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The revolution of lean construction

By Craig Janssen

Toyota created a revolution in manufacturing with its “Toyota Way.”

The idea of “lean manufacturing” is about maximizing customer value while minimizing waste. As we have seen the rise of lean techniques in the construction industry, we have observed four key elements implemented that have major implications on how work is done:

1. Integrated design. Whole team involvement in design for the entire project–from concept to the end of construction. This includes not only the traditional design team but also the subcontractors. The benefit to this whole team approach is that good ideas can come from anywhere on the value chain and there is a holistic contribution during the early phases when savings are most easily realized.

2. Integrated planning and project scheduling. The Lean Construction Institute (LCI) uses a system called Last Planner which is “pull” planning and leverages the engagement of all participants of a project. Specifically this engages the people who are actually doing the work (a bottom up approach) which creates more accurate schedules rather than a top down planning method which creates schedules which are out of date almost immediately.

3. Integrated supply. Advanced procurement methods include pre-fabrication of systems and modular approaches to construction.

4. Integrated forms of agreement and modified insurance. Typically this includes some element of shared risk and reward.

While change is never easy, it creates opportunity where none existed before. This move to lean practices is forcing everyone in the process to rethink the way we work. If it doesn’t bring value to the client, then we need to lose it. After all, the future follows the client’s interests.

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