“Lean construction” is based on the lean manufacturing method popularized by the Toyota Production System (TPS). Developed in the 1950s, Toyota doubled productivity while improving quality by implementing lean tactics. The idea of lean is simple enough: minimize waste (or non-value add activities) and maximize customer value. In practice, however, and without the tools or company-wide commitment, the execution can be quite tedious.
One of the difficulties in applying lean thinking to construction is that unlike manufacturing, the construction worksite is not a controlled environment. Dynamic layouts and zones, materials, heavy machinery and equipment make predictable and reliable workflows difficult to analyze and achieve; there are too many changing workers and changing tasks to monitor each step in the building process and simply identify and eliminate waste.
In addition, construction is an increasingly fragmented and subcontractor-driven industry. Decades ago, the typical general contractor would subcontract out only a few specialty areas such as mechanical or electrical work. Today, general contractors sub out ever-increasing percentages of work, meaning that the GC may be doing 30% or less of the project with their own workforce. In addition, subcontractors in certain trades have followed this trend with their own utilization of 3rd or 4th tier subcontractors. This shift means that communication and information—even incentives—on the jobsite are often misaligned and siloed.
Currently, just over half (57%) of contractors use lean construction principles, even though lean projects are more likely to be completed ahead of schedule. Dodge Data & Analytics found that projects that employed multiple lean methods were 3x more likely to be completed ahead of schedule and 2x more likely to be completed under budget.
Lean construction is about questioning the status quo and proactively seeking ways to improve processes to trim waste. Emerging technologies equip firms with powerful tools to implement lean construction methodology, resulting in increased productivity, reduced safety hazards and cost savings.
Worker Smarter, Not Harder
Before waste can be tackled, it must be uncovered, and accurate, reliable data is essential to this process. Quickly knowing who is on your jobsite, how long they’ve been there and where they’re located at any point in time helps identify bottlenecks and optimize your workforce. Integrated solutions further cut down on non-value add time spent transferring notes and data from the field onto the computer.
Continuous improvement is a central tenant to lean construction. While data is the first step in this process, organizations also must have a way to analyze and pull insights from the information. Having a solution that provides granular access to safety and productivity data by worker, subcontractor or project location, for example, makes this possible.
Organizations must have accurate information to historical data to improve on future projects; what you learn from project to project will allow companies to proactively innovate new ways to eliminate waste across their organization.
Empowering the Workforce
To be truly successful, lean principles need to be part of the larger company mindset, and including workers in lean construction practices drives meaningful change on site.
Knowing about incidents as they happen—the type, severity and location by floor and zone—improves response time and reduces the risk of potentially compounding injuries and provides peace of mind for workers. Workers need tools to report unsafe conditions and take ownership over site safety; Simply stated, a safer worksite is a leaner, more valuable and productive worksite.