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Visual management is often proposed as one of fundamental tools in the philosophy of lean thinking and the successful use of visual management as one of the key differentiators of lean thinking over other improvement methodologies. Yet when lean thinking is applied to the construction environment does anyone really understand the concept of the visual workplace?
There are some very profound definitions for what we mean by visual management but for me its what we use at 6ix, âA signal that needs no interpretation and provokes a responseâ.
The term visual management for me can be split into the two areas of visual controls and visual displays. Visual controls are the signals that assist the delivery teams in clearly establishing their performance status and identifying any abnormalities that need to be addressed, coded in a way that expresses urgency. Visual displays are the signals that allow the teams to track and analyse their performance and improvement activity and communicate this to wider business units.
I have been fortunate to have spent many years working in manufacturing supply chains and have witnessed first hand how simple visual signals can out-shine complex computer planning systems and empower workforces to take control and ownership of their production environments, leading to higher performing teams enjoying greatly enhanced job satisfaction. Yes I have often endured the endless factory tours, which focus on huge team boards with endless graphs of production performance and team skills matrices. But I have also been privileged, often in small businesses, to witness how teams have visualised their workplaces to meet their customer needs, on time and every time. Simple max/min lines, clear stock identification areas, kanban signals, effective shadow boarding, I have witnessed as powerful signals to enable work teams to understand and control their production outputs and the demands of their ânext customerâ. These control signals allow production to flow with limited reference to higher management and interpretation of complex computer outputs.
To date my observations of visual management in construction have been mainly of visual displays, mostly boards showing out of date gantt charts and KPIâs that nobody responds too. More often than not these KPiâs focus on health and safety and waste management issues with little on reporting on QCD performance. Displaying team performance is taboo in an un-collaborative construction environment and the priorities advocated in PAS1192 and the Construction Strategy 2025 need to be taken on board by all if we are to progress here. If we are to make advances in lean thinking in construction then we need to develop visual control that will support design development and construction activities and will provide the transparency needed for construction teams to become high performing.
Professional football has for some time presented visual displays of team and individual performances for us all to discuss; league position, yards run, goals per game, shots scored within the box etc. However at the world cup in Brazil this year we were all able to witness how a simple visual control can overcome a perennial abnormal situation. The results are extraordinary. The introduction of the âvanishing sprayâ appears to have virtually eliminated all issues in getting the wall at a free kick back 10 yards.
Remember the problems and frustrations for us the viewer:
- Walls creeping forward when the referee moved away
- The kicker moving the ball ever closer to the goal when the referee turned away
- Kicks being taken and sometimes blocked when the wall was never anywhere near 10 yards
- Free kicks often being retaken
- Undermining of the referees authority
- Delays to the flow of the game
- Opportunities for confrontations between players
With a simple can of vanishing spray so many issues and abnormalities were eliminated from the game and are now I see being adopted in the British Premier League. The dramatic antics of the professional footballers seem to have been cured by a simple can of spray and a line on the floor. No more fights and yellow cards.
Well done FIFA or whoever introduced the idea. Unfortunately it was not 6ix. However it is a real life endorsement of what we preach and what we challenge construction teams to consider. Visual displays are great and important but it’s the visual controls that drive the real improvements.
BIM is not just about 3D Modelling; it represents a far more fundamental reform of our approach to the built environment and has its origins in the now 20-year-old Latham Report âConstructing the Teamâ.
Some of the key recommendations from Latham include:
- A checklist of design responsibilities should be prepared.
- The use of coordinated project information should be a contractual requirement.
- The responsibilities for building services design should be clearly defined.
- A set of basic principles is required on which modern contract should be based.
- A complete family of interlocking contractual documents is required.
- The role and duties of the project manager to be more clearly defined.
These recommendations have been taken forward in the Government Strategy 2011 and underpin the definition of a BIM Level 2 environment, as set out in PAS1192-2.
Information Management in a common data environment offers the opportunity and mechanism to improve collaboration and eliminate design defects at the point of information production.
