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Lean Construction – Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Matt Banna

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Mar 28, 2017 11:10:58 AM

Group of workers talking at a building site .jpegAs you can probably tell from reading this blog or others about the Lean approach to business management, most of what is written about the subject is applied to manufacturing and healthcare organizations. We know, however, that its application is not that limited. We have clients in technology, education, agriculture, professional services, and more.

One sector that is starting to embrace the Lean approach with increasing enthusiasm is construction. We’ve been delighted to see a new level of interest from leaders in the field. We thought it might be useful to share some of the questions we get asked most often about Lean construction.

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Why is the Construction Industry Turning to Lean?

In terms of the adoption of performance improvement and quality optimization techniques, the construction industry lags somewhat behind the manufacturing and services sectors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in the last 40 years, the productivity of the construction industry has stayed flat, while the productivity of other non-farm industries increased over 100%. Why? Several studies have found that at least 30% of wasted resources are caused by “entrenched attitudes in the management of projects.” Clearly, there is a compelling reason to try a new approach.

Where does Waste Occur in Construction?

The Lean construction approach is all about eliminating waste, but where does one find waste in construction? Of course, opportunities for waste abound, but research has found that a significant amount of the waste that happens in construction occurs at the point of interaction between the trades, and in the handoffs of processes from one trade to the next.

Who Participates in Lean Construction?

If the biggest contributor of waste is the junction between various trades, the answer to the question about who participates in Lean must be everyone.

Lincoln H. Forbes is an adjunct at the Florida International University College of Engineering, and chair of the Department of Construction Management, East Carolina University. His work Modern Construction: Lean Project Delivery and Integrated Practices, address this question.

“It is recognized that true Lean construction can best occur when all the construction stakeholders – especially general contractors, construction managers, subcontractors, and material suppliers – are committed to the concept of optimizing the flow of activities holistically. It is also recognized that optimizing the performance of individual actors in the construction supply chain does not ensure that the overall process will be optimized or greatly improved if the handoffs from one trade to another do not observe Lean principles.”

Is Lean Construction All About Cutting Jobs?

We’ve noticed that a pretty big number of people have a visual reaction to the word “lean” when it is applied to business. “Running lean and mean,” has become kind of a code for cutting jobs. That kind of “lean” is terrible for the people who lose work, and for those who are left behind to pick up the slack. No wonder it makes people shiver. But that is not what Lean construction is all about.

Ade Asefeso is an MBA who has spent his career working with various manufacturing companies throughout the world. He wrote about this issue in his book, Lean In Construction: (Key to Improvements in Time, Cost and Quality).

“A Lean system, process, and organization is one that is waste free. Lean is not about size or number of people employees. A reduction in employees may cut costs, and eliminate the waste of those employees, but does not decrease the proportion of waste to value adding within the organization or process. Most waste is through products waiting to be worked on by succeeding activities.”

What are the Guiding Principles of Lean Construction?

The goal of Lean construction is to create production systems that minimize wastes in terms of time, materials, and efforts in order to produce the most value for the customer. This is achieved by including all stakeholders and participants early on in the project. Rather than simply reacting to designs, participants have the opportunity to influence them.

Practitioners of Lean construction focus on three key areas:

Transformation: The production of inputs into outputs.

Flow: Smooth, uninterrupted movement of work from one action to the next.

Value: Value is always determined by the customer and is reflected in what the customer is willing to pay for the output.


Additional Lean tenants are also applied including respect for people and the belief that improvement is always possible.

Lean thinking is an effective way to improve project success, keep costs down, and deliver more value to each customer. No wonder it is being utilized more and more by those in the construction industry. Fortunately, the same improvement techniques and technology tools that are used in other sectors can be used by construction firms in their own quest for a flawless value chain.


Topics: Lean

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