Lean Construction – Efficiency AND Efficacy

iStock_000004904224MediumLean Construction – Efficiency AND Efficacy

Newton’s second law of motion states that ‘A body will stay at rest or in a constant line of motion until a resultant force acts upon it’, i.e. force applied to a mass will change its speed and / or direction.

In other words, if you want to get something accelerating in a particular direction, then the size of the force you apply, the time in which you spend applying that force and importantly the direction of that force will determine the future direction of the ‘body’.

Well Newton’s second law could have been written to apply to Lean Transformation! For effective continuous improvement and waste elimination, it is not merely about how hard you work at it, but as importantly, where that effort is applied. A very common problem, when considering lean construction is to concentrate on making things as efficient as possible i.e. ability to do something well without a waste of time or money. This can on many occasions lead to huge efforts to making a wasteful process more efficient.

Some times, more effort and time needs to be allocated to systems and root cause analysis to achieve overall efficacy i.e. effectiveness for long term and sustainable improvements. With this in mind, the diagnostics phase of any improvement projects should not be rushed, foreshorten, bodged or compromised; this is a real risk in an Industry that is always eager to get to the “doing” bit.

Without the science and giving more thought to efficacy of efforts invested, there is a good chance that the industry will remain in the “doing” mode making recurring issues more tolerable.

Careful thought given to identifying the key issues, then application of targeted improvements, can be far more efficacious; even a large oil tanker with a small force applied in the right direction will eventually change course!



Leadership and Management – Which one is more important in a lean construction?

Is there a difference between leadership and management? Many will say “yes, huge difference”, if so, why do most lean construction improvement projects lose momentum, not follow through, not achieve longer term benefits or sustain changes? According to a McKinsey report, 70% change programmes fail in some way.

Good leadership is required on all levels. But what differentiates leading from managing? A few collated answers from companies and peers clears the picture and stimulates personal debate on whether we, as individuals or companies, are managers or leaders, a bit of both or more so one than the other?

  • Managers have subordinates while a leader have followers (following being a voluntary action)
  • Leaders have vision while managers have objectives
  • Leaders gets followers to transcend self-interest for the sake of the team while managers is responsive to immediate “self-interest” (immediate dept/project/activities) if it can be met by getting the work done
  • Leaders seek change while managers seek stability
  • Leaders pave the way and sets directions while managers plans details
  • Leaders facilitates decisions while managers makes them
  • Leaders sells and induce actions while managers tell

Many people lead and manage at the same time. Leadership alone without good management will not help achieve the vision. Good management alone only allows achievement of established objectives. In the era of true innovation, only companies with a balanced proportion of good leadership and good management will be able to truly differentiate themselves in the industry.

6ix has and is now working with hundreds of companies and projects. With increasing demand for lean thinking in the industry, we can now, to put it bluntly, identify the wheat from the chaff. With experience we are now able to identify companies that have leadership and management, lacks leadership but have good management, have leadership but lacks good management, lacks leadership and lacks good management (with variable gradient dependent on company as a whole or individuals). So, what makes a good company (macro view) or project (micro view)?

We want and need leadership qualities in all levels of the company. Most people when asked who the leaders are, more often than not the reply will be “higher ranking” people, not understanding that we are all leaders individually on all levels. From a simplistic point of view, we need leadership from Director level to make decisions to implementing change, we need leadership in upper and middle management to pave the way to make changes and we need leadership in lower management to sell and action the changes. We need the people we come into contact with during activities, whether it’s business or construction processes, to have the vision, to facilitate decisions, to set directions, to seek change, to challenge or sell ideas and close actions i.e. lean doing. Lacking in good management? No problem, we have tools and techniques for that. Leadership however, requires fostering. The culture of the company and its supply chain, is dictated by the people working within it. Leadership is borne from individuals at all levels.

01/00/1998. File pictures of Mahatma Gandhi

“We must become the change we want to see” – Gandhi.

In a nutshell, good management is good enough for short-term gains but leadership is critical to longer-term sustainability of improvement and change. Most of us (the managers in us) believe we already “are the change”, we already “are good leaders”. Hence critical self-analysis is vital to continually moving us from good managers to great leaders with good management skills.

Lean Construction – Managing complex projects

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 organisation’s best. Heuristically, the team will go about doing their utmost best to manage the “complex” 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 “pick and choose” 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 Dorner’s 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)Hoshin Photo

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.  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.

hoshin-questionsAs importantly, and not to be skipped, investigate the details in a 4-8 weeks (dependent on the level of “complexity”) 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 “ready to build” down the line.

The identifying and eliminating waste phase involves rigid adherence to the “ready to build” principle. Most projects forego the ready to build step and focus just on the weekly plan in their “pick & choose” 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 Covey’s 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.

Lean Construction – Not just for fair weather projects

In line with number two of the five lean spirits “Do it now, no excuses!”, 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.

“Suitable” 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 “complex” 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.  With the project plan being uncertain and ‘events’ 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? 

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 didn’t 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 “complex” projects.