PAS 1192-2, soon to be the International Standard (ISO), sets out the requirements for Level 2 BIM and, deliberately it seems, hardly mentions BIM or 3D modelling but instead focuses heavily on lean processes, collaboration, robust design, information management and a clear definition of the design development process and stages.
Businesses and clients that focus only on software training and investment will find that they will not meet the BIM Level 2 standard and will indeed not meet the Government objectives to reduce cost through elimination of defect waste by 20%.
Arguably, far more important than investment in the latest 3D modelling software is for designers and contractor businesses to undertake a realignment of their own business processes to meet the requirements of PAS1192-2.
The real challenge in delivering Level 2 is in the up skilling of all key staff. There will be a requirement to fulfil newly defined roles, staff will require training to understand their own responsibilities in a BIM environment, in addition to also understanding the obligations and expectations they should have of other team members; this will be critical in successful implementation of BIM Level 2. The biggest challenge to all is that of âconstructing the teamâ to truly and effectively collaborate; collaboration will need to be the ethos of all in the process and not just a âbuzzâ word or the philosophy of the select few.
Without true collaboration and a rigid adherence to the processes set out in PAS1192-2 the ability of the construction industry to deliver better value will not be realised; there is in fact a genuine risk of waste increasing if processes arenât followed as companies invest more time in the âwrong thingsâ and reduce value added work undertaken with available resource.
Collaboration and robust information management offers a golden opportunity for the UK Construction Industry to bring the reforms identified by Latham and Egan to fruition and to revolutionise the procurement, design, construction and operation of our built environment.
âThe moment a flock of Canada geese hit the aircraft and we were forced to land US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, on January 15, 2009, I knew that my life would change foreverâŚâ These are the opening lines in the foreword to a fascinating book entitled âBeyond the Checklist â What else health care can learn from aviation teamwork and safetyâ. Captain Chelsey âSullyâ Sullenberger introduces the book and its concepts of crew resource management (CRM) and its application to the health care sector. What is also obvious when reading this book are the parallels in the teamwork dynamics within aviation, healthcare (the intended topic) and the UK construction sector.
The authors of the book point out that it was a taught approach to teamwork that enabled the crew, which included pilot, first officer and three flight attendants, to land on the Hudson River that frigid January day and then safely evacuate 150 passengers without a life-threatening injury or fatality. There was a method behind this âmiracleâ, largely as a result of changes to aviation industry practices relating to teamwork, communication and co-operation among all members of the crew, regardless of rank or job responsibility.
Captain Sullenberger continues, â Not long ago, there were captains in our cockpit who acted like godsâŚ you questioned the captainâs authority at your own peril.â I think that we can all recall sites where the same is true of site managers or agents and the tense atmosphere that often results. Construction still largely remains the domain of testosterone and getting the job done, and I know best how thatâs going to be done! The result is, that according to industry statistics this approach delivers 50% of projects land on time and 50% on budget (UK Industry performance report produced by the department for business, innovation and skills).
Aviation is now heralded as the safest form of transport, it is now considerably safer to fly in an airplane at 36,000 feet than drive a car at sea level. This has not always been the case and on December 29, 1972 eastern Airlines Flight 401 carrying 176 passengers and crew on board crashed resulting in 101 fatalities due to a burned out landing gear light. The crew inadvertently put the plane into a very slow shallow decent and eventually crashed in the Florida Everglades. This was despite air traffic controllers recognizing that the plane was going to hit the ground but only vaguely asking, âHowâs it goinâ out there, Eastern?â The same question could be asked of the trades working on sites where they know that things are not progressing as they should but are unable to make changes to affect the outcome.
The advances in aviation safety has taken place over many years and decades and beyond the checklist argues that CRM has played an integral part in this. It considers the major building blocks and its application to healthcare but I wonder whether the same could be applied to construction. I have paraphrased these concepts outlined in the book and, although there is still much to be done to convert aviation CRM to better construction team performance I feel there may be something in itâŚ
- The captain is not king â and neither is the site manager?
- Knowing the team â how many names of the people on site do we know?
