Lean Works in Construction

Sowards CO

Thoughts on Lean Construction by Dennis Sowards

What’s in your Company’s Future?

Many contractors have been around for 25 – 50 – even 100 years. That says a lot about their success. Dr. Deming said, “Survival is not mandatory.” What will it take to ensure your company is around another 25 – 50 – 100 years? This is the question.

Our current success can be the biggest barrier to our future success. In construction, the way we’ve
always done things may not work well much longer. Just like manufacturing which is going through a Lean revolution, I believe Lean will change construction, and the contractors that lead the change will be the real winners.

‘Should you do Lean’ is not the question… It is an answer! Is it your answer?

Consider these facts:

FACT 1: Lean Works in Manufacturing – there are many examples of where Lean is doing great
things. 70% of manufacturing companies in the USA have now implemented Lean and reduced
operating cost by 30 to 50%. Lean contractors are now implementing Lean with similar success.

What about construction?

Contractors doing Value Stream Analysis

  • Reduced non-valued added steps in a process by 4%
  • Saved $40,000 in tool room process improvement
  • Gained 9 hours a week in technician tool repair time

Contractors using the Last Planner System®

  • On two tools install jobs, the customer said, “Durations have been reduced by 29%”
  • One job beat the target for mechanical labor by 300 hours!
  • One contractor estimated savings of $1.5 M in labor over 11 projects
  • In a pilot test of four difference projects, a general contractor saw all four projects come in either under
    budget or ahead of schedule – or both! They have since used it on over 200 projects successfully.
  • One senior project manager said, “Every large industrial project in Northwest Indiana and the south
    suburbs of Chicago has been over budget and has missed schedule for the last 20 years. This method
    broke the cycle. If we didn’t use the method on this project, I would have been begging for mercy
    [from the owner].”

Contractors applying the 5S’s

  • Freed up much shop space – they didn’t need a new shop
  • Returned $5,000 in excess material in one month
  • Saved 90 field man-hours on one job by reducing crew time getting ready for work
  • An accounting department got rid of 18,000 duplicate copies of shop invoices, freeing up file space and
    saving administrative time.

FACT 2: Lean works in Construction too! – Lean is providing value to the customer and reducing waste.
In construction, waste happens often when workers go on Treasure Hunts looking for: MaterialsToolsEquipmentInformation!

Lean complements BIM – both when used correctly are powerful tools for delivering quality projects under budget and ahead of schedule.

What if there were no WASTE at all?
The Lean paradox is that perfection can never be achieved, but must be pursued.

Where to Start?  (See How to Start)

> Educate Senior Management in process thinking to complement strategic & financial thinking!
> Do a Muda (Waste) Walk – Go to where value is added and look for waste. There are 7 types
> Implement the 5S’s to eliminate treasure hunts
> Learn & apply the Last Planner System® (Registered by the Lean Construction Institute)
> Define the Process – Do Value Stream Mapping
> Try something (Use PDCA)