Lean project management focuses on delivering better value with less wasted time and materials. The philosophy behind it primarily springs from the Toyota Production System (TPS), which helped Toyota grow from a small company to a global enterprise.
3 Lean Project Management Principles
Let’s take a look at three main principles of lean project management:
1. Respect People
Lean project management understands and respects the fact that we’re all human. People make mistakes, get in bad moods, and have different wants and desires. An authentic lean approach seeks to communicate with and empower the people closest to the work, rather than handing down blind orders from above. When organizations take the time and effort to do this, they’re rewarded with more engaged workers and a more team-oriented atmosphere.
2. Focus on the Flow of Work
This principle emphasizes flow efficiency, or making sure work is moving forward all the time. This requires teams to focus on the handoff of work between trades to minimize the time that an area is left without work being progressed. Concentrating on the flow of work puts the project in the forefront and seeks to streamline systems to ensure the most efficient workflows.
3. Strive for Continuous Learning and Improvement
A lean approach to project management also looks continuously at what the organization is doing, assessing what worked and what didn’t in each process and workflow, and considering changes to apply to improve the process next time. This idea can be summarized with the abbreviation PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act).
What Is Lean Construction?
There’s construction, which is generally defined as a project-based production process; and then there’s lean construction. Lean construction is considered a relationship-focused production management process that aims to reduce or eliminate waste from the entire construction process, encourage sustainability and deliver higher returns to the customer. Essentially, lean construction should supply a framework for improving the entire construction process, from initial design all the way through completion of the project.
Applying Lean Principles to Construction Management
One of the most influential applications of lean principles to construction management is the Last Planner® System of Production Control, created by the Lean Construction Institute. It’s essentially a planning system that takes the plan to different levels of detail and involves every stakeholder from the beginning. Its major components include Master Planning, Phase Planning, Make-Ready Planning, Weekly Work Planning, and Learning.
The name “last planner” highlights the people who are responsible for making final work assignments in each phase. For example, in the design phase, they might be engineering project managers or architects—while in the construction phase, they’re trade contractor crew superintendents or foremen.
The Last Planner® System takes a collaborative and inclusive approach, and you end up getting the best out of a project by including more perspectives and thoughts. The overarching idea is that everyone, together, is smarter than any one individual. That idea embodies the lean principle of respect for people, acknowledging that everyone has a valid point and perspective.
Construction managers are also increasingly adopting the lean principle of striving for continuous learning and improvement. They’re doing retrospectives on projects and scheduling regular check-ins to see what’s going well and what’s not with various teams, from designers to job site workers. People are realizing that learning from past mistakes and moving forward with that knowledge is important.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Lean Construction
Benefits of Lean Construction
- Increased Productivity – When you streamline people and processes, you can do things faster. This increase in job pace and efficiency means you can complete the project quicker and move onto the next one, which equates to increased productivity for each project—ideally taking on more projects at a higher return!
- Cut Down Waste – With increased productivity, we mentioned that the time to project completion is decreased, so less time wasted. However, there’s also the opportunity to reduce or eliminate surplus materials from the project, thereby potentially saving you additional time and budget.
- Decreased Workman’s Comp – Due to the streamlined processes of lean construction, there’s generally lower probability of injuries as projects follow a template. The timeline of the project is also shortened, further supporting a smaller window for safety concerns on a job site. Win/Win.
Drawbacks of Lean Construction
- Quality Misconceptions – Customers and workers may incorrectly interpret ‘lean construction’ as being a cheaper alternative to traditional construction. Training and education for both internal and external stakeholders is instrumental for combatting this misconception. In fact, quality and sustainability are key benefits to lean builds that should be shouted from the rooftops!
- Total Buy-In – The way we’ve always done things is easier than taking on something new. To adopt a lean construction strategy successfully, you will want complete buy-in from all stakeholders—otherwise, the lack of commitment and drive will impede the critical adjustments needed to fuel the process forward.
How To Adopt Lean Construction Principles in Your Organization
The first thing owners and managers can do is involve more people on the jobsite in decision-making—and ask them more questions about what they are doing and why they’re doing it. Start conducting retrospectives to collect data about what’s going on and using that to try to get better from project to project. Then, look at safety data. What can you do to improve it? Start taking assessments and discussing them on a daily or weekly basis in your meetings. Ultimately, the goal of lean construction management is to work together more effectively—and efficiently.
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