- Conducting appropriate briefings â concise and inclusive or none at all?
- Establish a common language â Is that your riser 6 which is our riser 3 or the other one?
- Inviting participation â I would but we havenât procured them yet and you just tell them where to go and they get on with it anyway!
- Manage the workload â Iâm sure that we can fit that in as wellâŚ
- Admitting error and asking for help â or find someone to blame
- Training and recurrent training â commonplace now in health & safety but little else
As always perhaps the biggest barrier to implementing a teamworking programme for construction will be money and time it takes to implement. It is worth considering however that construction projects have delivered 50% of projects on time and budget for years now with little sign of improvement. Without doing something different it is unlikely to change the opportunity for recouping any initial outlay is considerable.
BIM is a recent addition, and seen by some, as the saviour of the construction sector and no doubt it will help. Without effective teamwork however technology alone will never be the complete solution. To finish on a final quote on technology, âin terms of navigational errors, automation enables pilots to make huge navigational errors very precisely.â
It will be widely recognised that over the last 5 years we have seen a slide back to âlowest costâ dominating the procurement thinking in both Client organisations and, naturally therefore, contracting organisations.
Even for those organisations that philosophically support collaborative working, their systems and staff arenât equipped with the tendering strategies for true collaborative working and aggressive market conditions have ultimately led to the âcheapestâ bid delivering most of the UK Construction Industry Work.
The results are clear to see in UK Construction Industry statistics, with only 34% of projects delivered on time in 2012, compared to a pre-recession high of 58% in 2007, where two stage mechanisms dominated with a relatively nurtured supply chain. (Constructing Excellence & Glenigans)
Whilst transfer of risk in a âbuyers marketâ has led to high levels of cost certainty for clients, 2012 contrastingly saw Contractor profits being the lowest on record at 2.7%, with many organisations burning the last of their cash reserves to maintain this position.
In an attempt to squeeze margins out of projects, contractors have given commercial teams aggressive buying targets.
Contractor QS, and also Client PQS, have typically used the programme time to âplayâ the market and sought new suppliers in an attempt to drive down contractor costs.Â Before placing orders the commercial teams will seek to tie down designs and transfer risk back out to their supply chains.Â Reality hits when orders are placed, the appointment triggers Change and redesign to accommodate supplier needs; frequently leading to increased cost and likely delay.
Building Regulations, the sustainability agenda, consultant appointment structures, acoustic standards, changing construction technologies, air tightness demands, renewable technologies have all generated a position where the traditional design team can only progress the design so far before specialist supplier input is required to conclude the building design.
With the advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) this demand for early specialist input will only increase if the full benefits of BIM to the construction process can be realised.
In a lean world we advocate integrated supply chains and collaborative design and planning to eliminate waste in construction through improved quality, productivity and reduced cost.
In the harsh commercial world of lowest cost tendering the opportunities are limited and the commercial pressure to buy âcheapâ generates two key paradoxes:
- How can the QS get design certainty at order stage on bespoke buildings without key suppliers involved in the design?
- How can we effectively plan the works and identify and capitalise on programme opportunities if we are mostly procuring to the âlatest start timeâ?
It is generally accepted that the market is starting to recover and with that there are already indications of a stiffening of resolve within the supply chain, and a change in attitude with regards to whom the suppliers will work with and what projects they will price.
Lean encourages us to maximise value added activity, eliminate waste and reduce support activity.Â Traditional procurement merely pushes waste and cost from the Client to the Contractor on to the Supply Chain or up the other way, dependent on demand and supply metrics in the market.Â Under conventional subcontract procurement routes the Main Contractor does not care how efficient the sub contractor is as long as he is cheapest and he gets the job done on time; this approach typically increases waste as both supply chain and main contractors try to reduce cost by reducing supervision and resource rather than focusing on eliminating waste and increasing productivity. One of the key indicators is the cost of poor quality in the industry, which research indicates is at least 5% of turnover when considering both pre Completion and Post Completion defects.Â Real opportunity exists to reduce cost for all by true supply chain integration.
