Lean for the Process-Challenged

Posted on July 21, 2010


Lean methods are not news, but are an important aspect of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and seem to be getting a lot of ink lately.  Lean is featured in trade magazines and on blogs, in AIA newsletters, and have been in heavy rotation on the convention circuit this year.

For those with no background in Lean knowledge, what follows are the seven Lean fundamentals which serve as the basis for the Toyota Production System (TPS).  I think I found these on Wikipedia.

1. Overproduction – making more, earlier, or faster than the next process needs it

2. Motion – any movement that does not add value to your product or service

3. Inventory – anything in excess of one-piece flow

4. Transportation – moving people, materials and information around the organization

5. Waiting – waiting for man, machine, materials, information, etc.

6. Defects – anything that needs to be scrapped, adjusted, reworked, etc.

7. Over-processing – additional effort that adds no value from the customer’s viewpoint

The TPS created what we know as Lean over twenty years ago as Toyota looked to strategically gain ground in the automobile manufacturing industry against Detroit’s Big Three. The TPS helped lead the Japanese domination of the auto industry starting in the 1990s. Toyota is now the U.S. auto market leader; needless to say, the TPS works.

Although building construction does not have a one-to-one correlation to manufacturing production, with a little imagination it is not difficult to see how the seven TPS Lean goals translate to the construction industry.  Scott Sedam, of TrueNorth Development, provided a relevant ‘translation’ in Professional Builder magazine.

  1. Over-Production – see #1 above.  This leads to bottlenecks and may compound errors and wastes.  Pay attention to overall system limitations and the critical path.
  2. Wait Time – see #5 above.  Any activities that are not synchronized (simultaneous when they could be or organized in a ‘first this, then that’ order) create wait time.
  3. Process Waste – see #7 above.  This includes any duplication of work effort.
  4. Transportation – see #4 above.  Think: half-empty dumpster pulls, three trips when two would have done it. 
  5. Inventory – see #3 above.  For instance, deliveries based on a set schedule, not because the supply is used up, qualify.
  6. Motion – see #2 above.  A material is delivered, stored, retrieved, stored, retrieved, moved three times and finally installed.  How many times does this happen on a job site?
  7. Defects – see #6 above.  Any effort that was not done correctly the first time—enough said.

Lean is a way of thinking about entire processes that can benefit any operation, including a household:  one trip to the grocery store instead of three, cooking only appropriate serving sizes, turning lights and HVAC off when not occupied. 

Lean seeks to eliminate waste and find and fix deficiencies in process to deliver a greater value to the client.  Value improves when waste (time, materials, resources) are identified and eliminated, not ‘priced in’ and passed on through cushy estimates and soft bids.  Lean is not easy because changing processes is not easy, but the benefits will make everyone more competitive service providers, which is just the edge many people are looking for right now.

Posted in: Lean Design