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Process Improvement

What is the Lean Construction Methodology?

Written By: Joe Demski
April 5, 2022
10 min read

Lean methodology is one of the most popular project management methodologies for construction projects. By using customer value to drive workflows and minimize waste, lean construction methodology provides an effective way to optimize processes. And there are numerous benefits that come as a result of streamlined construction workflows.

That doesn’t mean that it's easy to implement the lean methodology in a construction setting. Plus, it can be a little confusing to understand how the principles of lean are relevant specifically to construction applications.

Today we will discuss the ins and outs of lean construction benefits including the key principles, construction project factor where firms can eliminate waste, and tips for implementing the lean construction methods.

Origin of Lean Methodology

The lean methodology had its beginnings at Toyota during World War II when supplies were limited and production systems were still in their infancy. Specialized pieces of machinery took over production and the introduction of interchangeable parts made assembly faster than ever before. But there wasn’t much room for variety since parts were made to fit numerous vehicles, and fabrication sequences were based on parts availability.

Leaders at Toyota soon realized that they needed to improve their assembly workflows while also offering customers more options to choose from. They developed the Toyota Production system to address their need for more cost-effective processes that allowed them to create high-quality products for their customers.

Now the lean method is used to improve sales pipelines, streamline marketing efforts, develop new technologies, lower operating costs, and optimize complex construction processes, among many other applications.

Lean Construction Methodology Principles

There are numerous project management strategies that construction companies use to get jobs done. Some traditional construction methods construction project management methodologies have strict guidelines that need to be followed in order to see results, while others are more flexible. The needs of your organization, the industry, and the scope of your project will all play a role when it comes to choosing the best methodology for your organization.

Lean construction methods are less about following strict rules and more about adhering to a cycle of continuous improvement based on the following principles:

  • Customer value

  • Value stream

  • Workflow

  • Pull planning

  • Continuous improvement

Let’s take a deeper look at how these principles improve efficiency in the construction process.

Customer value

Understanding customers on a deeper level is an important part of the lean method. After all, without customers, your construction business doesn’t exist. That’s why lean construction begins with learning what customers really want.

When it comes to lean methodology, identifying customer value is more than just building what the customer wants. Lean construction principles focus on why customers want what they want and how to give them the most value without compromising cost and efficiency.

Value stream

After construction firms have developed a clear understanding of what value means from a customer’s perspective, it’s time to define the value stream. A value stream is the flow of resources and personnel to produce positive outcomes for customers. All of the processes, people, and materials needed to complete construction projects are a part of your value stream.

It's important to reduce waste as you evaluate and identify the key components of your value stream. Waste refers to any steps, materials, or workflows that don’t add value. Lean construction value streams should define each activity as well as the labor, equipment, and materials that are required to complete projects.

Workflow

One of the quintessential features of lean methodology in construction is a continuous, reliable, and predictable workflow. Performing operations in the correct order is key, especially in the construction industry. After all, you can’t put the roof on before you lay the foundation.

When communication is interrupted, waste occurs. But proper communication ensures that workflows are carried out in the correct sequence. For example, if one team gets behind schedule and they fail to communicate, then the next crew could be showing up too early to complete the next project phase.

To create streamlined workflows for lean construction projects, teams must have clear lines of communication open between all parties involved in the project. Constant communication, note-taking, and reporting are of utmost importance as far as successfully completing construction projects is concerned.

Pull planning

Pull planning and scheduling also helps streamline workflows for lean construction. This collaborative approach to scheduling involves gathering all team members to learn about project milestones, requirements, and potential bottlenecks to orchestrate multiple contractors and workers. To achieve lean, project teams work together to create a more efficient workflow by determining the order in which project tasks must be completed for the best possible outcomes.

Continuous improvement

The heart of the lean practices is about optimizing processes, minimizing waste, and giving customers the best value. Possibly the most important of the lean methodology principles in construction is continuous improvement over time.

By identifying opportunities for improvement and working to change processes for the better, construction companies can more efficiently reduce waste and complete complex projects.

It’s worth reiterating that acting on those opportunities for improvement is the key to achieving reliable and predictable workflows with better results in the future.

Benefits of Lean Methodology in Construction

Builders that implement lean construction principles will quickly realize a slew of benefits including better adaptability, enhanced planning processes, and smoother project execution overall.

So how can lean methodology benefit construction firms?

Minimizing waste

The number one benefit that opens the door to even more impactful results is that lean construction means less waste. In construction, waste comes in various forms that are costly, inefficient, time-consuming, and can take value away from the customer.