Lean philosophy and systems thinking offer an effective framework for the UK Construction Industry to excel in meeting the industry technological and legislative challenges; this change requires energy and leadership within organisations to implement the transformations.
The creation of new procurement methodologies requires construction businesses to move away from traditional silo thinking; traditional roles such as Estimator, QS, Project Managers and Designers should be challenged and construction managers encouraged to genuinely interrogate their supply chain and their supply chain processes and staff skills.Â The tendering process should be considered a genuine preconstruction activity, not merely a mechanism to get work through the door; strategic supply chain relationships and the integration of complex subcontract packages in tender design development should be common place rather than the exception.Â BIM will demand this.
If Clients and Contractors are to succeed in delivering projects and generating a sustainable business and industry, new supply chain strategies will be needed and organisations need to consider carefully how they integrate the supply chain early on in the project life and develop the trust and mechanisms to ensure they get a genuine market price.Â The Industry needs to up skill the team, from Client to Supplier, to acquire the necessary hard and soft skills needed to work in a genuinely open and collaborative way to compete, consistently deliver and generate profit through the supply chain.
As an approved centre to provide NVQ in Business Improvement Techniques (BIT), we constantly debate among ourselves, how one measures the effectiveness of lean training we provide?
One common debate surrounds whether, through the âlearning by doingâ method, do we try to achieve a good output on a project that learners take on and out falls an NVQ? Or do we concentrate on delivering a skilled learner regardless of current project outputs?
The majority of our customer organisations want to put their staff through lean training with the objective of increasing productivity and improving project performance, with a reasonable expectation that real improvements will be realised on the current, on going project the candidates are working on.Â This expectation can on occasion conflict with the timetable and the rigour of the training programme and requires the consultant to carefully balance training with project related work.Â The danger of focusing on purely the project work is that the candidate has no theoretical context to relate his actions to. An important point to bear in mind however is that management development and training can be broken into two general categories: skill enhancement and behaviour change.
Lean skills and knowledge can be improved via training workshops and easily measured but behaviour change will take time to embed and presents some challenges to the candidatesâ organisation post programme delivery. Training (short-term) is only a tool to achieve management development but should act as the catalyst for long term behavioural change, provided the environment persists to nurture that change after training is complete.
Measuring management development is a multifaceted task, not only because of the number of management skills and behaviours to be enhanced, but also because skill and behavioural enhancement are different. It’s important to take into consideration that behavior can only change if conditions are favorable. For example, if work conditions do not allow or make it difficult for learners to apply new knowledge, this may stifle initial enthusiasm to improve and change behaviour. Or, learners may have taken in the teachings but have no desire to apply the knowledge themselves as they perceive current status to be too daunting to proceed alone.
For a lean training and development programme to succeed, top management, who put their staff through the training, must play a large role in paving the way for the application of new skills learnt. Then, we can start measuring the effectiveness of lean training through ROI for the organisation instead of just individual projects.
Whilst working with a team on improving a particular workstream, we spent days wading through data trying to make sense of it and analysing it, we process mapped, did Pareto charts on the data we had, used SPC, Mean Value Theorem plus no small amount of debate. After all this, we were still unsure what to do as we found quite a few errors and omissions in the data. In the end, we decided to just go and have a look and see what we can see on site.
Not to put too fine a point on it, we found out that our detailed process map was definitely not the same as the process we observed, and that our Pareto charts were also telling a different story!
Now, Iâm not saying here to not try to analyse data or carry out process mapping, just that maybe its best to actually âgo seeâ first. This is because very often there are âassumptionsâ about the way a process works and, also when process mapping, there is a really strong tendency to map what âshouldâ happen as opposed to what âdoesâ happen.
Key Learning points
- When trying to improve a process, spend some time up front at the âcoal faceâ to see what happens in reality
- Try to back this up with data and analyse the data with benefit of what was observed.
- Very often small improvements can be made immediately following a direct observation exercise, so why wait?!
- Donât forget to involve the âprocess expertsâ (those being observed) and make them part of the activity. Their contribution is often gold dust!
