I knew nothing about Lean Construction until about a month ago. Had to do a crash course in it because I had a PhD student wanting to pick my brains! So first things first; we need to understand what Lean Construction means before we look at what we have to know.
“Lean” means that the concept is intended to reduce waste of both time and materials in any construction project.
“Construction” means – (and this is the bit that had me confused in the beginning!) – everything to do with a construction project right from Conception, when someone gets the idea of building something, through all the stages until the Client moves in to whatever has been built!
Now for those of us in construction this takes some thinking about, doesn’t it? To us “waste” is just the stuff that goes in skips! Likewise “construction” is what we do on site!
So, okay: – Turns out that the “Lean Construction Project Management” idea first came up in 1993 in an American Doctoral Thesis. That explains the slightly different use of the language as we understand it on this side of the Pond. What they were claiming was that, on any construction project, there was 50% waste! When I first heard this I spluttered! “How on Earth,” I asked, “could there possibly be 50% waste when companies are tendering with just a 1% profit margin built in?” That’s when I started to find out they were on about time, including pre-start time, as well as materials! That made a lot more sense to me!
If we look at a U.K. construction project, rule of thumb, it takes “Them” 18 months to decide what they want, and then we bang it up for them in 6 months! Waste of time! Sure, while we’re at it we stick stuff in the skips, but not much. Even then, a fair percentage is because of off-cuts. They can come about either because the design didn’t fit the available standard sizes of stuff or because we couldn’t get the size we actually wanted. Not much material waste, then. As for wasting our time on site, we prefer not to! LAD and Delay are a bit on the expensive side for the poor old contractor out of his 1% profit! Then I began to think about other countries in which I’d worked. Have to confess that my experience of those isn’t anything like as wide as of UK construction, though. So, country by country :-
U.S.A. – Pre-start on site they seem a lot faster than the UK. Once on site they seek not to have the same sense of urgency as us and tend to call a halt to suit the client’s whims. Material waste seems pretty high, too, but with 30% profit margins, no problem. That having been said they have been known to stick up sky-scrapers in no time!
France. – There they seem able to pull the whole team, including contractors, together very early and get the show on the road on site in about 4 months! Not much time wasted there. Once on site they tend not to be as well organised as the UK and delay can creep up on the, Material waste is fairly high. They can afford it – tendered with margins of around 10%. There is obviously another side to the French public sector construction, though. Witnessed 21 miles of dual carriageway go down on 3 weeks and 120 miles of a third carriageway on an AutoRoute in 3 months! Unbelievable! How do they do that????
Romania – A very different culture to anything else I have experienced. Decide what you want to stick up; make sure it is all okay; bang in the application. Attach a “commission fee” to focus someone’s attention and you can start on site inside 2 weeks! Not much time wasted! On site it then becomes a bit like the UK – waste of time and material comes down to the skills and abilities of the site management. I got taken to see what was almost a “tourist attraction”. On site there was a 750 tonne mobile crane, sat there doing nothing for the last fortnight but shift the odd container and pallet! It was getting paid for but the contractor didn’t seem aware of or concerned about that! The crane owner just laughed when we spoke with him! That was quite a dramatic waste of money!