WHISTLER, B.C. – For one expert, the lean approach to project delivery isn’t just construction’s future, it’s already here.
Graham Construction lean project director Art Winslow led a session titled Apply Lean. Boost Productivity. Add Value. at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s recent Construction Leadership Forum held in Whistler, B.C.
“Four or five years ago, lean was a curiosity and people were saying ‘we like what you’re doing’ to me. Now they’re coming to me asking how they can do this and what they need to set up to do it. What I’m also seeing is, having just finished the Lean Construction Institute’s conference, there’s a groundswell of interest right across the country and it’s showing itself there,” Winslow said. “There’s definitely a movement here towards a better way of thinking.”
While lean practices originated decades ago after American productivity experts studied Japanese automobile production, it has taken time for the construction industry to change, Winslow noted.
“It is applied in most other industries, we’re the slow uptake in construction as we are with most innovation, but it’s applied to all delivery models be it construction management, design-build, even lump sum and especially integrated project delivery,” he said. “It’s available to everyone in all those delivery models. The results vary depending on the contractual model but I think it’s going to work its way into all and more delivery models as we go forward.”
Key to applying a lean process to a project is getting team priorities established and integrated at the start, he said.
“What we like to do is set our targets early on to define what a successful project is right from the start and then set the targets for how we’ll make it a successful project. The great part is at the end of the project, if we’ve checked all the boxes we know whether we delivered and more importantly the owner and end users do too,” Winslow said.
He added while an owner’s presence during the process isn’t mandatory, it does reap benefits for the entire team.
“We look at it as an investment of their time early on nets the most results for them. Without them it’s more difficult to get the great results we do get,” he said.
Early interaction combined with the fact that most contractors and subcontractors already know each other results in more harmonious relationships on site, he added.
“You create the environment and culture on the site from the start that allows them to open up and converse. What happens is that we as the general contractor, who are normally the ‘police,’ we find they police each other and because we keep the metrics public and on the wall the guys know who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t and they’re pretty quick to call someone out if they aren’t performing as they should,” Winslow said.
Lean boils down to both intense analytical focus on productivity and a commitment to changing construction’s cultural norms, he said.
“There’s a number of factors. There’s the productivity side of things where you set and work to your targets and measure against your baselines on a regular basis. Then there’s the cultural side where you create the safe environment that allows that collaboration and innovation to flourish. Without those two things, you have a traditional project,” Winslow said.
“Lean is about small steps, finding those small productivity wins along the way, $100 here and there, that adds up and that can mean radical change over the course of a project,” Winslow said.