How Agile and Lean Are Applied To Construction
I’ve blogged previously about both Lean and Agile construction.
Lean in construction
“Lean” is where all-out efforts are made to cut down on the waste of both time and materials. Now the waste of both does vary dramatically from country to country depending on its construction culture and its Construction Laws. But, first we’d better have a look at what a ”construction project“ actually means. It starts with someone getting the idea in their head that they want to build something. It finishes when the main contractor hands it over to them, all done and dusted. But us builders, we don’t care about most of that! All we care about is the start on site until the hand-over! – So that’s what we’ll be thinking in terms of.
On site we waste as little material as possible! Anything that goes in a skip or gets buried is just a waste of money, never mind materials! We may enjoy our working lives but we do realise that if there is no profit we will be out of a job! Sure, mistakes happen, but we have to live with that. Now let’s look at time-wasting. That does happen, too. This is often down to late delivery of materials or not enough skilled tradesmen being available when we need them. Time could well be wasted when this happens, but we try not to let it because if we hand-over late we get clobbered for Liquidated and Ascertained Damages!
Agile in construction
Not letting our construction project end up delayed is where “Agile” comes into construction. Let’s try and come up with an example of how we might handle things. I know! We are sticking up a tin shed and want to lay the concrete floor but there is suddenly a longer-than-expected wait for the reinforcing fabric to go in it. It will arrive a couple of weeks after the date we ordered it for. We aren’t going to stop everything because of that! We’d go mad with boredom! We scratch our heads and use our imagination. We decide to stick the steel columns up, anyway and get the roof trusses on them. If that reinforcing fabric still hasn’t arrived we’ll carry on and get the cladding stuck up, remembering to leave a big enough hole in the wall for it to be brought in. If the concrete mixer wagons can’t get in, we’ll have to pump the stuff in! Job sorted!
How do we combine Lean and Agile in construction?
By paying close attention and up-dating – wait for it – our Detailed Programme to Completion!
Now, having been asked to blog on this topic, I’m going to have a “right ol’ larf”! Way back in the 1950’s, when it started becoming apparent that Total Quality Management had its weaknesses, the Academics were looking for a management system that worked. This was named “The Learning Organisation”. Then, back in the 1990’s the Academics were looking for a system to reduce time and material wastage which became “Lean”. More recently the Academics had been invited to research methods for responding to changes in manufacturing procedures; this became “Agile”. Now where was it that the academics found examples of industry that worked that way so they could come up with their Theses?
Construction! That’s where!
We construction gentlemen are so very, very clever that the rest of the world follows in our footsteps! “Agile” and “Lean” aren’t “applied” to construction at all! We just do it and they pinched it from us! Suppose I have to qualify that a bit:-
We do it on the most professionally run of our construction projects, ones where there is plenty of discussion and everyone works together as a team!