When construction firms apply the lean construction principles to their project management practices, waste is significantly reduced.

Environmental impact

Lean principles and circular economy practices go hand in hand. On top of that, construction companies work directly with the environment on a daily basis, so it is important to reduce negative environmental impacts. Applying supply chain practices that are better for the global ecosystem is more straightforward with a lean philosophy.

Eliminating waste in construction projects can mean reduced transportation emissions, better materials sourcing, and a higher quality deliverable.

Improved quality control

Lean construction can also improve construction quality control practices. With lean construction project management, continuous improvement of processes lends itself to improving the quality of your deliverables as well as quality control protocols.

Removing extraneous processes and finding better ways to provide value to customers means that your end result is more likely to meet the expectations of clients and stakeholders.

Satisfied customers

Every aspect of a project can be improved with lean construction principles, including customer satisfaction. At the end of the day, customers want the outcome to meet their expectations, as far as the design, cost, and completion time are concerned. Lean project delivery is all about optimizing processes to cater to customers’ needs for high-quality results in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Research shows a strong correlation between organizations that implement lean construction practices and project completion times. In fact, lean projects are three times more likely to finish on time. And, they’re also two times more likely to be completed under budget.

Increased revenue

Financial losses as a result of wasted materials, resources, and time add up quickly. Especially in an industry such as construction where materials are expensive and orchestrating teams is complex and time-consuming. The more waste that your company produces, the higher your project costs will be overall.

Since lean construction works to eliminate waste and optimize workflows, companies can expect to see an increase in both productivity and financial earnings when adopting lean construction principles in their operations.

Reduce Waste with Lean Construction

One of the core tenets of lean construction practices is reducing waste. Waste is defined as anything that doesn’t improve outcomes or add value to your customers. In construction, there are many opportunities to reduce and eliminate waste as a part of continuously improving processes and results.

Here are some examples of waste that construction companies can eliminate and reduce using the lean approach:

  • Rework — When something gets done the wrong way, it’s up to construction companies to make it right by redoing the work properly. Defects and rework wastes time on something that could already be completed, and usually costs more money to pay for workers and materials to get the job done right..

  • Overproduction — In construction, overproduction means that a task or project phase is completed too early for the following step to begin. While this may seem like a good problem to have, it means that there is an opportunity to eliminate wasted time and effort and to plan more efficiently for future projects.

  • Wait time — In contrast to overproduction, time spent waiting for materials to arrive or for another team to complete their tasks can be costly and have a negative impact on workers, too.

  • Personnel — Effectively utilizing talent is another way to eliminate waste. Hiring the right people and assigning tasks according to skills and expertise is essential to finishing projects according to customer expectations.

  • Transportation — Transporting workers, equipment, and materials from warehouses to job sites requires logistical planning to ensure that they arrive just in time for their purposes on site.

  • Inventory — Excess inventory is a form of physical waste that construction companies are often faced with. Instead of having unnecessary supplies and materials that must be stored long-term, lean construction strives for “just in time” and “just enough” inventory policies.

  • Motion — Motion waste for lean methodology in construction refers to any unnecessary motion that causes productivity to lag behind. For example, instead of taking three trips to the job site each day to deliver materials, maybe there is a way to cut that down to two or even one trip instead. It can even mean taking too many trips across the job site on foot.

  • Processing — Excess processing that comes from rework, inaccurate orders, defects, or inventory issues all waste a considerable amount of time and effort. Instead of adding extra steps and processes, minimize waste by consolidating processes to be more streamlined.

FAQs

What is lean construction methodology?

Lean construction methodology is about eliminating waste and optimizing processes for optimal results and positive customer outcomes. The principles of lean construction are all about providing better value for customers while making construction projects more efficient.

What are the 5 principles of lean methodology?

There are five main principles of lean methodology:

  1. Identify customer value

  2. Define value streams

  3. Work and product flow

  4. Pull planning and scheduling

  5. Optimization or continuous improvement

What are the benefits of lean construction practices?

Construction companies that achieve lean production processes will increase efficiency, minimize waste, reduce environmental impact, improve project quality, satisfy customers, and increase revenue. A construction project dictated by lean construction principles benefits the project team and the customer.

What types of waste can be minimized by adopting lean construction methods?

Adopting lean construction practices helps eliminate waste generated from rework, overproduction, wait times, personnel, transportation and logistics, inventory, motion, and processing.

Written By: Joe Demski

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