The Art of Collaborative Planning
As âLean Construction Consultantsâ one of our common forms of intervention, and one lauded as instantly beneficial, is Collaborative Planning.
Collaborative planning seeks to capture the specialist knowledge of team members to create a coordinated, realistic, predicable and resourced construction plan.Â Â Successful Collaborative Planning will create flow of resource in a highly coordinated manner.
The four stages of collaborative planning are:
- Master Planning
- Ready To Build
- Weekly Planning
- Daily Planning
For the purpose of this âblogâ I will mainly be discussing the Master Planning stage.
One of the key benefits of Collaborative Planning is that you are agreeing with each supplier the appropriate resource levels for a specific activity, usually in a small area, or batch; this âbatchâ can be extrapolated out for all trades across the whole project.
Why is this so important?Â The importance of understanding resource is that most, if not all project periods, are not determined by a critical path of the process steps but on the flow of resource in a given sequence.
We programme projects with quantities and approximate sequence of summarised activities yet we manage them by deploying trade / discipline gangs in a given sequence.Â For example we may show electrical first fix progressing ahead of boarding on a project Gantt Chart, however this apparently simple sequence will involve complex interaction between numerous trades and specialists in a given sequence and if not properly planned and managed weeks can be eroded without any realisation of the opportunity that is being lost.
The opportunity to improve and optimise productivity is in ensuring each trade starts as early as possible and then has continuity of work and completes each batch or zone as they proceed; ready on time for the next trade (The Next Customer).
On a macro scale we know that the frame follows the substructure; the envelope follows the frame and the finishes follow the envelope.Â Typically each of these main phases will be broken down on the Construction Gantt Chart to a level of detail that still includes long bars; the flow of works is represented by the overlapping of these long bars, indicating for instance that âActivity Bâ starts about two weeks after âActivity Aâ has started.
Collaborative planning of these key milestones that release the next stage, are of great interest to us. We seek to understand when earliest can this next stage be released and how to maintain the flow of resources thereafter. We are also greatly concerned with what all the process steps are to reach this milestone.
By focusing on this we are seeking primarily to eliminate âWaiting Wasteâ by creating flow with resource. Collaborative Planning also contributes considerably to the elimination of other wastes such as âDefect Wasteâ, âOverproduction Wasteâ, âInventory Wasteâ and the waste of âUnderutilising People Knowledgeâ, by capturing that knowledge.
Instead of a lone Project Planner or Project Manager building up a programme and imposing it on the team, the Collaborative Planning sessions capture hundreds of years shared construction experience around a table and apply that knowledge in building a programme which the team owns.
The need to focus on the ânext customerâ and eliminate âwaiting wasteâ relies on batching the project into small areas to generate flow.Â In simple terms halving the batch size will reduce the programme by about 40% – with the same resources!!!Â The downside is it doubles the critical interfaces with the trades, which demands better management and better communication.Â In other words it demands collaborative planning.
Theory and our own experience dictate that the best time for Master Planning is well in advance of âcutting the sodâ, with a mature design and all the suppliers and consultants available for the session.Â This collaborative planning panacea is a rare flower indeed, one that will only blossom in the fertile soil of two stage collaborative working and with a Client with the wisdom and will to make it happen.
Even if it is the Client intent to engage his main contractor early in the project development stage, the main contractor or his commercial procurement team may not willingly enter into the same relationships with their supply chain. In the last 5 years the Industry has taken backwards steps with regards to collaborative working, with lowest price in an aggressive market place dominating.Â Contractors with low margins feel the need to play the market as long as possible before appointing subcontractors leaving little opportunity for planning with the supply chain before starting on site.
With the active promotion of BIM by the UK Government, early engagement of the specialist supply chain may become more commonplace and 4D BIM construction models will demand a more integrated approach to the planning of projects.
The good news however is that there are still significant benefits in planning workshops with specialists no matter what the stage of the job. Within one hour of sitting down coordination issues, risks, opportunities and problems start popping out of the dialogue; matters that might cause a delay or quality issue if picked up later, which is invariably the case without a collaborative approach.
