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First-ever LCI-Canada conference provided lean expertise

Russell Hixson
First-ever LCI-Canada conference provided lean expertise

The Lean Construction Institute of Canada (LCI-C) hosted its first conference and annual general meeting in Calgary this month where attendees went through lean training and heard from experts.

Bill Black, CEO of Brxton Construction, kicked off the conference portion of the week talking about how the construction industry has become broken and fragmented.

"Our industry isn’t full of bad people, it is full of good people forced to do bad things," Black said.

He described the industry as a series of silos where everyone has calibrated their business to protect themselves rather than collaborating and improving.

Contractors bid low only to make their money back with change orders, companies add self-worth by diminishing the contributions of others, issues cause polarization — these are all symptoms of a broken system, said Black.

But some are taking steps to try to  improve. The conference heard from contractors and owners in the midst of their own lean journeys.

Lean is a set of tools for all types of delivery models, but it’s also a mindset based on the lean principles of defining value; mapping a value stream; creating flow; establishing pull; and the pursuit of perfection.

Bob Robinson, Westcor CEO, told attendees about his company’s experiences moving towards lean practices.

"About three years ago we were at a crossroads," he said.

Clusters of large jobs were overwhelming the 65-person construction company and it was time to change in order to grow. A continuous improvement culture helped Westcor capitalize on small wins and encourage staff to make tiny changes towards lean thinking. The company also hired lean consultant Carla Ciepliski, who has helped them identify waste. One of Westcor’s major wins was streamlining its subcontracting process from several weeks to a single day.

Wayne Gustafson, engineering services manager for the City of Red Deer, Alta., talked about taking the leap, becoming one of the first municipalities in Canada to use an integrated project delivery (IPD) model.

"I really had nobody to go to for any support or help," Gustafson said.

But since the projects incorporating IPD involve relatively simple, cookie-cutter fire halls, it has allowed Gustafson to lay the ground work for more innovative projects in the future.

"It’s simple enough and safe enough that we can push these things through our system and everyone feels safe because the risks are so low," he said.

In addition to hearing from more companies and owners, attendees also heard experts talk about choosing a delivery strategy and how to harness the power of BIM for lean.

LCI-Canada co-chairs Serge Massicotte and Kathleen Lausman said the main driver behind the conference was to achieve more lean awareness and begin training the industry.

"All change starts with a need and there’s a need to do better on projects and that certainly was our impetus," Lausman said.

She added that staff worked hard to put together a good cross section of lean stories in Canada that could be useful for contractors, owners, designers and more.

"We have training happening here, we have actual stories, real situations and question opportunities so it makes it real for anyone new to lean," she said.

Massicotte noted that the discussion doesn’t have to stop in Calgary and encouraging interested parties to sign up for training.

"If you are interested, take small steps," he said.

"Go out and start out with small steps. Our organization is here to help you out with that and small wins turn into big wins."

The co-chairs said over the coming year LCI-Canada intends to grow its membership, continue to spread awareness of lean and develop a robust education system to deliver across the country.

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