Everything You Need to Know About Lean Construction


28 August, 2017

Lean construction is a rising buzzword within all contemporary construction-related industries. But what does it mean? This term can be traced back to the 1993 inaugural meeting of the International Group for Lean Construction. Then, a group of top tier specialists planted the seeds and laid out the blueprints for their innovative vision. Their aim was none other than to bring forth a dynamic evolution in the way construction is conceived of and implemented.

What is lean construction?

The core value of lean construction is to maximize value for the final customer while reducing waste to a bare minimum. This is a challenging goal since it involves articulating different teams of workers across different fields, in order to achieve the maximum efficiency across all processes.

The precursors of lean construction drew inspiration from the potent manufacturing approach established by Toyota in the wake of WWII. The big challenge was to bring out the same methodologies used in the controlled environment of a factory into the multi-layered and dynamically complex world of construction.

Achieving such a grand ideal as lean construction is a complex task that can’t be easily formulated into a universal recipe. Truly achieving lean construction involves a careful articulation of different tools and processes, including Kaizen events, Last Planner System, Integrated Project Delivery, Building Information Modelling and the 5s (sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain). It also involves a thorough consideration of certain principles, as detailed in the next section.

Fundamental lean construction principles

A simple way to bring the essential principles of lean construction into a project is to begin by considering certain fundamental questions, in the following order:

What is value from the customer’s perspective?

Rather than focusing on the specifications of the customer, lean construction goes further and deeper; it seeks to understand what genuinely represents value. This calls for a mobilization of all stakeholders – ranging from the owner to the architects and engineers, general contractors and subcontractors as well as everyone else in the supply chain.

The project team must find ways to articulate all parties involved in construction, in order to achieve trust and establish a sense of having a common goal: delivering maximum value in order to achieve the highest individual benefits.

How can a value stream be established?

Once the project team has fully grasped the implications of value as seen from the customer’s perspective, it’s possible to start laying out a map that will allow realizing ways to reach that goal. This map is called the value stream, and it sensibly articulates all the relevant information while fleshing out all requirements of labour, equipment and materials. Once the map has been laid out, it’s necessary to trace back all steps and mindfully dismiss any and all resources that fail to bring value to the whole.

How to achieve waste reduction most efficiently?

Since lean construction hinges on the reduction of waste (or even its elimination), it’s important to look separately at different types of waste that naturally unfold during a construction process. Careful observation is required, in matters such as defects, overproduction, waiting, talent mismatch, transport, inventory, motion and over processing.

How to establish a continuous flow of work processes?

In its ideal implementation, lean construction should be comparable to a river: a reliable, predictable flow which runs uninterrupted and harmonious. There is a sequence to be followed in any construction project, and lean construction planners must bring about an optimum workflow that can only be achieved by clear and consistent communication strategies bringing together all parties in a building project.

lean construction

How to secure flawless and fluid planning and scheduling?

When this question is carefully considered, it follows naturally that achieving fluid planning involves listening carefully to the people doing the actual work. This calls for clear cut communication methodologies that keep all participants in the loop regarding all their tasks.

Are there any other ways to promote continuous improvement?

Lean philosophy in construction recognizes that eliminating waste and maximizing value requires a continuous refinement of all processes. It’s crucial to always be on the lookout for further improvement opportunities, which must be persistently acted upon and implemented – for the sake of the current project as well as to maximize the efficiency of future projects.

Concluding thoughts on lean construction

Lean construction is all about maximizing value in construction and reducing waste of any kind. It requires careful consideration of multiple variables across a wide range of operatives, in order to lay out the most efficient possible value stream. This is only possible through close communication between all involved parties, and continuous refinement of all processes.