LEAN Construction Eliminates the Wait

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Image of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 from Reeves-Hall.net

There is one process that is unusually successful in making the construction process efficient for us. LEAN, not LEED, “is a production management-based approach to project delivery” during the design-build construction timeline. LEAN construction is renewing our work process from wasting materials, people, and time.

LEAN’ s standards set up a process in which everything is thought through from an initial project planning meeting with EVERYONE on board – the designers, the end users, the sub-contractors, the engineers, and other stakeholders. The idea is that if everyone openly communicates and discusses the objectives of the project, more problems can and will be solved earlier and quicker.

One good example from the Lean Essays is:

“The hallway wall of a prison cell is typically pre-fabricated and set in place, then cement is poured, and much later doors are added. The problem is, if the cement is just a bit too high, the doors don’t close. In one prison, fully a third of the doors had to be ground to fit. On a recent prison project, the management firm (at a LEAN meeting) suggested that the wall pre-fabricator add the door to the pre-fabrication process. This was unheard-of, because it involved the coordination of two trades that did work in very different phases of the project. Upon investigation, the idea was found to be not only possible, but in the end it saved a large chunk of money. Better still, the new approach is saving more money on each new project.”

Now, this example is not a commercial workplace, but the LEAN process can be applied to almost any project. Small and large projects from the California Bay area to Denmark have used the LEAN process.

One of the most well-known, large LEAN projects is Terminal Five at Heathrow Airport (PDF).

LEAN helps with everything from encouraging 1 shed of supplies instead of having subcontractors bring their own (they tend to break, or be forgotten more often with non-LEAN projects) to keeping a gas pump at the site for installers to use instead of wasting time and money filling their own tanks at farther and more expensive gas stations. LEAN simply encourages the process of efficiency in each project.

Project Manager Jennifer Garland of Middle Tennessee Medical Center knows and understands the construction process thoroughly. She says being able to meet with everyone on the team from the initial kickoff meeting throughout the project allows you to “pull information out of everyone”.

She explains that by using computer software Naviswork from Autodesk rather than straightforward computer visuals, the team is able to see the end project’s technicalities. They can then predict exactly what each subcontractor will need. This eliminates waste and saves time and materials in the long run. As the previous example, some unexpected subcontractors are able to start their work off-site before installation, thereby saving even more time.

Garland recently concluded a hospital in Middle Tennessee with Turner Construction and Gresham Smith & Partners. She found the project to be very successful, saying, “It takes the right mindset and attitude to take the LEAN approach, but in the end, it is extremely rewarding.”

This process makes the entire team look at the end-goals and the big picture to figure out how to make the project, not necessarily by historical measures, but by what makes the most sense money and time based for that particular project.

The more LEAN projects you do the more you learn about each role in the construction process and so the more efficient your time is spent. Meaning, generally speaking, the more projects you use LEAN techniques with, the more profitable the projects can be. As Garland says, there is always, “continuous improvement.”

Today, far too often we still are inundated with wasting time, energy, and money by having “people waiting for materials and work waiting for people.” LEAN construction can organize collaboration and improve our work process efficiency. It is one step in the right direction.

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  1. Thanks for the reference Valerie – and congratulations on a nice piece.

    There is a more up to date version of the note on Last Planner at http://db.tt/SpA8GT6

    Hope the new job works out well for you – my first architectural job was just across the Potomac in Alexandria.



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