started working in construction, as many did, at a young age, as a gopher and worked my way up. Now 55 years old, I was part of the generation that entered the workforce as computers and new technology were being introduced and I often had to teach the old-timers how to use the new-fangled “watch-a-ma-call-its” while also instructing the greenhorns in the skills they needed to survive on the jobsite and go home alive. 

But there’s another, different type of generational problem now.

Lean construction protocols that have helped improve on-schedule and on-budget completion by limiting waste and improving efficiency are slipping back to the old ways under stresses that began with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trying to enforce Lean protocols often became impossible during the height of the pandemic; and many project uncertainties now remain.

Contracts take longer because of new language concerning cost escalation and delay. A manufacturer recently informed me that simple, run-of-the-mill garage doors will take 36 weeks lead time to delivery. Hiring is a big problem, too. If you find qualified individuals—and that’s a big if—they may not show up for the interview or the first day of work. If they do start work, they may disappear after a few weeks on the job. 

That has meant, for me at least, doing more of the old-fashioned, face-to-face communication

Lean construction protocols have proven value. They can help offset or prevent troubles that would otherwise push a job into “troubled project” status. And Lean works partly by tapping into natural human instincts. Everyone on a project wants to vibrate at the same frequency and inherently wants to build and deliver the highest quality construction they can as quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively as possible.

But we are stopped by our conscious minds and all the biases, personality traits and baggage we collect and develop as human beings from birth through retirement. These lead us to become our own worst enemies—frequently creating environments and relationships of chaos and conflict in our professional lives. 

By 2008 the system of Lean construction in America had developed from a grass-roots movement to an accepted managerial philosophy. Partly as a result, construction during my career has become more refined and safer. While the career pathways for project managers and craft workers have become clearer, Lean and more modern management techniques also broaden the managers' and craft workers' responsibilities.


Keener Attention To Detail 

Lean construction protocols create what seem to be a bit more work for project managers and require keener attention to detail on every aspect of the project. The project manager creates more interaction with owners, engineers, architects, suppliers. He or she coordinates with the waste management team, and of course—this is something I want to stress—cultivates a real relationship with the different craft and job site workers. 

For my part, I simply invest my energy in planning and pre-construction. Those efforts offset the stress and chaos that typically occur on projects when clients urge us to rush, rush, rush to get the shovel in the ground.

But training employees to take up the Lean construction initiatives—waste management of materials and time, inventory control, and increased efficiency—has gotten harder. Independent-minded U.S craft workers are less willing to work under Lean protocols that emphasize teamwork.

On most American construction projects, especially union projects, the delineation between trades is standard, and overstepping a worker's responsibilities is not well accepted. But such cross-over is needed for Lean practices to work well. 

Post Adam Post

To complicate the issue further, the pandemic and the ensuing and constantly changing health protocols we are forced to adhere to have divided staff between the vaccinated and anti-vaxxers and between maskers and non-maskers.

The new emphasis on separation and distance has disrupted some of the communication and cooperation on which Lean is based. Not to mention simple and interpretive communication that depends on facial expressions to be clearly understood.

And that has meant, for me at least, doing more of the old-fashioned, face-to-face communication. 

As a supervisor who manages by walking around (MBWA), it is easier to obtain buy-in from those with boots on the ground. Close interpersonal relationships developed by MBWA are crucial, too, in making the difference from running fat to running Lean and helping develop bonds that facilitate Lean implementation.

By directing my passion for Lean practices to craft workers, listening to and motivating them, I have been able to bypass the need for upper management buy-in, which is often harder to win. 

Quantifiable results can easily be obtained if the project manager is adept at influencing the hearts and minds of the workforce. Managing by walking around, once believed to be old-fashioned, has been my way of keeping up the enthusiasm—proving once again that the old ways and new ones aren’t mutually exclusive. 

Adam Post is a senior-level construction project manager who has studied business administration and finance at Boston University, civil engineering at Northeastern University and has a graduate degree in construction project management from Wentworth Institute of Technology. He can be reached at