Accepting the constraints of current procurement methods, I have found through experience, that the Master Planning needs a series of workshops. The number of which depends on the size and complexity of the project and on the timing of suppliers becoming involved in the project.
Facilitation of the workshop needs to be carried out by someone who can ensure no single party dominates with all suppliers being given their say and an opportunity to raise issues, which should be captured with allocated actions and timescales.Â All protagonists should approach the workshop in a proactive, open way and the facilitator should allow for mutual trust to be developed and nurtured.Â In my experience I have found that most suppliers will participate in an open and proactive manner, irrespective of their contractual status, provided the main contractor encourages this approach.
Facilitation of the process is a skill that needs practice and the right attitude, one of objectivity and fairness to promote the mutual trust that is needed to get the right answers and the right plan.
The definition of a complex project, for this blog, will be a typical project fraught with indecisive client, design changes, many and long turnaround times for change orders and approvals, inconsistent sub-contractor performances and very challenging programmes.
There is no doubt that difficult and complex projects will usually be manned by the organisationâs best. Heuristically, the team will go about doing their utmost best to manage the âcomplexâ situation. Most commonly, these teams will already have good practices from lessons learnt in place e.g.
- Detailed design programmes
- Detailed construction programmes produced by the planners over the past year on the project
- Plans to conduct weekly site meetings
- Multiple risk management spreadsheets
- Audit trails of accountabilities e.g. RFIs
As discussed in an earlier blog, complex projects are characterised by the multitude of interrelating variables within a project system i.e. client organisation, project team, supply chain etc.
The chaos (read earlier blog on this) that ensues from managing complex project (managing interrelated variables, overriding and overwhelming amounts of information over time) most often stem from the unsystematic way, or âpick and chooseâ method of managing the project system, hence just good tools & techniques is secondary to following a robust framework if the goal is NOT to make waste more efficient.
Often the prescriptive process tools within a contracting organisation are not the best tools to effectively managing the flow of works or the project complexity. (More on this in a future blog)
Often the commercial procurement routes adopted are often given priority over the project planning, flow and quality which are seen as site issues to manage and in many organisations are divorced from the procurement route of the supply chain.
The lean approach
Understand the bigger picture, investigate the process in detail, use a team based approach to identify and eliminate wastes, then generate actions for sustainability.
Example application in a bigger picture (the whole project)
At the start of a project, before jumping into action haphazardly (gut feel, economic pressures or pressures from different stakeholders shouting loudest) prioritising and dealing with issues, the lean approach suggests understanding the bigger picture, as a team before jumping into problem solving mode as the industry tend to like doing. A good choice of tool, reflecting the lean approach, to use at this point may be Hoshin Kanri (Compass needle), or better known as a 1-page plan. This is like a business plan for a company. If a small business needs a business plan to show the way to achieve success, why would bigger projects not? Projects operate very much like a short term business with a single place of work having to discharge all the obligations of the company at a single short term place of work; such as legislative, contractual, procedural, social and commercial.
This activity rounds up all key stakeholders of the project to explore individual agendas, external and internal risks to the project and identify potential opportunities to achieving the common goal of achieving project success. The structured activity will provide information in a way to populate a 1-page plan inducing accountability, giving focus areas (key actions), area champions, programme of works for tackling areas and SMART measures for performance. This can act as an overall framework to be monitored against and regulated using strategic flexibility (see Dornerâs Logic of Failure). Focus areas e.g. change process, new construction technique, construction programme, 3rd party authorisations etc. will then decide on, and encompass the good practices already available, plus other tools and techniques available for use. A second tier Hoshin may be necessary dependent on the project.
Example application on a smaller picture (the construction programme)
Regardless of pre-existing or levels of uncertainties of the projects, once on site, the show must go on.
Using a team based approach, seeing the bigger picture in this case will be the construction programme.Â There is now need for the team to diligently and aggressively identify constraints both in the bigger picture to give an overview. Potential suitable tools to adopt in this case may be FMEA on zonal/package analysis or any other Q, C, D risk analysis techniques.
