Lean construction is an approach to project management and construction that aims to maximize value while minimizing waste.
The core idea behind lean construction is to create more efficient, cost-effective, and collaborative construction processes through the elimination of unnecessary steps, resources, and activities.
This type of construction, however, does not compromise safety and quality. Lean construction works to design the project’s timeline more efficiently to decrease time, effort, and waste materials.
5S – The Lean Approach
The lean approach appeared first during the manufacturing/production line of Toyota after WWll centered around what is now known as the 5S methodology. Just like lean production, lean construction depends on employees to identify and eliminate inefficiencies, reduce waste, and evaluate current practices. It is often helpful to be reminded of the 5S that shaped the lean approach across many practices.
- Sort – What is needed and what? How can the unnecessary be eliminated?
- Set in order – Create a place for everything and keep everything in its place. Arrange things with workflow in mind—for example, place equipment near where they are used.
- Sweep – Keep the worksite safe and tidy. Workplace health and safety should be a part of the daily routine rather than an occasional activity.
- Standardise – Responsibilities and work practices should be clearly defined and consistent across the project. Every member of the construction team should understand their responsibilities and where they fit in the wider team.
- Sustain – maintain the efficiency and review processes regularly to explore where future improvements can be made.
Principles of Lean Construction
Now that we have explored the foundations of the lean approach, we can understand where the lean construction principles originated and how they were formed.
Identify value from the customer’s point of view – What does your client want you to achieve? What is of most value to them? These important requirements or expectations that must be met from your client’s point of view will form your main goal for your project.
Define the value stream – Once your end goal is established, map out how you will achieve this goal. Do this by identifying all the actions, labour, information, equipment, and materials that must happen in the construction process to satisfy the client’s values.
Eliminate or minimise waste – Do this by defining the value stream; you can then identify steps that do not add value and eliminate them to be more efficient. There are eight major types of waste in lean construction.
The flow of work processes – After inefficiencies have been removed, you must ensure that the remaining steps can be integrated continuously with no interruptions, delays, or bottlenecks. Communication between departments and management is key to ensuring a smooth construction process.
Pull planning and scheduling – Create reliable workflows and scheduling of tasks.
Continuous improvement – It is always possible to make improvements and eliminate waste. Reflect on the project and the potential differences between planning and implementation that can be applied to future projects.
The Eight Types of Waste in Lean Construction
As previously mentioned, there are eight major types of waste in lean construction; see an explanation on each one below. Eliminating or minimising waste is a key focus when applying lean construction concepts to a project.
- Defects: are processes or policies within the project lifecycle that weren’t done in a way that was considered best practice the first time, therefore work that needed to be redone. These defects often result in the waste of resources.
- Overproduction: occurs when a task is completed earlier than scheduled or be before the next stage of the project can be started.
- Waiting: a typical example of waiting in construction is when staff are ready to begin the job but are waiting for materials to arrive or are waiting for the previous step in the project to be completed. The workers are left with no work to do, which is an inefficient use of time, labour, and money.
- Not using talent: misuse of employee skills and experience, i.e. when a person is not matched to the correct position, their talent, skills, and knowledge go to waste.
- Transport: is when materials, equipment, or workers are moved to a job site before needing them.
- Inventory: occurs when equipment and materials are transported early, which often leads to excess inventory. Excess inventory is considered an additional burden on the budget as it will require storage and can degrade when not used.
- Motion: is movement that is not necessary, like the distance between workers, tools, and materials, creates the waste of motion.
- Over-processing: occurs when there are extra steps, processes and procedures added to the project that adds no value to the client.
Like anything, there is always room for improvement, and the construction industry is no exception. The idea and principles behind lean construction can help reduce waste and lead to more efficient projects.
Lean Construction Institute (LCI)
LCI, founded in 1997, is a global organization dedicated to promoting and advancing lean principles in the construction industry through research, education, and collaboration.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) and lean construction
BIM and lean construction are both methodologies that aim to improve the efficiency, collaboration, and effectiveness of construction projects. When used together, they can significantly enhance project outcomes, from design and planning to construction and facility management.