of issues and leverage the high flexibility in these early times before the situation crystallises.


Is it worthwhile deploying the Lean methods when construction work has already started?

It’s also possible to start the process during, or even towards the end of the project. Even then, spectacular improvements can be witnessed. In the middle term, the principles of Lean Management need to be assimilated in the company’s DNA, in order to capitalise and make results permanent.


How do I federate all concerned parties around a construction site that uses Lean?

The contractual relationship that governs most of the operations in construction work can be a damper to putting in place Lean processes. As a result, we recommend running training sessions and workshops. The point is to be sure that each party understands what they will gain by working in a Lean-enabled environment.


What are the main methods and tools relating to Lean Construction as a whole?

The most famous tool is LPS©, which at LeanCo we call “collaborative planning”. This tool aims to engage all involved parties in a project into the creation and monitoring of a schedule. Indeed, in a continuous improvement process, each party is invited to commit to the tasks they will complete. The idea is also to communicate about stumbling blocks and participate in the search for improvements. Another essential tool is the 5S method, which allows, in 5 steps (sorting, organising, cleaning, standardising, maintaining) to optimise a work environment. The goal is a gain in efficiency and security.
There exists an abundance of tools related to Lean. The goal is not to collect them. You need an assessment of your current situation, to define an objective and finally to use the tools that will allow you to reach it.


Focus on the time-location diagram

Collaborative elaboration

The Gantt diagram is unfortunately only understood by the person who creates it. The time-location diagram, however, is the result of workshops with all project participants, who devise together the ideal sequencing for the work to be carried out. Indeed, the needs of each participant will have been taken into account. As a result, contractors will adopt the schedule faster and more efficiently.

Visual scheduling

The time-location diagrams differs from its cousin the Gantt diagram in its visual aspect. Color is important, as it represents a contractor. Furthermore, the geographic dimension is integrated into the schedule (hence the name), which makes it look like stairs. This representation allows to see, at a glance, who is working, where, for how long, and whom that depends on. Overall, this schedule presentation is consistent with the characteristics of Lean Construction.

Visualising pace

“Oftentimes, we observe delays on construction sites, which are caused by insufficient coordination between work tasks. The main cause to this is that not all jobs take the same amount of time or surface. When creating implementation sequences that will repeat for every zone, the longest tasks, called bottlenecks, will stand out by generating delays. It will then be easy to:
– Delay all dependent tasks, so as to keep workload constant for all teams throughout the schedule.
– Endeavour with the contractor to reduce task duration, or increase workforce on that particular task to adjust to the overall construction pace.”


Focus on collaborative planning

What is it about?

First off, this approach consists in rethinking management and coordination within the construction industry. This is the quintessence of Lean Construction. It is both collaborative and participative, as it includes the inputs and needs of all involved parties on the construction site. Then, the deployment of this approach requires the adoption of new tools. They will allow you to simplify your construction process on the organisational side of things. Moreover, indicators will be deployed and monitored, in order to get an actual view on the progress of construction work. Finally, the approach aims to be simple and efficient. To this end, it comprises a training session, a few workshops when construction begins, and a weekly scheduling meeting.

Why set that up?

The end goal of the approach is to increase the overall performance level on the construction site. First and foremost, its main feature is that you will not need to put in any extra work to get there. Conversely, you will be much better organised, and therefore more efficient. In this way, the schedule will be rebuilt from the needs and resources of all participants. On top of being understood and adopted by all, it facilitates constant communication between the involved parties. Moreover, control over delays and safeguards against them will increase, notably thanks to collaborative handling of issues and risks in project execution.

Does it work?

The overall results of the method are very satisfying. At first, we observe better communication and cohesion as far as contractors are concerned. Involving them with the scheduling decision process tends to increase their level of engagement. Then, we note that, thanks to the deployment of collaborative planning on the construction site, coordination between the various involved trades develops considerably. Contractors are more efficient, and the construction manager can track progress more easily. Finally, concerning delays, the schedule is secured, which allows to deliver in due time! To get to that result, it is paramount for everyone involved to attend the weekly scheduling meeting. This is the cornerstone of Lean Construction.

Some advice?

The main focus of this approach is collaboration. Indeed, each contractor needs to have the opportunity to voice an opinion, express needs and suggest an approach. The method facilitator needs to step back, enough to keep a neutral position or act as an arbitrator. If you want to get started with the method, do tackle it and host it with an external outlook. Just like any other type of organisational change, the adoption of a new methodology can have a chilling effect on a few people. Therefore, you need to adopt a patient and educational behaviour before they can change their mind. Finally, avoid concentrating on the indicators; do seek adherence of all involved parties to the method, because it’s with their involvement that you can entrench the collaborative process.