Lean Construction

Go Home                                                                                                                                                Go to Lean Transformation                                                                                                                                                    

In 1992 Finnish Professor Lauri Koskela, who coined the term Lean Construction, began lean research in the construction field. In 1997, the Lean Construction Institute was founded thanks the efforts of the teachers Glenn Ballard (University of Stanford and Berkeley) and Greg Howell, who has been teaching lean construction work at several universities and in numerous American and International Construction Projects. Since 1993 the International Group for Lean Construction has organized annual conferences worldwide (www.iglc.net).

 It is particularly in this century that has been developed, implemented and researched in many countries: USA, England, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Israel, Brazil, Chile, Peru and some Asian countries. Courses are being offered, Lean Construction is taught in many universities and some consultants are focusing in this area. So far, research and development has been quite academic, but the European Association of Contractors for R+D (Encord) has been conducting workshops on Lean Construction for their partners in recent years in Europe. We can also mention the European Group Lean Construction (www.eglc.eu), researching and conducting conferences in Europe. In the following link, there is information about the congress held in 2009 in Kalsruhe about implementation of lean in the public sector.

Another example is the collaboration between the British construction consultancy BRE and English Specialist Contractors Council to develop the CLIP (Construction Lean Improvement Programme), which the consultant has been teaching successfully since 2003. You can consult the following link.

 Obviously, the lean philosophy is the present and future. Its origin was the automotive industry, but It has already been applied successfully in many different fields and has already reached the construction industry. It has even made ​​a radio program (Lean Nation) focused on the economy and business, but based on the lean application to U.S. companies.

One goal of this website is to create a support basis for lean construction implementation in the Spanish language, because most Internet information is in English. In the links section, you can see the information from these agencies as well as other blogs and websites related to lean.

 The next figure represents "The House of Lean Construction”, the application to the construction industry of the pattern of Toyota's home, according to Jeffrey Liker´s book "The Toyota Way”.

1. Foundations. Lean Philosophy
In this century, researchers, consultants, worldwide lean companies... due to famous cases of corporate crisis like Toyota in 2010 or  Delphi, a supplier of General Motors, are realizing that it is not sufficient to apply  lean techniques. In fact, they are continually referring to articles and blogs about lean behaviors, lean managers, etc ... this is not about seeming lean, but being lean.

For this reason, and as an initial step towards the lean tools applied to construction, a lean transformation on site would start by the behaviors of the site manager, production managers, administrative staff, foremen, and so on. Then they would be responsible for teaching workers these habits. These behaviors are described on the lean transformation website.
2. Just in Time

Conceptually, the implementation of JIT in construction is the same as in industry: the planning and optimization of flows. In the case of planning, the Lean Construction Institute has developed what is known as Last Planner. It is a collaborative tool with additional benefits. No software is required, just the willingness and desire to make things optimal.

Flows to analyze and optimize are:

- People
- Material
- Information
- Work units

The VSM (Value Stream Map) is of vital importance for the control of the flow.
One reason for creating this website is precisely to be lean in the information. The fastest tool for bringing knowledge to more people is the internet. It would not be a bad idea if each project had to post its web reports, pictures, certificates ... with restricted access, right?

We should also mention Integration Project Delivery (IPD), which is the application of the concept of Supply Chain Management for construction, implying cooperation among all the stakeholders of the project.


3. Automation (Jidoka)

In this section I will not explain the famous Smed techniques developed in the industry. The tools used on site that help us to systematize and better control are:

3.1 Management of the project by cost loading. It is a management tool with many detractors, but if you use it once in your project with people used to it, you will become aware of its benefits. It is an ideal tool for continual improvement. I will introduce a very appropriate aphorism about it.

Kaoru Ishikawa

All successful companies control and measure long-term frequently.
3.2 Standardize operations and work units

Answering the following questions:
- What do we want?
- How are we going to make it?
- With what materials, personnel?
- Cost and time tasks forecast.
- Persons in charge
- Risks


Being proactive does not appear much in lean literature directly. Clearly, if you want to ensure that setbacks do not affect the project deadlines, you should carry out in-depth planning prior to standardization. Then, proactiveness is a consequence of being lean.

According to lean experience in manufacturing industry, lean tools are not a necessary condition to  transform your company into an example of excellence (efficiency and effectiveness by creating customer value); you must start with people. So in the lean transformation section, the first steps are lean habits, lean games, coaching, etc.  Lean workers´ behaviours are a necessary and sufficient condition to have a lean enterprise. Lean techniques are tools to facilitate the path.

Implementing these procedures in our works is a challenge, but it is the only way if we want customer service, reducing time and cost while being mindful of its quality, not just technically, but also functionally for the end user, something which is often forgotten. The current financial crisis, business schools and world economic organizations demand it.
But the question to answer is: Why do I have to apply lean construction to my site, my contractor or my project?
1. To achieve cost reductions of up to 20%.
2. Currently, we are becoming aware that public debt has its limits and affects public projects, too. This means meeting the budget and seeking solutions without economic growth. Therefore, we need more standardization and better planning.
3. Last Planner and IPD contracts are facilitators of cooperation.  Carrot-and-stick is less used, because the motivation is intrinsic (see link).
4. To increase site safety and a better working environment.
5. Encouraging the habit of continual improvement in your company is no guarantee of survival and long-term success, but the enterprise will disappear if it is not used in this competitive world.
6. Projects are well defined and ordered.  Team working, discipline and proactive attitudes are developed.
7. If you do not apply it, soon it will be used by your competitors. Nowadays, successful companies are very lean: cooperation, speed, proactiveness, kaizen and creating customer value (service at lower cost).
8. It is already used successfully in construction. For example, in the case of cost loading, companies that use it do not want change. They are aware of their advantages and it is an effective tool to promote continual improvement.
9. There is no other way to reduce cost, reduce time and increase the quality of our project. The manufacturing industry is an example that lean works worldwide regardless of culture.
How about starting tomorrow and seeing the benefits quickly?
1. Apply 5S. (It is the first step, before standardization in many cases of other industries).

2. Redefine all the operations: units of work, administrative, technical, management, etc. Standardization is the basis for your team knowing the processes technically and economically.
3. Create a web site.
4. Use smartphones. (You will realize the setbacks at once via photos or videos).
5. Promote continuous improvement, asking employees for a minimum monthly number of improvements in their activities.
6. Promote cooperation and improve communication.
7. Limit the length of the meetings, forcing people to prepare the meeting.
8. Visit site with the aim of eradicating waste and creating value. Beforehand, you have to find out how to do it and the performance of the main daily tasks.
9. Measure everything in its current state and measure again after the change has been made. (PDCA, The Deming Cycle)
10. Use Last Planner. Especially in building projects.

 The Lean Transformation section shows the steps to ensure long-term excellence.

Go Home                                                                                                                                                Go to Lean Transformation