Building Better with the Benefits of Lean Construction

  • Guest Blog
  • 4 years ago

Did you know that the construction industry is full of waste and inefficiencies?  This likely doesn’t come as a shock to many, but the extent of the loss is surprising.  According to a report from the Construction Industry Institute, 57 percent of all construction labour is waste.  If labour is that inefficient, consider how much waste is piling up in materials.  Many in the industry are taking notice and beginning to apply the “lean” principles that originated from Toyota.


[Image Credit: tashatuvango / 123RF Stock Photo]

The Toyota Production System revolutionized “lean” manufacturing from the 1950s through the 1970s.  Toyota vastly improved on Ford’s production line process by focusing on the flow of the product through the entire process.  The result was a much more efficient system that provided better value to the customer and increased profits to the company.  These principles are now being adopted by the building industry in the form of lean construction.

Benefits of Lean Construction

Completing a successful project involves a lot of moving parts, and there are more players involved than just your contractors and labourers.  A true lean construction operation will involve all of the stakeholders in a project such as designers, engineers, general contractor, and subcontractors from the beginning and throughout the process.   When waste and inefficiencies are cut, both time and money can be saved on a large scale.  One recent lean construction project in Oregon by Skanska was able to come in at 29 percent under the owner’s original estimate.   The project had no construction-driven change orders, no recordable incidents, and no rejected submittals.

Principles of Lean Construction

The goal of lean construction is to minimize waste, while also maximizing efficiency and value.  Lean construction is very fluid, meaning that operations can be ramped up or down easily as the conditions of your project dictate.  How is this accomplished?   Here are the main principles of lean construction:

  • Sort. Get rid of unnecessary items, including tools, construction materials, and even processes.
  • Set in order. Operations are more efficient when they are organised, so keep materials stored away unless they are in use.
  • Shine/Sweep. Believe it or not, a clean workplace is also more efficient.  This should remain a top priority.
  • Standardize. The standardisation of each work process is a core element of “Lean” so employees and contractors should know exactly what to do at every stage of the project.
  • Self-Discipline. Old habits die hard, particularly in construction.  The challenge with lean construction is to maintain these new process and not go back to the “old way” of doing things.

The Challenge of Implementing Lean Construction

Lean construction may be the wave of the future, but getting buy-in from your stakeholders could take some persistent work.  Experts recommend that you begin by convincing key players (CEO) in the organisations of the value of this program.   Avoid lengthy and verbose presentations, opting for brief explanations and field demonstrations instead.  You can begin by using lean construction concepts on isolated projects or issues to demonstrate its success and then explain the personal and professional benefits of adopting these programs to those key players.

The construction industry has some fairly entrenched ideas about how things should be run and, unfortunately, the processes and procedures are far from efficient.  Lean construction provides a way to deliver vastly better efficiencies to nearly any construction project, which translates directly to your company’s bottom line.