Go See

1Whilst 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.

2Not 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!

3Now, I’m not saying here to not try to analyse data or carry out process mapping, just that maybe its best to actually “go see” first. This is because very often there are “assumptions” about the way a process works and, also when process mapping, there is a really strong tendency to map what “should” happen as opposed to what “does” happen.

4Key Learning points

  • When trying to improve a process, spend some time up front at the “coal face” 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?!
  • Don’t forget to involve the “process experts” (those being observed) and make them part of the activity. Their contribution is often gold dust!

The Art of Collaborative Planning

The Art of Collaborative Planning

As ‘Lean Construction Consultants’ 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.   Successful Collaborative Planning will create flow of resource in a highly coordinated manner.

The four stages of collaborative planning are:

  1. Master Planning
  2. Ready To Build
  3. Weekly Planning
  4. Daily Planning

For the purpose of this ‘blog’ I will mainly be discussing the Master Planning stage.

1One 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 ‘batch’ can be extrapolated out for all trades across the whole project.

Why is this so important?  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.  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).

2On a macro scale we know that the frame follows the substructure; the envelope follows the frame and the finishes follow the envelope.  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 ‘Activity B’ starts about two weeks after ‘Activity A’ 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 ‘Waiting Waste’ by creating flow with resource. Collaborative Planning also contributes considerably to the elimination of other wastes such as ‘Defect Waste’, ‘Overproduction Waste’, ‘Inventory Waste’ and the waste of ‘Underutilising People Knowledge’, 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 ‘next customer’ and eliminate ‘waiting waste’ relies on batching the project into small areas to generate flow.  In simple terms halving the batch size will reduce the programme by about 40% – with the same resources!!!  The downside is it doubles the critical interfaces with the trades, which demands better management and better communication.  In other words it demands collaborative planning.

3Theory and our own experience dictate that the best time for Master Planning is well in advance of ‘cutting the sod’, with a mature design and all the suppliers and consultants available for the session.  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.  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.  All protagonists should approach the workshop in a proactive, open way and the facilitator should allow for mutual trust to be developed and nurtured.  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.

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.

Advanced Site Management

We have been training and facilitating the practical application of lean thinking in the UK now for over 10 years. We find that time after time we end up using similar tools and techniques. We have designed a training course that incorporates our learning and experience over this period. Over 5 days delegates will take part in a simulated construction project, where they will apply best practice techniques to deliver the project. Some of these are “just good management” — some are counter-intuitive and taken from our experience of Lean Construction.

Fire Walker – Self-help and Motivation

Who would have guessed that the White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army”, would become the soundtrack to the Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” event in London in May this year?!

Anthony “Tony” Robbins is the American self-help author and motivational speaker. He has become well known through his infomercials and self-help books, Unlimited Power and Awake The Giant Within. Robbins writes about subjects such as health and energy, overcoming fears, persuasive communication, and enhancing relationships. He began his career learning from many different motivational speakers, and promoted seminars for his personal mentor, Jim Rohn. He is deeply influenced by the, some might say, somewhat discredited neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) technique and a variety of philosophies. The late Steven Covey said of him;

“Tony Robbins is one of the greatest influencers of this generation.”

I attended the seminar at the Excel Arena in London from 18th to 21st May 2012. I was glad I hadn’t researched the UPW event and particularly the Fire Walk. I dare say that if I had come across articles such as the one below, I may not have been so keen on that element of my self-improvement quest!

“SAN JOSE, Calif. Jul 22, 2012 … Nearly two dozen people were injured during the first night of a seminar led by the motivational speaker Tony Robbins, … Madina Kaderi, 18, who walked over burning coals and suffered blisters….”

After Tony had whipped the 6000 strong crowd up into the necessary “state”, thousands participated in the walk, which stretched down 24 lanes of 2000 degree red-hot coals, each around eight feet long. Its purpose is to transform people’s lives in a single night as a metaphor for facing your fears and accomplishing your goals. My walk went without incident; not a burnt toe in sight!

The event was 4 days of powerful immersion into the strategies, tools and resources available for creating an extraordinary quality of life – where you achieve not only your ultimate goals but also profound fulfilment. In four of the most empowering, educational and entertaining days of my life I identified with absolute precision what it is I really want and discovered how to break through the barriers holding me back, both in my personal life and my business life.

Tony Robbins is without doubt the ultimate life coach and I am grateful that this opportunity became available to me and that I took the decision to grasp it.


“The past does not equal the future”

UPW London 2012 – White Stripes


Tony Robbins – Focus


Lean & Building Information Modeling

So here we go again. A new all seeing solution for the woes of our industry performance, Building Information Modeling (BIM). I remember when I threw out my T Square and protractor and adjusted my craft to the future afforded by the Amstrad 386, CRT display and what now seems like a coal driven pen plotter. 25 years ago an all night plot was exciting! The future of Architecture and design if not at least building was secure.

The computer environment was the way forward. CAD was the only game in town and in future information exchange was a digital issue with drawing layers preventing once and for all clashes between design disciplines. Seamless and efficient production of design information was the vision with standardisation of specification formats and drawing controls. As a young Architect this was the future and old dead wood would be weeded out. Some were as they refused to ditch the 2H pencil for electronic production information.

My energy was however misguided as my experience as a project Architect grew. The complete adversarial and contractual nature of our industry diverted my youthful efforts at creating really good three-dimensional spaces as ‘Fallingwater’ had called me to do. I realised that 2h pencil or CAD would make absolutely no difference to delivering successful projects that the customer really wanted, and more and more of my time as a design professional was being spent researching the latest case law.

