One unfortunate truth in the construction industry is that most projects come in over budget and/or behind schedule. Lean construction is a methodology by which companies identify opportunities to make the construction process more efficient and implement those changes company-wide, thereby combatting those cost and schedule overages for more profitable projects. Everything from company financials to employee morale are part of the lean construction equation, but at its core, lean construction is about optimizing your company’s operations. Read on to learn about three key operational pillars of the lean construction methodology.

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1. Minimize Waste

The beating heart of lean construction is the operational principle to minimize waste. “Lean” in this case does not mean “how can our company make do with less?” but “how often are the things our company invested in not being put toward productive ends?” The easiest way to understand this is to walk through a few examples of the many sources of waste there are:

Tool / equipment waste

Whether your construction company owns or leases its tools and equipment, these items represent a sizable investment and your crews must put them to productive use to generate a return on your investment. The less your equipment sits around not being used, the greater the return on investment to your company. There are many ways that tools waste occurs:

  • Tools can be misplaced, and until they are found, they go unused and create delays.
  • If the tool is lost altogether, you lose its productivity and must reinvest in a replacement.
  • If tools are not regularly serviced and calibrated, they can break down, removing them from circulation and use until they are repaired or replaced.
  • Tool hoarding also keeps equipment out of circulation among job sites that need them.

Time / personnel waste

Whether your workers are salaried or hourly, you are paying them for the time, and in this industry, those minutes and hours add up quickly. If your processes are not optimized, your company will often pay for workers to sit around. The more skilled those workers are, the greater the hit to your bottomline.

  • Are there extra steps involved in common tasks that could be eliminated to save time?
  • Do workers wait for key tools or materials to be delivered so they can resume work?
  • Are workplaces poorly organized resulting in excess movement and transportation time?

Technology and data is your friend when it comes to identifying and eliminating these two sources of waste. Physical objects can be easily tracked to ensure your company knows where all of its tools and equipment are at all times, both inside your warehouse or yard and across your job sites. You can also track when tools are actually in use by your field teams (to eliminate hoarding), and you can track when they were last serviced and calibrated (to avoid breakdowns). Your workforce can also be managed using lean principles by spending more time in the project planning and resourcing phase, as well as by using digital systems that provide accessible, real time data on which personnel resources are deployed on each project.


2. Leverage Data for Future Planning

As you implement this tracking, it is important to remember that your company is not tracking waste but operational productivity: where is everything we have invested in and what are those resources being used for? Some waste will be eliminated as a natural byproduct of this tracking—it’s hard to lose a tool if you know where it is—but other waste will become apparent as trends in your productivity data.

Let’s say you discover that many of your projects are stalling out because your warehouse or yard is not fulfilling requests quickly enough, causing your site workers to sit around waiting for equipment they need to complete the project tasks at hand. After investigating, you may identify a number of inefficient steps in their fulfillment process, e.g. time wasted entering data that could be automatically collected, time wasted searching for items due to disorganization. You may find that they have the tools and processes to fulfill requests efficiently, but they lack the manpower to fulfill all requests. Or it may just be a transportation issue.

That’s just one example. You may discover you have purchased excess tools and materials than was needed for past projects, an issue that can be corrected by your purchasing department. You may discover that one task in the construction timeline consistently takes longer than planned for and is holding up other parts of the project as a result, which can be fixed by your planning department. Without accessible data, identifying these sources of waste is like trying to find buried treasure without a map: you know there’s something out there that could make you richer, but you’ll have to waste a lot of hours digging random holes to find it.

Ideally, you want to create a data-driven feedback loop.

  1. Gather data from your current projects
  2. Analyze it for opportunities to streamline your operations
  3. Implement improvements in future projects

Continuous improvement is one of the lean principles, because there will always be ways to incrementally improve the way you do business. Perhaps buried treasure was the wrong comparison to use. Think of your operations as a country rich with gold: find a vein, mine it, find the next vein, mine it, and keep going.


3. Increase Communication

When all is said and done, all the data in the world will do you little good if your company lacks communication within and between teams. One person or department alone cannot be expected to analyze the data and enact the changes singlehandedly. Lean construction is a company-wide initiative, so everyone — your field, warehouse/yard, and back office teams — should be able to access and add to your data. And there should be open communication channels between these teams to manage your day-to-day operations, planning, and change implementation. Even the systems you manage should communicate with each other, preferably as a single, integrated solution. When this is the case, many project delays and cost overages can be avoided altogether.

Want to implement lean construction at your company? ToolWatch is a construction operations platform built on these lean principles, which makes it a great place to start if you hope to gather, analyze and share data on all that’s happening in your operations. Reach out to our sales team to learn more.