Common Misconceptions Construction Managers have about Lean

Of course this could work if every job we did was the same, you know, like they have in manufacturing, but all our projects are different” —   A.Projectmanager

“Well you know, we have lots of peaks and troughs in our workload, feast and famine, sometimes we don’t have enough staff and other times there is not enough to do and we have guys sitting around, I can see how this lean stuff might work when you have a predictable workload, but it wouldn’t work here” —– A.Director

These are the kind of statements we hear all the time and are representative of some of the most common misconceptions about lean thinking.

In construction, there appears to be a perception that all manufacturing is lean. Also that manufacturing is totally predictable and simple, with essentially identical repetitive tasks taking place and so “of course you could do lean” under these circumstances.

Lets look at some of these common perceptions surrounding lean, manufacturing and construction.

Perception 1.

Manufacturing is Lean.

Wrong! – should read:- Some exemplars in the manufacturing sector are Lean but there are very many companies that are far from it!


Perception 2.

Manufacturing is simple compared to construction

I once visited Rolls Royce in Glasgow. This factory makes a few rubber seals and some small high tech pieces of metal called stators that form the outer ring of a jet engine. The factory is about a mile long and contains machines as big as houses, all very high tech. The startling fact is that this is only one of seven factories across the UK that are needed to make just a jet engine, let alone the rest of an airliner. – Really simple then!


Perception 3.

Offsite is lean isn’t it?

Oh no it isn’t! – it just happens somewhere else!


Perception 4.

Lean means doing BIM doesn’t it?

Well it depends what BIM is nowadays. It started off as 3D cad. Well it’s certainly lean to be able to visualise process. However there were exemplars of lean in existence in the 1980’s, about the era of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, so no 3D cad back then. The new PAS 1192 calls for collaboration and joined up thinking in the design process and this is BIM. Isn’t this evident in a lean organisation anyway? Trying to mandate collaboration may be akin to herding cats.


Perception 5.

Lean doesn’t suit bespoke projects like ours.

This is maybe one of the most prevalent. The idea that lean will only work when you have stable and repeatable tasks that is. Actually the opposite is true. The real key to lean is flexibility and the ability to adjust very quickly to changing conditions. This includes being able to easily flex the workforce by 30% to cope with varying demand, multi-skilling, having processes that are transparent and visually managed so that the thread can easily be picked up by a colleague or anyone else involved when necessary.