The use of visual methods is emphasized. This is important as most people are visually attuned in construction.

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Implementation is critical. One of the compelling insights about Lean’s approach is the tenet of “Should” and “Did.” Not only is the process important but the compliance to that process—i.e., that people actually perform each step on time.

In my experience, I have never witnessed perfect compliance. However, many people in the Lean movement share my belief that upwards of 70% is very good.

Remember, specialty construction organizations are the “tail on the dog.” Many times their clients have a different focus than a highly productive contractor. Sometimes, construction firms have to react to the other’s demands and missteps.

It is important to note that what is missing many times from the study of construction productivity is the “hustle” factor. As columnist Justin LaHart of the Wall Street Journal wrote in May, 2010, “the question is whether the biggest gains have come from hustle or brains.”

Great question.

As he clearly implies, it is a combination of both. I agree. It has always been these two factors that have driven the construction industry. Focused and inspired people make a substantial contribution on their own regardless of the system they work under. Sensitive executives keep that feeling alive, but also take advantage of standardized processes.

Each person singing from the same page makes for less missteps, miscommunication and thus less rework.

In the seminal work on Lean, Toyota clearly takes time to hire the right kind of people for its operations. It took two years of hiring and training to staff its San Antonio truck facility. One reason is to make certain the “hustle” factor is there in each employee. (The present construction economy is good in this regard. Energized and smart professionals abound.)

So in the end, a system is what is needed for any serious labor-intensive contractor to continue to improve. The economy is not controllable, but taking proven direction is.

Lean is the answer for any contractor who wants his assets to be more productive, whether he plans on growing his business or not.

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