As importantly, and not to be skipped, investigate the details in a 4-8 weeks (dependent on the level of âcomplexityâ) look-ahead programme, to give urgency to specific matters. Employing an activity, labour and resource-scheduling tool, such as collaborative planning, at this point will help give the look-ahead plan more accuracy.
The above two will give feedback and help prioritisation by the management team in making it âready to buildâ down the line.
The identifying and eliminating waste phase involves rigid adherence to the âready to buildâ principle. Most projects forego the ready to build step and focus just on the weekly plan in their âpick & chooseâ method. Rework is inevitable when a task commences without the premises being ready. This difficult step however, needs strength to follow through due to the tug for progress versus following the principle of only freeing work when ready. The ready to build protects the weekly plan. Hence, simultaneous and comprehensive communications throughout the team is essential.
Ready to build tools exist in some form in many organisations, such as Information Schedules, Procurement Schedules and RAMS Schedules, these often live with separate disciplines and are rarely all brought together in a single ready to build tracker and rarely interrogate the supply chain ready to build. (For example how often do contractors get visibility on the services contractor procurement status?)
Generating actions from all of the above in a long list is easy. But, for sustainability and for them to work means closing these actions. In this instance, adopting Coveyâs circle of influence and concern may be prudent. Actions should be separated into things within the control of the team and things not within the control of the team and worked on separately.
In line with number two of the five lean spirits âDo it now, no excuses!â, there will never be a perfect project to apply lean. 6ix have encountered many occasions when customers have professed that they need to find a suitable project to apply lean and some have commented that certain projects are not suitable as they are too complex and plagued with issues.
âSuitableâ projects, with the usual bit of clients changes, design issues, bad weather, not the best quality sub-contractors, etc. can relatively easily be overcome with a dash of collaborative planning, a touch of the visual workplace (VM & 5C) and some sprinkling of problem solving if and when necessary. Having adopted lean, these projects will usually be delivered better or within the predicted programme and client requirements.
What about âcomplexâ projects that are plagued with issues, where the end date and cost is not in sight? In a greater scale, the likes of Millennium Dome, Channel Tunnel, Wembley Stadium etc.
It is projects that are complex and plagued with issues that will benefit most from applying lean. With complex projects, sometimes the objectives may not be to deliver on time, adhere to budget and to the requested quality but to minimize loss and manage risks.
Complex projects have many interrelated variables where management of the process is not over a single moment but over time. Their processes are not transparent and we cannot see all we want to see and neither can we know or see all the inter-relations between all the variables. Â With the project plan being uncertain and âeventsâ leading to outcomes different from the originally intent; without collaboration, detailed interrogation of the value chain, management of flow chaos can ensue.
How can lean help?Â
There are many debates as to which are actual lean tools or not. For example, brainstorming, problem solving, process mapping etc. These are hard tools and techniques, which from a lean point of view does not matter if it is a lean tool or not. Lean advocates the search for the right tools and techniques required for the situation to achieve right first time. What lean differs from others, is the philosophy and as importantly the structure and methodology to adopting fit for purpose tools and techniques.
Most construction projects are heuristically managed. On even the most efficient construction projects that adopt a whole host of very good tools and techniques (or a strong bullish PM), there are many that lack the structure, methodology or logic of application. These projects can still have very good outcomes, but they may be missing out on great. However, most will just be contented if it didnât go too bad.
Complex projects are characterised by high volumes of information generated by project complexity and task interdependence. Without a structure or methodology as a framework, team fragmentation, poor decisions/prioritisation, errors and degrading communications can accumulate resulting in additional coordination and rework down the line resulting in project disorder and confusion. This in turn affects the morale and motivation of the project team.
Lean construction provides the structure and methodology required to harness the best of the situation and its unique visual workplace toolset provides a way of communicating the plan, the project status, team and team member performance in a range of project critical areas.
The next blog will dwell on ways lean construction methodology is applicable to âcomplexâ projects.