Canada’s lean construction Community of Practice (COP) advocates are soldiering on during the COVID-19 pandemic with practitioners these days relying on online forums to argue that COPs not only provide a boost to the broader construction sector but also offer participating firms a major competitive advantage.
The Lean Construction Institute of Canada (LCIC), a special committee of the Canadian Construction Association, held the second of three webinar sessions on COPs Sept. 3, with Art Winslow, director of lean and IPD at Graham Group out of Mississauga, Ont., handling the main presentation.
Nick Bockstael, vice-president of construction at Winnipeg’s Bockstael Construction, hosted a question and answer session following Winslow’s address, which was billed as How to Start a Community of Practice.
Given that COPs are created to share best practices with other constructors, the issue of maintaining a competitive advantage came early during the Q&A.
“Let’s face it, we do have competitors on our COP,” Winslow said. “The idea is by sharing knowledge, we engage others with bettering the industry, we are improving our game and delivering better projects to owners. That is the fluffy white cloud goal.
“As for the competitive edge, by the time I have brought someone into lean, my knowledge would have kept increasing while theirs is increasing. You never stop learning and you get better and better at this stuff. Just because you know a thing or two about lean doesn’t mean you are good at executing it yet.
“That’s why I do workshops. We are forever evolving. And for those just coming in, there is a learning curve.”
There are currently eight COPs in Canada, operating in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
LCIC organizers Winslow and Bockstael are also involved in in-house COPs with their own firms.
“It really helps identify who is interested in lean,” said Bockstael. “It is volunteer based and the people who get really interested, we start sending them to conferences and further their education so they can sustain our internal groups.”
Graham has a handful of lean supporters from its various offices who participate in in-house sessions.
“We got two or three people from each office who had a proclivity to operate in a lean fashion,” he explained of the movement’s origins at Graham. “We didn’t call it a COP, we called it a monthly lean call where we would share experiences and share what we tried, what failed, what worked. We would all participate in the conversation, and eventually we got an alignment and we created some standard practices within Graham through what became our internal COP.”
The lifeblood of COPs has always been its in-person meetings, ideally held weekly or monthly, Winslow said, but during the COVID era sessions are of course taking place via video conference.
His presentation was framed around the six steps of forming a COP to get to the meeting phase: first deciding whether it’s practical time-wise and whether there is adequate interest in a distinct geographic area; making the case to potentially interested parties; assembling a core team of organizers; reaching out to the construction community; planning the first events and up to a year’s worth of activities; and getting to the first event.
Assembling a solid core team is essential, Winslow suggested. A minimum of three core team organizers is required.
Core team members should be open-minded, representative of the industry and passionate about lean. They can be sought from such sources as colleagues, lean events, through LCIC sources and the local construction association (LCA).
The LCIC is always willing to help by providing such resources as its LCIC Guide to Communities of Practice and helping the core team connect with other lean practitioners in the region. Look to the local LCA for support in providing event space, registration infrastructure, local promotion and legitimacy, said Winslow.
The first planning meeting should showcase how valuable participation in a COP can be. Draw on the lean experience of the people in the room and for those “kicking the tires,” demonstrate the value of sharing lean experiences with others, Winslow said.
“You want to get people interested in your events and in your COP,” said Winslow. “It should be a fun way to participate and share some knowledge.”
The third webinar session in the LCIC’s current series will be held Sept. 10, with the theme Achieving Excellence with Communities of Practice.