The first thing to know about Lean Construction is that, in this context, “Construction” doesn’t just refer to what we do on site to stick buildings up! It refers to the whole process from Conception by the Client to eventual demolition and recycling when that time comes.
The second thing to know is that the academic theory behind the birth of Lean Construction was worked out in America. We have to bear in mind that construction cultures vary immensely from country to country, and so do the profit margins built into the winning tender for a project.
Now where I’m coming from we don’t really need anyone to tell us to build Lean. We build in natural ways and use lean project management and lean construction techniques. We British don’t really have an option because of low profit margins and LAD if we don’t complete on time. On a well-run, well organised site we have our construction management software, too. The bean-counters use their MS Excel and we PM’s use MS Project and, on large projects, PrimaVera or your favourite scheduling tool. So we have now established that us builders are perfect, like, innit! Let’s now step back to the Clients.
In this sense Lean Construction has to start with the clients’ requirements being designed by their architects, engineers and consultants. They need to be able to advise their client on “Lean” for the ordering and construction and then, even before that, they have to start thinking “Lean” themselves!
So to what does “Lean Construction” refer? To make a very succinct summary of long-winded academic theses, what they are after is to reduce waste of time and materials on any construction project. Research has shown that the “waste” of these two can actually add up to 50% – Yes! A half! – of a project‘s material and labour costs and time! Most, in fact nearly all, of that is incurred pre-start!
Us lot, like, we know that doesn’t happen on our sites! If it did every company would be bust before they finished their first job! Alright, we tender with perhaps 10% extra stuck on for contingencies and waste, but with the 1% profit we have to hope for???? That’s material waste, and the same principal applies to time wasted on site. So what about pre-start?
If we have a look at a £5 million project it will be expected to take us about 6 months to complete it. However the Client and their team of Architects and Consultants have already spent 18 months before they are ready to place the contract! Now I accept that some of that is taken up waiting for Planning Permission and Building Control Approval, followed by appeals. Perhaps, concerning the appeals, they should adopt our mind-set: “Get it right first time, every time!” That might make appeals unnecessary? Anyway, surely in that 18 months there must be some wasted time?
Okay; we’re not perfect, either, but we are kept focussed by contractual finish dates and the threat of LAD if we run late. Clients and their Consultants aren’t.
So that, in a nutshell, is everything practical that you need to know about “Lean Construction”!