Lean – why wouldn’t you?

Zara Lamont

All the evidence shows Lean produces time, cost and quality improvements so what is holding it back asks Zara Lamont? Is it just that it seems too simple?

For the last 16 years, since the publication of the Egan Report, there has been a small group of enthusiasts who have been promoting Lean Thinking as the framework to drive improvements across the construction industry. Lean is actually a very simple approach – identify, remove and prevent WASTE, which is defined as anything that doesn’t add value for the customer.

"Could it be that in this digital age to adopt Collaborative Planning working with Post-It Notes and paper just isn’t seen as cutting edge enough."

Over that period there have been many excellent examples of projects that have adopted Lean tools. Starting with Collaborative Planning and Last Planner to galvanise the team and stabilise delivery then using other tools like value stream mapping and work studies to drive improvement. We have numerous case studies that record the productivity improvements and as a result time, cost and quality improvements that have been achieved. So why hasn’t it become common place? Why isn’t this now seen as the model by which all projects should be delivered?

Could it be that in this digital age to adopt Collaborative Planning working with Post-It Notes and paper just isn’t seen as cutting edge enough. However we all know that to rollout a digital solution takes time, to develop the software and to train the users, and money to invest in hardware. Then just when you think you are getting there a newer version with more bells and whistles hits the market and your back with your business case as to why you need more investment but with little evidence of the benefits that, the now out dated, technology delivered. 

The beauty of the Collaborative Planning process is that it is simple and can therefore be implemented quickly with minimal cost and training and you get an immediate output that everyone buys into. The benefits that flow from these sessions are recorded weekly through the Last Planner process and as a result it’s easy and quick to justify investment in more Post-Its! 

Perhaps lack of uptake in Lean is down to the simplicity of the premise; align everything you do to the needs of your customer as everything else is waste. However to achieve this we need to have self- motivated teams working together to deliver a shared end goal and empowered to challenge and change their current working environment and practices. To achieve this down through our convoluted construction supply chains takes courage and determination. We have to lose our command and control approach and really embrace collaborative working and that means behavioural change by everyone; customers, designers, main contractors and the supply chain.  

Zara Lamont is performance improvement director for Carillion and director of LCI-UK   

Zara will be running a workshop on “What’s holding Lean Construction in construction back?” at the Lean Construction Summit on 30th October 2014 in Birmingham. For further information click here