Gregory A. Howell, co-founder with Glenn Ballard of the Lean Construction Institute, is part philosopher and part skeptic. Since the early 1990s he has been on his soapbox to transform project delivery along lean principles: eliminate waste and add predictability and accountability.

Due In large part to Sacramento-based Sutter Health’s crusade, lean is picking up speed in the U.S. “Relational contracting is probably what will get Lean Project Delivery a bigger share of the spotlight,” says Howell, who is based in Louisville, Colo. “The alignment of incentives it brings, coupled with the invest a dollar here to save two there is arguably necessary for optimum project performance.”

Howell (right) and Ballard have been leaning together formally since 1997.
Lean Construction Institute
Howell (right) and Ballard have been leaning together formally since 1997.

That said, Howell maintains that substantial lean results can be achieved using traditional contracts. Proof is in a $100-million Sutter job, completed in April. Sutter “challenged us and the whole team was intrigued,” says Henry Mahlstedt, studio director for Hawley Peterson & Snyder Architects, Mountain View, Calif., which designed Camino Medical Group’s office building.

Camino’s general contractor, DPR Construction Inc., San Jose, Calif., estimates the LPD sliced $9 million off the job’s cost and six months off the schedule.

The process brought contractors in during the design phase, which enabled collaborative building information modeling. That allowed the team to solve conflicts before construction. Consequently, DPR’s superintendent spent less than two hours per month on field coordination issues. Further, the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire-protection trades reported only 43 hours of rework out of 25,000 hours, says DPR. There were no requests for information or change orders from interferences between 3-D modeled systems.

Better planning resulted in benefits from prefabrication with just-in-time delivery, adds DPR. That led to smaller crew sizes and a 30% reduction in peak field labor. That, in turn, increased productivity to up to 30% above industry standards, reports the constructor.

Related Links:
  • Sutter Health Unlocks the Door to A New Process
  • Lean Gurus See Big Gains in Use of Lean Project Delivery
  • Sutter Contract Is ‘Lean’ Enabler
  • LCI has developed a tool kit to help achieve Lean Project Delivery. The Last Planner is a system designed to produce reliable workflow and rapid learning. Making workflow predictable begins when those responsible for delivering a milestone gather to explore together how the work will be done, says LCI. They put tasks in sequence, negotiating the condition of the project when work is to be released from one specialist to the next. They also decide to invest more, or less, in one task or another to maximize total project performance. That makes it possible for the Last Planner, the person who makes the assignment, to promise its completion to the next in line.

    Another lean tool is Target Value Design, in which designers and constructors design together in system-related teams. They design to a detailed budget, carrying forward multiple sets of solutions. Design teams follow the rule that only the client can increase the budget so the implications of choices in one system are explored in others to discover new value.

    Another tool is a production system called work structuring. It answers the questions: “How will work be packaged and what will cause it to be released to the next specialist?” says Howell.

    LCI has 18 corporate and 600 individual members, the most ever.  Howell says it’s time for new blood at the decade-old group’s helm. But until an heir is found, the “Greg and Glenn Show,” as Howell calls it, will keep on running.