• The Basics of Lean Construction

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    Lean construction is an “it” term in construction right now. And for good reason: it works. Lean construction is not a new concept. It stems from The Last Planner System (LPS), which was developed in the 1980s to improve the predictability and reliability of construction production.

    Since the 1960s construction productivity has steadily declined. Forty to fifty percent of construction projects are behind schedule and over budget, according to FMI's Sixth Annual Survey of Construction Owners. The biggest costs impacting construction today are the inefficiencies built into the way projects are run and managed.

    What is Lean Construction?
    Lean construction is all about planning and work flow efficiency. It strives to cut down on workers who are waiting for work and work that is waiting for workers. Without using lean construction, only half the amount of work planned for any given week is completed.
    Lean construction improves worker output by removing non-value adding tasks, otherwise known as waste. Waste can include moving materials around the site multiple times rather than using a just-in-time approach to material delivery. In fact, the moving and handling of materials accounts for 40% of waste on a construction project.
    Sharing lessons learned is another key component of lean construction. Weekly planning meetings with the entire project team make it easy to learn from what worked and what didn't work the previous week. These lessons can then be integrated into the planning for the upcoming week.
    There are three levels of lean construction, ranging from “impeccable coordination”, the most basic form, to Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), the most advanced form, according to Greg Howell, co-founder of the Lean Construction Institute.
    At the most basic level, lean construction can be implemented through the hard bid process, since it mainly relies on extensive coordination on the construction site and avoiding issues that prevent construction tasks from starting as planned and from finishing as planned. However, if you want to use a more advanced form of lean construction, the hard bid process is the wrong approach. The contractor and subcontractors must be involved during the design phase to realize the greatest rewards from lean construction.

    Why use Lean?

    Lean construction maximizes the value for all project stakeholders. Benefits include:
    Lower costs: Workers are getting more done in less time, because of the upfront and ongoing project planning and coordinating.

    Fewer delays: All team members are paying attention to how the work on site will actually be carried out. Work is only started when it is ready to be finished in order to maintain efficient workflow.

    Better safety: Lean supply takes advantage of prefabrication, so there is less assembly on site. This work is performed in a more controlled environment with a predictable workflow, which creates safer working conditions. On site, the work is better planned and sequenced with worker safety a key consideration.

    Fewer surprises: There is better communication overall between the owner, architect, contractor and subcontractors. Quick daily meetings with all trades set daily goals, while weekly meetings are used to plan for the upcoming week. Lessons learned are shared with everyone so adjustments can be made to increase future productivity on the job.

    Less waste: Extensive coordination is done in order to maintain an efficient workflow on site. Lean assembly and lean supply cut down on the time workers are waiting for work or work is waiting for workers.

    Owner, designer and constructor satisfaction: Everyone works together to meet the owner's goals. Lean construction supports a trusting work environment where everyone is respected.

    Like lean manufacturing, lean construction is always seeking to improve the delivery of the product. With construction project schedules getting more and more aggressive, it's getting harder to deliver projects on time if a company is not using at least the most basic level of lean construction.
    We have used lean principles on projects for years now and have met schedules our competitors said were impossible.
    Read a real-world example of how we used lean construction at Fairfield Country Day School while completing an addition and renovation at its Middle School: Construction Planning for Success: Meeting a Nearly Impossible Schedule
    Contact us to learn how we can help you with your next building project.
    For more information on Lean Construction check out these resources:

    Lean Construction Institute

    AGC of America Lean 101
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