Richard Casey, Tool install Manager at DPS Advanced Technology Group – How can Lean be implemented on Construction Projects?

Lean Construction delivers better value to clients. Richard Casey, Tool install Manager at DPS Advanced Technology Group (ATG), explains why. In very simple terms, Lean Construction is a particular way of structuring and managing a project that reduces waste while increasing quality and value for the customer.

Adapting lean principles and tools gives everyone involved in the project a common language. Lean also introduces a process that highlight all impacts to the projects productivity and implements a methodology that allows for these impacts to be removed.

Lean empowers all employees to contribute ideas (including outside their usual area) and to maximise co-operation with all stakeholders, allowing greater flexibility in the development process and encourages cost savings. Quality and efficiency is maximised through this team approach; waste and rework is reduced, delays on site are minimised, snagging is reduced and value is ultimately gained. As construction becomes more complex, technology also plays a huge part in enabling Lean in construction. Project management information systems are utilised to measure project performance, 3D BIM allows for modelling of construction and identification of potential issues before construction starts and pre-fabrication of offsite material allows for Just In Time delivery and fitting of major components.

In DPS, we started our Lean Construction journey three years ago however, as far as lean goes, we’re still at the early stages of our journey. We have made a conscious decision to put Lean at the centre of our ATG people development and therefore all employees of DPS ATG receive Lean Yellow belt training.  Our Project Managers are required to complete Green Belt training and are expected to deliver continuous improvement projects to our clients. As the underlying concept behind Lean is continuous improvement, it’s not possible to finish the journey! We are highly proficient when it comes to the lean construction tools required to manage a project but I would also be the first to say we still have a lot to learn.

When it comes to adopting lean principles, the transition can be a difficult one for construction firms. One of the issues that construction struggles with is the leap between an organisational mindset and that of a project. In organisations the concept, nurturing and development of a culture is aided by the continuity of the workforce and the development of people through the workforce.

In a project environment, there are usually a number of organisations that meet to complete a project. They have conflicting priorities from within their own companies and they know that the project will only last a short time, hence the difficulty in implementing a Lean culture on a construction project. That does not mean that Lean cannot be implemented in construction; it just means that it may have to be done differently.

For a start, as everyone knows changing a culture takes time, in fact it takes a long time. Therefore it is inherently wasteful to try and spend time on a project trying to change a culture. In most cases the project may be over before the culture has changed. Secondly, there are multiple sub divisions of companies on a single project so, at best, you may only be able to influence the part of the company that is on your project but you may create a conflict between the project team and their home company.

So what do we do? DPS separate the project from the organisation and develop a set of Lean Construction Tools and processes that can be used on any project, whether or not the incoming organisation is a Lean organisation or not. For those that are new to lean, there are a small but critical number of lean tools that can be implemented with very little lean training or expense that can make an immediate improvement in your project.

Lean Training

The training we do at DPS is the same for everyone from the trade contractor to project client. We believe that every single person working on a project should receive training on Lean principles. You can’t start without doing training on Lean principles, language and tools. A Yellow Belt introduction level of training will cover all of the basics that you need. DPS has designed and delivered training to over 300 people that covers Lean principles, The 8 wastes, 5 Whys, brainstorming and PDCA cycles. The training is delivered in one day by DPS lean practitioners so that a link can be drawn between the principles and the tangible benefits felt by practitioners. DPS has also provides training and practitioners for Last Planner implementation.

Waste walks

A fundamental principle of Lean is the identification and elimination of waste wherever it occurs. Lean teaches people to see any activity that interrupts them from doing their work as wasteful. It changes that mindset that sees an interruption on a construction project as acceptable; instead the interruption is seen as wasteful and Lean enables the project team to root cause the issue to prevent it happening again. Once you have people thinking like this on a project, you’ve made a big step in making that project more efficient. A waste walk is a structured process for identifying where waste is on your project. This is as straightforward as a safety walk which we take for granted and will yield great improvements for your project.

Direct Observation

Our experience has been that over 30% of every activity carried out by craft operatives is not what they are paid to do, for example, interruptions to their work account for 70% of their day! Direct observation is a process that identifies what is interrupting your craft operatives from doing what they are paid to do, identifying possible solutions and implementing fixes to eliminate the interruption. Partnership is required for this to be successful and needs to be explained upfront with the team being observed. The results can be astounding and you would be amazed at what is interrupting your team on a daily basis.

Plan, Do, Check, Act

The old saying of “what gets measured, gets done” can be modified to “what gets measured can be improved”. Lean cannot be implemented without having data that shows you where to improve. The waste walks and the direct observations will show you the data but neither will be worth anything unless you do something with the information. The process of Plan, Do, Check and Act (PDCA) can be built into all aspects of a project from the ground up. The PDCA process of measuring, standardising and acting on interruptions in a project has been proven to reduce schedule duration, costs and improve quality on all projects.

Collaborative Planning

This is probably the cornerstone of having a successful Lean construction project. Lean focuses on ensuring that value is gained for the customer by doing everything in a highly efficient and high quality environment. This cannot be achieved unless all partners in the project agree to participate in the Lean activities required for success.

The implementation of these principles will be enough to get your project moving down the lean journey without having to worry about changing the culture of your organisation. Lean training can be completed during site orientation and having agreement of the direct observation and PDCA cycles with your partners can be achieved by defining it as part of the project execution plan. Implementation of all of the above will yield a significant improvement in collaboration and will encourage the transfer of these processes to other projects. As the implementation of the tools becomes viral, the culture will follow. Richard Casey will be speaking about implementing PDCA lean improvements at the LCI Conferance on the 24th of June in the Clarion Hotel Lucan.

This article appeared in Irish Building Magazine Issue 3 2015