Disillusioned with the situation I moved on and to the automotive industry where my eyes were opened to the world of best practice, teamwork, customer focus and the need to continuously improve; concepts which my Architectural approved teaching and my construction work life experience had never mentioned. 100% improvements though lean thinking in my early days was not unusual; such is the waste that exists in our processes.  Now 15 years on and I’m back in construction as a Lean Practitioner, combining my best practice knowledge from my automotive experiences with my practical knowledge as a Chartered Architect. With renewed vigor I am now consistently delivering major improvements in quality cost and delivery in a variety of sectors of our industry. My youthful enthusiasm has returned as I flush out waste from construction processes and motivate teams to drive continuous lean improvements.

So now we have the prospect of BIM, indeed some are already well on with implementations. But what can BIM bring to the party, and crucially will it help improve the performance of our industry? The deadline for BIM compliance at level 2 for public sector projects in England is 2016. The Ministry of Justice, a significant construction procurer, is trail blazing ahead with 2013 as its deadline.

BIM will no doubt mean different things to different supply chain members. In my travels and conversations the usual silo and disjointed construction thinking still applies even though the Government views BIM as a collaborative tool. To the industry it seems that BIM, for design is about 3D modeling (which most do not do), for contractors about integrated planning (which is done by a planner in an office), and for sub contractors other than some major M&E companies is something that others do. Whilst many designers, contractors and specialist have yet to come to really understand what BIM is about, the protagonists driving BIM implementation who I have witnessed at a number of events this year really do seem to get it! If you haven’t heard David Philp talk about the Governments vision yet then get to hear him or check out the website (www.bimtaskgroup.org) as there is a real clear grasp of what BIM really needs to be about.

There are of course many barriers and obstacles to be overcome. Competitive tendering, short-term relationships and a feeling that construction is somehow different (its not) are all barriers for BIM. Latham and Egan and many before have all raised these. The Governments Construction Strategy document (May 2011) I am pleased to see essentially says that these old habits have to be ripped up and new ways of best practice adopted, (which largely already exist) to deliver the lean construction industry that our economy requires going forward.

Industry needs to see this opportunity and truly understand what the benefits can be. Procurement models and more importantly practices will need to change to allow the significant industry specialists to sit round the table at design stage and provide the expertise through collaborative working This will mean we will need to be able to appoint our supply chain partners on the behavior, capability and expertise they will bring and not on their price. Then we will deliver the real improvements in project delivery and whole life performance that we know can be achieved.

Perhaps most importantly we really need to train all our industry staff and especially our design professionals in how to work collaboratively. Its not easy and it must be structured with an emphasis on team working. Other industries invest huge amounts of time and effort in building high performing and effective teams. We need to do the same. We need to undertake a significant programme of Lean Training to raise awareness and the level of practice of how we can remove the vast amount of waste in our design and construction processes.  This would have huge benefits to our national economy and built environment.

For me BIM offers the potential for a significant step change in the quality, cost, delivery and health and safety performance of our industry. Not because of what it is but because of what (if done properly) it will demand us to do. Additionally from a Lean perspective, BIM is founded on the premise of collaborative working and will facilitate lean thinking by providing high degrees of visual management; standardised working, problem solving and most importantly waste elimination. Yes the end users should receive significantly improved information and data to run their facilities into the future but for me the real benefit can be BIM as a catalyst to support the implementation of Lean thinking into our industry like never before.  BIM for me is not about IT but about cultural change.

We need knowledgeable lean thinkers, organised in high performing teams, focused on driving out waste from our process whist delivering wonderfully designed projects and I believe BIM can play a significant part in that vision.

By Richard Donnelly BSc(Hons) Barch MBA RIBA

Starting out

I’m not sure whether it was thinking about my own latest arrival or perhaps the accompanying sleep deprivation that caused me to reconsider my own introduction to lean at 3am on Monday. My obligatory review of website discussions again yielded the same familiar questions of ‘how do I get started?’ and ‘what are the critical factors for the success of lean?’. I’m not sure that anyone has yet found the perfect answer to these; indeed our own Steve Ward is conducting a PhD into it! As for me it was simple, learn and learn quick!

My ‘training’ consisted of a trawl through a previous company’s intranet and then out to conduct workshops the next day. This baptism of fire did have two distinct advantages. Firstly there was a real imperative for me to learn, if I didn’t I was going to fall flat on my face in front of 30 people. Second, the only thing I had to focus on was lean thinking. Whilst I am not advocating this approach as a sensible training method, I do wonder whether the combination of real need and concentrated effort provided me with a better and quicker understanding than some of the alternatives.

So, given that my introduction was not the best, I return to the eternal question of “how do you start?” Again from personal reflection I chose to learn as many tools as possible. My strategy was that theory could wait and tools were anyway far more interesting. This may be a personal trait, pareto, data analysis, visual management, 5C were all things that I could get me head around and teeth into. The philosophy of continuous improvement was something rather more ethereal   and besides, sounded rather like “consultants speak” and not for a civil engineer like myself.

The focus on tools seemed to work for me, I tried things out, some worked and some didn’t. I learnt a few more tools and slowly progressed from there. In time I came to consider in more detail the philosophy, the mindset change required, the organization transformation that needs to happen to fully implement lean. These are crucial but much more difficult to tackle from a complete novice standpoint. For what its worth, I now value both.

So for me, what is important for a start into lean construction?  The boldness to have a go; the willingness to learn new tricks and a bit of dedication to see things through. I suppose the same is true of any new venture and I can only hope that my new son has all three attributes in spades.