Why should you implement lean practices in your contracting business?

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Canadian Design and Construction Report special feature

The Leading Edge Group, which provides lean construction training and consulting in co-operation with the OGCA, explains the philosophy behind the lean concept on its website at www.leadingedgegroup.com/canada/sectors/construction- engineering.

About lean construction and engineering

More and more customers within the construction sector are expecting higher performance, best quality and the lowest cost. Therefore, all players in the industry need to be more competitive through projects that are delivered on time and on budget with best in class standards of work site safety and process efficiencies. This can be achieved through the adoption of lean principles and instigating a culture of staff empowerment and collaboration across the full value chain including architects, key technical consultants as well as general contractors and key specialty contractors.

Lean Thinking:

• Is a philosophy aimed at providing maximum benefit in improving operations from the perspective of the customer;

• Is focused on identifying and removing waste (nonvalue- added activities) in processes through teaching continuous improvement and new ways of thinking;

• Helps pave the way for improved employee communication, more effective partnering relations with suppliers, a more efficient work site and a working methodology that can be fine-tuned for all projects; and

• Is a holistic view of all the different components and stakeholders involved in construction and facilitates effective collaboration to achieve customer satisfaction and project effectiveness – from both a practical and financial point of view.

Recent studies suggest that up to 30 per cent of construction costs relates to rework; labour is used at only 40 to 60 per cent of potential efficiency; accidents can account for three to six per cent of total project costs and at least 10 per cent of materials are wasted (Rethinking Construction – Department of Trade and Industry).

What can lean construction do for you? What can lean construction do for you? The intent, through lean training and/or consulting support, is to develop the techniques and understanding within your business to optimize your resources, delight your customers, decrease your costs and increase productivity.

Adopting the principles of lean (identifying customer value, making the value flow and eliminating waste) into construction processes can pave the way for better employee communication, more effective partnering relations with your main suppliers, a more efficient work site and a working methodology that can be fine-tuned for all of your future projects going forward. In fact, you might ask yourself what costs in time, materials, manpower and reputation you are continuing to incur by not embracing proven improvement methods.

Like most industries, construction is made up of interdependent processes. All processes have similar traits and characteristics (Suppliers-Inputs-Process-Outputs-Customers). What lean purports to do is take a holistic view of all the different components and stakeholders involved in the process and make them work in harmony to achieve customer satisfaction and project effectiveness, from both a practical and financial point of view.

This can often involve splitting the typical construction process into several value streams based on the particular stage of completion – for example, design and planning; site preparation; foundation; structure/frame; cladding; interior; landscaping and all the relevant services. Apart from the obvious benefits of more efficient operations, there is also evidence that employees working in such an environment have fewer accidents and less absenteeism.

Approaching any project from the customer’s perspective not only ensures that you know what is required, but also highlights the wasteful items that the customer is not willing to pay for and so can sharpen your focus to what is important. Lean construction highlights the typical types of waste as experienced in this industry including:

• Building ahead of time;

• Waiting – for people, material, information for the next operation;

• Unnecessary transport – double handling, priority shipments and tool transportation;

• Inappropriate processing – larger machines than required, unnecessary steps, machines not quality capable, over design, etc.;

• Material stocks – early delivery; storage space; deterioration and damage; cluttered site;

• Building defective parts – snag lists and walk-throughs; and

• Waste of untapped human potential.

Once you adopt and apply lean methods to your processes, you will quickly begin to appreciate the power of this philosophy as experienced by countless industries all over the world and gain a competitive advantage by delighting your customers with projects delivered on time and on budget. The main advantage is that all learnings can be carried forward to the next project and integrated into your daily working practices. It also provides an outlet for ideas from staff members who will know the workings of your site better than anybody else and includes them in solutions going forward.

For more information, see http://www.leadingedgegroup.com/canada/ what-can-lean-construction-do-for-you.

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