Digital transformation is the key to success in today’s business world. Research from McKinsey indicates that organizations who adopt new technologies and working practices can see productivity gains of 14-15% and cost reductions of 4-6%. While most construction companies have yet to tap into the true potential of digitalization, more and more are taking steps to bring about major change.
Too many construction companies may only attempt to digitize the most complex processes at the top of their organization. However, an important goal that should be set is applying digital lean strategies to lessen objectives and achieve results more rapidly from the bottom up—at the construction site.
What is lean construction management?
The lean project management method delivers a manufacturing project with increased value and decreased waste. It does this by eliminating wastage in the value stream of the lean manufacturing process.
In order for lean project management to work on the construction site, the process must rely on continual improvement. This means that every stage in the business’ overall value stream is improved by applying the principles of greater value and reduced wastefulness.
Recently, people often associate lean construction with tools such as just-in-time inventory, where businesses only receive materials when they need them. However, as a philosophy, lean construction is much more than being able to efficiently manage resources. Lean construction is a system that improves the organization and efficiency of the entire design-build process.
The core values of lean construction are:
- Continuous improvement: companies that employ lean construction practices are more flexible to change and process improvement.
- Waste reduction: By working lean, construction companies can reduce physical waste, time wastage and potential lost productivity. This might include ensuring work is completed properly the first time around, implementing a schedule to avoid idle periods and making use of just-in-time inventory management techniques.
- Client satisfaction: The main focus of lean construction is to provide the client with exactly what they want and need according to their goals and priorities.
- Respect for people: Companies that use lean construction methodology understand that workers are more productive when management takes a collaborative approach and allows employees the freedom to solve problems and guide the process.
Achieving construction project goals to high standards is paramount in lean construction, which also emphasizes efficient planning and standardized procedures. So where can you start?
Step 1: Start with traditional lean project management
Despite construction’s incorporation of digital capabilities, productivity levels have stayed roughly the same since the 1990s. Typically, workers waste about 30% of their time at a construction site waiting to do their job—this idle time is due to reasons such as undelivered materials, broken equipment, or delayed precursor steps.
The most productive way to work is by applying traditional lean techniques when collaborating and planning on the construction site.
Lean planning is a method that employs certain tools to make sure that the plans for work activities can be executed and are practical. It also intends to improve communication between those at the worksite and centralized functions such as the technical or design office, procurement, health and safety, quality assurance, etc. at headquarters. The goal is to maintain stability in plans at the work site so they stay on schedule and within budget limits.
Lean planning in construction has three pillars:
- Weekly site meetings between the site manager, area planner, and foreman or supervisor—to plan site activities, and prepare for next week’s activities.
- Joint operation meetings between the construction manager, area planner, and site managers—for performance review and progress updates, to analyze plan failures, and develop weekly operational targets.
- Problem-solving routines between the site manager, subcontractors and stakeholders help establish an efficient routine by coordinating with various teams.
Systematically analyzing the root cause of plan failures with lean methodology can provide valuable insights. For example, if you only identify conflict over space as the reason for a plan failure, that is too simplistic. Lean goes a step deeper to identify the root cause of that space conflict-such asa crane capacity bottleneck-in order to design solutions more precisely to improve productivity. By involving subcontractors in planning, reducing the daily workload and head count through improved equipment work cycles, you can use lean principles to reduce budget costs and significantly improve construction site project efficiency.
Step 2: Make the leap from pen and paper to digital tools
Although traditional lean project management techniques can enhance a construction work site, it has its limitations. After applying lean methods to the construction planning process, many supervisors still lack vital information they need for design and procurement decisions nearly 75% of the time.
Construction companies can benefit immensely by digitising their lean planning so that site managers, subcontractors, and support staff can easily communicate with one another, receive tasks, check documents’ statuses, and report construction job progress through devices such as laptops and mobile phones. Not only does digital lean offer traditional improvements to lean construction management, but also new functionalities and some disruptive yet groundbreaking improvements as well.
Some examples are:
- ensuring that everyone on your team, no matter where they are, always feel involved and have access to the most recent plans;
- being able to sift through large amounts of data to make more informed business decisions; and
- customizing how information is shared based on people’s roles in your company.
Project management software platforms such as PlanRadar include lean project management functionalities, such as providing detailed Gantt charts, and supporting BIM plan management, document management and site team collaboration.
Step 3: Look to digitally transform other operational processes
After a company has digital lean planning in operation, it can explore digitizing other processes in the construction value chain. These include on-site and off-site activities that could work together with and support planning through a shared data set.
Construction companies can see real results by using digital lean planning methods at work sites. BIM level digitization of high-level IT processes is important, but easing pain points and boosting productivity at the job site should also be a priority after years of unchanged productivity levels.
In short, lean construction is a process that helps clients get the most value from their project while minimizing waste. However, putting these principles into practice can be complicated.
Since the 1950s when lean manufacturing first became popular, construction teams have had to face a variety of different complications that other industries may not. These unforeseen obstacles include unpredictable patterns in workflow, scheduling and monitoring options – just to name a few. However, construction project management software has been introduced (and constantly improved upon) to help manage these dedicated operational processes more efficiently.
To be most effective, lean construction tools must offer automated real-time adaptability with integrated analytics and cross-reference functionality.
Below are several benefits from implementing lean construction into your construction site processes:
- Advanced cost cutting management
- Reduced waste in time, labour and assets
- More holistic methodology in construction project delivery
Want to get started digitising your site, team and project management with construction management software? Start your 30-day free trial or contact us to find out how we can help your business increase efficiency at every stage of the build.