Put simply, lean construction is maximizing value for the customer and minimizing waste for the builder. The “lean” principles come from the concept of lean manufacturing, developed originally in the Toyota Production System by Taiichi Ohno in the years following World War II.
As such, lean construction is a time-test idea that recently garnered a lot of attention in the construction world, and more and more firms are waking up to its advantages. Although the auto industry is very different from construction, many of the Toyota Production System’s lean principles can still benefit contracting organizations immensely. Budgets, timeframes, and safety practices are still very important, but adding focus on eliminating common inefficiencies can make contractors far more profitable and productive.
Components of Lean Construction
Inefficiencies plague the construction industry. Although some business owners simply accept these inefficiencies as an inevitable part of the work, there are alternatives. Here are some common issues and the lean solutions that tackle them:
Defects and Errors
When things are not done correctly the first time, it can mean redoing work that wastes time, money, and materials. Avoid these kinds of errors by hiring crew leaders who understand leadership and efficient supervision. Experienced crew leaders should know how to ensure correct, error-free work.
Waiting and Idle Workers
Even the most industrious team of employees can be halted by delays in material supplies. When building supplies are late, the entire schedule is at risk. Workers can be idle for hours, or even days. Make sure materials arrive on time by working with a reliable distributor who can be depended on to deliver when they say they will.
Inefficiencies of transport are a common occurrence in construction projects. Moving equipment, workers, and materials to a job site too early can create a crowded job site, hinder ongoing work, or even result in a work stoppage. A good supply distributor will help customers determine when materials are needed and can schedule and bundle supply deliveries to get them delivered to the right location at the right time.
Construction teams can run out of materials unexpectedly or experience equipment breakdowns without warning. Lean construction is all about minimizing waste, and inventory issues waste time and resources, and they cost money. Site managers can mitigate these problems with backup plans. Work with your building supply distributor to ensure materials are on hand and have backup plans for renting or buying new equipment if there is a breakdown.
Not every contractor is familiar with movement efficiency. Unnecessary movement (e.g., distance between workers and tools or materials) is a subtle timewaster that can end up increasing labor costs. Proper kitting and bundling, organized by a supply distributor, can streamline construction site work. The distributor can suggest lighter materials, more compact packaging, pre-cutting, and better supply placement.
Creating Efficiencies in Your Firm
Ultimately, the goal of lean construction is to achieve a continuous, smooth workflow that is predictable and consistent. This is easy to say but often difficult to implement. Every stage of production should be completed in a planned sequence. Mapping out workflows helps avoid waiting time for supplies or early delivery of supplies that could otherwise slow down the job.
Splitting construction jobs into different production zones is one way to ensure workers can finish all of the tasks at hand on schedule before moving onto another production zone. If any stage falls behind or advances too far ahead, the site manager can compensate by reviewing the workflow and making adjustments.
Another lean construction method is called “pull planning” (sometimes called pull scheduling). It helps companies create reliable workflows because the work is completed sequentially and the completion of one stage unlocks the work for the next stage. To schedule work with pull planning requires starting at a specific target (e.g., work milestone or completion date) and then working backwards to figure out when and how work should be done. Based on lean construction principles, it makes sense for the site managers or subcontractors to manage pull planning. Communication and collaboration are key here. On-site coordinators will understand moment-by-moment needs and adapt schedules accordingly, but they must communicate those changes to the project managers so the overall schedule can be adapted.
Metro is Ready to Help With Ontime Deliveries, Experienced Sales Teams, and Custom Kitting
At Metro, we want to help your team work leaner. Whether it is scheduling deliveries in stages based on pull planning, custom kitting, finding the best materials for the site, or simply ensuring a steady supply of materials, we have your back. Contact us today to find out how our sales team can help you create a more