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Engaging all parties early is key to lean, expert says

Don Wall
Engaging all parties early is key to lean, expert says
DON WALL — Brian Bec, vice-president of construction with Centron Group, spoke of reluctant partner buy-in on lean projects at the Lean Construction Institute of Canada conference held in Montreal May 2.

It’s just as important to maintain a lean construction mindset when projects go awry due to uncooperative partners as when they are successes, a Calgary-based contractor told delegates attending the recent Lean Construction Institute of Canada conference held in Montreal.

The presentation by Brian Bec, vice-president of construction with Centron Group on May 2, was billed as Successful Implementation of LPD on Projects With or Without Client and Consultant Buy-in. Bec offered up case studies of two problematic projects along with two more positive experiences as he laid out his firm’s “lean journey.”

Centron develops, constructs and leases a broad mix of real estate and construction projects. Bec, on staff since 2003, became a lean champion at the firm five years ago when Centron, despite its successes, started casting about for ideas to implement change and improvement and minimize risk.

Among the multiple lean practices Centron now relies on, making concerted efforts to work with all parties at the very beginning of a project is a significant key to success, he said.

The counterpoint, the lack of collaboration early on in a project’s vision and direction, can result in outcomes that are far less predictable and create constraints that have a direct impact on the project schedule and budget, as with one of the projects Bec discussed, a $14.6-million, 36,000-square-foot high-end amenity building.

Centron joined the project late and problems built from there.

“Lack of collaboration on the front end led to a large amount of constraints at the back end,” said Bec.

The partners butted heads on many levels, he said. While they attended Centron’s weekly Last Planner meetings, the team never seemed to convey essential information to other project participants. The other firm never understood nor bought into Centron’s imperative of collaborating with trade partners throughout the job, he added.


When trust is there, they will work with us, and they will be competitive in their pricing

— Brian Bec

Centron Group


Variances were numerous and caused by, among other problems, lack of detail in drawings, a pool contractor going out of business, problems with HVAC design in the pool areas and a rebuild of a tunnel caused by an elevation miscalculation.

The project ended up 14 days late and $214,000 over budget.

“We stuck true to our guns,” said Bec of the lack of parallel vision on lean principles.

The experience reinforced Centron’s insistence on early collaboration with trades, he said, a process the firm kicks off with pre-qualification interviews.

“It is not an adversarial meeting,” he said. “It is a meeting to build a relationship with the trade partner you are bringing on and getting an understanding of what their education is and how we are going to function in this space and communicate that at the front end.

“You go to lunch with them, ask how things are going, what can we improve on, getting their feedback. When trust is there, they will work with us, and they will be competitive in their pricing to make sure they are going to work with you in the future.”

Other core elements of Centron’s lean practice are minimizing waste; use of the Last Planner system with sticky notes in a big collaborative room; and tools such as site delivery boards, safety information boards, Centron team communication, a mobile communications board, field trips to visit trade partners and value stream mapping.

At the end of each project, Centron reviews the build with its partners.

“We ask how can Centron help you, how can we do better next time working together,” said Bec. “It throws them for a loop when they are asked that question, they are not expecting something like that. But they are usually pretty candid.”

Two other projects discussed at the LCIC forum were undertaken by Centron with the same partner, Hull Family Services. The first was a secure facility for high-risk youth. Hull jumped in enthusiastically as Bec and his team unveiled their lean strategies.

Close collaboration at weekly meetings paid off in efficiencies, such as the installation of extra-thick drywall that would resist the most forceful punch or kick, Bec explained.

The project came in under budget by $471,000 and was completed three months early.

“It was very successful, needless to say,” said Bec. “Hull called us and said we have another project for you.”

The other Hull project, a pre-adolescent treatment centre, came in under budget by $402,000 and 2.5 months ahead of schedule.

The fourth project reviewed by Bec, a five-storey seniors facility, suffered from communications problems and a lack of lean buy-in by the project partners, similar to the amenities building.

Variances were caused by owner scheduling constraints, lack of site access, poor communication over owner-supplied items such as kitchen equipment, and remobilization constraints caused by the owner’s self-performed work.

Summarizing lean lessons learned, Bec listed the following:

  • The earlier that all project stakeholders are involved in the collaboration process, the better the outcome.
  • Ensure that client expectations are known at the front end of the design stage.
  • Having trade partners work with the consultant team at the beginning of the design stage shortens the design schedule, minimizes design rework and reduces future requests for information.
  • Implementation of lean processes and tools will increase chances for success regardless of the ownership group’s buy-in on the process. Stay true to your system.
  • Track your project metrics to identify lessons learned and improve processes.

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