Lean Q&A: The Path to Construction Excellence

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The economic reasons to start using Lean may be of little motivation for any employee. That's why we focus on the term “respect for people.” By developing abilities and involving employees in problem-solving, construction excellence develops itself.

Construction companies want to deliver on time, on budget, and within scope but it isn’t always possible. To reduce waste and inefficiency, many companies are looking into Lean construction methods. If your company wants to embrace Lean, we’ve compiled several resources, including this Q&A with with Bjørn Ungersness, CEO of Lean Communications AS.  

Bjørn is an experienced Partner with a demonstrated history of working in the management consulting industry. He is skilled in Lean Management, Takt-planning, VDC, and Lean Construction.

He talks with us about the benefits, techniques, and software. (See also: 5 Questions About Lean Design and Construction: Implementation, Tools & Coaching.) 

Q: What does construction excellence mean to you? How do companies achieve this excellence? 

We try to explain the term “construction excellence” to mean “developing people to have a desire and a wish to succeed together, thus making great projects.” The economic reasons to start using Lean may be of little motivation for any employee. That’s why we focus on the term “respect for people.” By developing abilities and involving employees in problem-solving, construction excellence develops itself. There are many tools to help companies and employees, but any application of a tool is of little significance unless you start with the problem first. 

Q: Why is the construction industry turning to Lean? What are the benefits? 

The simple answer to this question: profitability. Lean has a long and well-documented reputation for delivering great results while focusing on value for the customer. By facing the construction industry’s core problems, companies have searched for methods, philosophies, and tools to solve these problems. For quite a few companies, Lean seems simple to apply — making it desirable. Luckily, more and more companies accept that hard work and consistency of purpose are the keys to success; therefore, soldiering on. Other companies — which may see Lean as a quick fix — give up or don’t put enough effort into it. Unfortunately, Lean is not a quick fix. 

Benefits will come for any building or construction project in the form of increased predictability and less firefighting. This creates better and more profitable projects that make better use of educated and motivated employees. Companies that are able and willing to learn from previous and ongoing projects, decompose applied methods, and bring these best practices back, will experience a real competitive advantage. 

Q: What are some techniques or concepts the industry should be aware of?  

Any improvement must focus on solving a problem, so such a question can be hard to answer. When engaged, Lean Communications usually challenges the company or project by asking “what are your problems?” and follows up using a root-cause analysis. Often, problems may be expressed as “weak economy, quality issues, delays, unacceptable risk, budget overruns, high turnover.” Through the root-cause analysis, we often find some of the same basic causes; no or little real involvement in planning, poorly structured follow up, and little visual control. From there tools are discussed and applied, often starting with basic training and structured planning processes applying the methods that best suit the project. This may be Takt, it may be Last Planner System® or any variation. 

There is little doubt that Takt planning is an unusually effective — and beautiful — way of planning and controlling a project. Takt creates schedules that are easy to understand, so it is also a great tool for communicating progress to the builder, the company, or any other with an interest in it. 

Q: What role does collaboration software play in Lean construction? 

The bigger and more complex the project, the greater the need for such software. Smaller projects may get by just by using the post-its on the wall for planning and tracking their progress there. But soon, more automated or advanced calculations and reporting are needed. There may also be a need for replanning/rescheduling, making such software indispensable. Through the correct training and use of collaboration software throughout the companies, valuable time is saved, and data consistency and integrity are increased. This greatly reduces risk in the industry. 

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