You may have heard the term ‘lean construction’ before, but what exactly is it and most importantly, can it really help your capital projects? To define it, lean construction is a set of concepts, principles and practices that differ from conventional design and construction management processes by focusing on minimizing waste and delivering more value.

What’s a little harder to define, however, is successful delivery, as every version of what success looks like is different for every project. The typical definition is usually on a budget and ahead of schedule while maintaining your margin and maximising value.

With these definitions in mind, the answer to our original question is yes, lean construction methods can ensure successful capital project delivery. The key, however, is in the smooth implementation of lean construction practices in your organization and projects. Let’s explore how to create your best chance for success.

Your team and lean construction

A recent McGraw Hill Construction report, executed across the construction industry, found that focus should be put on two factors to help with implementing the lean concepts, collaboration and the software to support it.

It all starts with the team. This means having all stakeholders, from owners, designers, project managers and beyond, involved with and understanding the value of collaborative planning, as well as being educated on the need for greater efficiencies.

Lean construction implementation also depends on the owners being more engaged, involved and willing to take risks and being open to new innovations. The designers must be willing to design through a good conversation, as well as what is in the specs. Overall, capital project management must take a more holistic view of the design and construction processes, engaging the entire team, including craftspeople in the field and sharing data at a granular level.

But there is more to it. These collaboration efforts also need to involve the suppliers and contractors. Not having them involved in all aspects of the design and planning can leave out huge opportunities for them to prepare with supplies and resources, giving them a better chance at meeting the requirements. Not to mention, a good portion of their schedules depends on the schedules of the other trades. Providing the data early, often and as transparently as possible will allow for heightened awareness and boost efficiency.

Implementation success then continues with technology because many of the efficiencies we find today can be augmented and enhanced with technology. Let’s go through just a few where the largest impacts can be realised.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) in lean construction

Having an ERP in place as one source of the truth for core business processes such as finances, human resources and procurement can support improved efficiencies. The real benefit comes when you use the ERP system to integrate data seamlessly. Even better is to integrate with cloud products to expand the utilisation of the data with project-specific data, facilitating time-saving workflows and eliminating disparate systems.

The value of scheduling software

Lean construction promotes the use of pull planning, a scheduling method that allows the entire team to participate while starting with the end in mind.

Finding a solution that will allow the identification of critical tasks and how they are connected to the final goals will help your capital project work smarter and simpler. The following are ways pull planning can improve your productivity:

Collaboration. The team works in tandem with each other, not against other schedules.

Goal setting. The entire team has clear goals with milestones and responsibilities clearly defined.

Transparency. Knowledge breeds efficiency and through the entire team knowing the same thing, it will streamline your projects plan.

BIM and the digital twin in lean construction

building information modelling (BIM) system already allows you to collaborate, but by pairing it with digital twin technology you can create an unparalleled database of information that knows everything that happened during construction, offering endless possibilities to share detailed information. Using a BIM system for planning and detailing out work can also facilitate better coordination with offsite fabrication efforts. Along with providing a better flow for communication, other benefits as they relate to lean construction are that the system itself adds value and that proper use of the system is by default going to reduce costs on the project through the elimination of rework and clash detection. Ultimately, all of this will smooth the value stream for your materials.

The right document management system

Your ideal document management system (DMS) should be designed for construction. The idea is to gain efficiencies in the flow of your information. The right DMS will open up communication and collaboration across all stakeholders, eliminating wasted time with automated workflows and will be accessible where the work is happening while it controls your managed documents. The best situation is to ensure that all stakeholders from executive management to subcontractors and suppliers have the proper access they need to get the job done. Controlling the information so that it flows, sending only the information needed at the right time to the right people, nothing more nothing less, is also important.

Involving the team and making sure everyone is engaged at every level, as well as utilising the proper tools in technology is a great start, but it does require a little more to fully embrace lean construction methods.

The cost savings alone should prompt an organisation to embrace lean construction, but we can’t forget the value that can be delivered through the process. It really can ensure a successful capital project delivery.

Key takeaways for successful lean construction

A few takeaways that transcend all lean construction implementation concepts should be considered as you embark on your journey. These include:

  • Engaged Leadership required in all phases
  • Strong collaboration between owners, contractors and the supply chain
  • Continued education on lean construction processes and methods remaining at the forefront of any programme

By keeping these precepts in mind and in your plans, lean construction as applied to your capital project will not only enhance your delivery but will also pull your stakeholders together for better collaboration and more capital project wins more often.