At a conference where newer adherents to lean culture in construction struggled at times to put their fingers on measurable proof that lean was working for them, Ray Lota of U.S. healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente had no such trouble.
Lota, California-based director of construction management for the firm, is responsible for a large and diverse portfolio of projects worth billions including some 100 builds in Southern California alone.
He spoke in the keynote breakfast slot on day two of the Lean Construction Institute of Canada (LCIC) conference held in Montreal April 30 to May 2 where he was billed as a champion of change for the lean community.
Devotion to lean, Lota said, delivers improvements in profitability, quality, cashflow and reputation, awards, satisfied users and enhanced teamwork, and enables constructors to keep to or surpass schedules and budgets, among many benefits.
He recalled a moment of triumph for lean when a major hospital project he was working on while with Turner Construction, the 247,000-square-foot UHS Henderson Hospital in California, which had a tight 19-month construction timeline, was finished in 2016.
“The ‘a-ha’ moment came when the owners of UHS told us that we had created a new standard, when we realized through continuous improvement we were eliminating waste. We achieved target budget and savings and we completed the project in a record 15 months, and early last year the project received enhanced profit for post-occupancy goals.”
Lota made frequent reference to Paul Akers’s landmark book, 2 Second Lean, as containing valuable founding principles. The book says, in essence, “fix what bugs you” and urges practitioners to find a way to speed up processes by two seconds a day, he explained.
It sounds easy, Lota said, but it requires hard work.
“Lean thinking is not a quick fix, slash and burn, something with less employees or something to sprinkle onto activities and projects,” he said. “It’s about respect for people. It’s about being hard on the process and easy on the people, and in turn that gives value to the customer, improves flow, eliminates waste and gives continuous improvement.”
Lota joined Kaiser Permanente in July 2017, coming from Turner where for 12 years he worked largely on hospital builds. His lean journey began in 2010, he said — with skepticism.
“ ‘Continuous improvement? What’s that?’ I asked. When all of my projects ended on time and on budget, I had no reason to improve,” said Lota.
But a lean mentor urged him forward. The Henderson hospital project represented a milestone for Lota at Turner, with his team making full use of lean tools such as cluster groups, with team leaders drilling down into specific components of the project; video studies and detailed A3 reporting; and the Big Room, where every member of the construction team meets to collaborate with visuals — sticky notes attached to whiteboards — documenting daily decisions.
Developing trust and ensuring knowledge-sharing within the team are ongoing goals, he said.
“When you have high trust, work happens a lot faster,” Lota explained.
Kaiser Permanente hired him to replicate the lean culture Lota had developed at Henderson hospital. The status of lean in Southern California in July 2017 was intermittent, he said — there was lean implementation only on select projects; owners, general contractors and architects were not fully embracing lean culture; project teams often worked in silos; participants were reluctant to speak up; and there was no consistency between projects.
Lota, by now a committed lean champion, is fighting hard to change all of that. Kaiser Permanente is part of a statewide effort to promote lean, sharing practices with others and showing leadership with full use of other tools such as team health check surveys, the last planner system and constraint logs. ‘One KP’ is now an internal lean mantra at Kaiser Permanente. Lota also encourages others to become lean champions.
“A lean champion is someone who cares and tries,” he told the LCIC audience.
Lota concluded by answering the question, How do I start?
First, he said, read 2 Second Lean by Paul Akers. Recognize that small wins can mean big improvements — attempt to cut mere seconds off a process. Reduce variation, fix what bugs you and end meetings with a “plus and delta exercise” — that’s 10 or so minutes identifying what the team can do to improve or bring more value to their work. Also challenge and empower teams to identify and eliminate waste.
“My final tip?” Lota asked. “Be that champion of change.”