A Real (Lean) World Scenario

By Brian Lightner, Lean & Quality Control Manager

Productivity is a mathematical equation: Productivity = Output/Input. But if it’s really that simple, then why does the construction industry have so much trouble accurately measuring and tracking productivity? The solution lies in Lean thinking. The following example is based on a true story and magnifies the difference that Lean methodology makes in project efficiencies.

Here’s an actual process chart from a door frame installation:

The cycle time is 52 minutes – 13.3% better than the estimate of 1 per hour. Using the definition of productivity, that’s 1.125 units of output per 1 hour of work. Measured in dollars, let’s use 200 door frames x $80.00 per hour in labor costs. That’s $90.00 dollars of output produced versus $80.00 of input.

But to accurately understand the rate at which that value is added, we need to apply a few lessons from Lean thinking. Firstly, better understand the process and the implications about how value is produced. The red bars include all the time – waste and value both. This includes waiting for information, dealing with inadequate tools, and trying to install the frame in a stud wall that led to an unnecessary 26- minute delay.

Here’s the same process after implementing Lean thinking:

With waste eliminated, the cycle reduces to 16 minutes! Productivity is now 3.75 units of output per labor hour, or $300.00 of output versus $80.00 of input. That is almost a 400% improvement, considering only direct costs and value and not the additional capacity created now that the same work is completed in ¼ the time. Ready to think Lean yet?

Bubbling with Benefits

Building with less concrete by using BubbleDeck technology


Riley Construction recently saved a client both time and money by using an innovative concrete slab technology on a large healthcare construction project. This patented technique, called BubbleDeck, replaces up to 35%* of a concrete slab with plastic air-filled bubbles that act as a void. The bubbles are inserted into the slab and held in place by reinforcing steel mesh on the top and bottom. The bubbles displace concrete without sacrificing structural strength.

Customer Benefits

Cost: By using prefabricated panels and less concrete, cost can be reduced by about 10% versus traditional site-cast concrete.

Flexibility: Lighter, thinner, prefabricated slabs, and smaller and fewer columns and beams create longer spans for more extensive and open floor plans. The system also offers wider access for overhead MEP systems, and the material is easier to cut through later during remodels.

Schedule: Floor cycles can be up to 20% faster than traditional construction methods.

Safety: Off-site manufacturing, fewer vehicle trips and crane lifts, and simple installation all minimize operating and health & safety risks. BubbleDeck systems are fire-rated, so there is no additional fire proofing needed.

Environmental: Reduced construction materials and lower energy consumption, combined with the use of recycled plastic “bubbles,” helped Riley and the customer lessen environmental impact.

A Global Team Effort

To implement this creative construction technique, Riley Project Manager Craig Matthews and his team had to be equally creative in their procurement methods.

“We sourced the steel lattice gutters from Europe, where BubbleDeck originated,” Matthews explained. “The plastic bubbles came from a recycled plastic manufacturer in Madison, Wisconsin. We were able to obtain the prefabricated panels from a local precast concrete manufacturer.”

The team’s extra effort paid off in the end. “The client is happy with the reduced costs and increased flexibility the BubbleDeck system provided, while not lessening quality,” said Matthews.


*All percentages are according to BubbleDeck North America LLC.

Value Engineering/Collaborative Savings

Value Engineering, also called Collaborative Savings, is an organized effort to analyze construction systems, equipment and supplies and achieve the required results at the lowest overall cost, while maintaining quality.

The basic procedure consists of 1) identifying and defining a high cost area; 2) determining the basic function of the item; 3) “brainstorming” the problem to create a list of alternative ways to perform the function; 4) selecting the best alternative that will perform the function at lowest cost; and 5) presenting a proposal or alternative proposals for the design team approval. Participation in the early stages of project allows construction managers to apply ingenuity and technical know-how and produce a more economical design without sacrificing quality.

A construction manager should conduct a systematic and aggressive collaborative value engineering program in conjunction with the design team, with particular emphasis on areas of high cost and those impacting the construction schedule. Areas typically studied include foundations, structural frame, building envelope, floor systems, HVAC systems, ceilings, and luminaries. The evaluation process includes cost analysis, construction feasibility, considerations relative to labor and material availability and effect on the project schedule.

The range of cost factors that should be studied and included in the analysis of alternative choices varies widely, but should include such items as:

  • Construction Costs
  • Comparative Qualities and Aesthetics
  • Impact of Users or Occupants (i.e., power, gas, water, etc.)
  • Ultimate Cost of Utilities (i.e., power, gas, water, etc.)
  • Maintenance (cleaning)
  • Repairs and Replacements
  • Interest on Increased Capital Costs

Promotions and Additions

Riley Construction’s growth throughout the Chicago – Milwaukee corridor has prompted the company to make several key personnel changes and additions.

New Employee and New Position
Riley is pleased to welcome Project Executive Dan Sullivan to the Chicago office team. Sullivan brings over 16 years of industry experience to his role, which will focus on executive leadership of Riley’s Chicago-area projects and oversight of the office’s strategy and operations.

Chris Siefert, a 16-year Riley team member, has accepted the newly created position of Vice President of Strategic Projects. In his new role, he will oversee the planning and execution of the company’s largest and most complex projects in key markets, particularly the pharmaceutical sector.

“Bringing Dan to the team, as well as allowing Chris to focus his expertise on strategic-level projects, are both decisions based on the steady and measured growth Riley has enjoyed in recent years,” said Matt Prince, President of Riley Construction. “The changes reflect our optimism for the future.”

Ben Kossow, who joined Riley in 2000, was recently promoted to Executive Vice President of Operations. Kossow was an integral part of the company’s growth in the Milwaukee metro area and will continue to lead that office as well as provide oversight of the entire company’s field resources. He will also manage Riley’s safety, Lean/Quality Control, Virtual Design and Construction, and Project Development departments.

Erin Anderson, a 17-year Riley employee, accepted a promotion to Vice President of Project Management. She will lead the company’s project management strategy and ensure that customer service and value are delivered on every Riley job.

John Delavan has been promoted to Vice President of Preconstruction. He joined Riley in 1996 and is largely responsible for creating the company’s dedicated Preconstruction Department. In his new role, Delavan will continue to lead a team of world-class estimators as well as manage Riley’s IT group.

Erik Dillon joined Riley in 2006 and most recently served as a Senior Project Manager before his recent promotion to Project Executive. Dillon will use his extensive industry experience to provide high-level oversight of jobs in the Southeast Wisconsin area, particularly in the industrial and healthcare sectors.

“It’s exciting to note that every one of these promoted employees has been with Riley for their entire careers,” said Prince. “That speaks volumes about how the company values its people and is a direct reflection on our commitment to our core ‘HIFI’ values of Humility, Integrity, Flexibility and Initiative.”

Benefits of Prefabrication

Fast, efficient project delivery is the ultimate goal for everyone involved in a construction project. Prefabrication, where certain building system components are assembled offsite and then transported to the construction jobsite, is an option for many projects that can save time and money.

  1. More room on the jobsite. When bulky systems are prefabricated in a shop setting and not shipped to the site until it’s time to install them, there isn’t a need for extensive laydown/staging space. This is particularly helpful on congested, urban sites or remodeling projects in occupied spaces.
  2. Lower material cost. Contractors that prefabricate often purchase common materials (like pipe and ductwork) and supplies (such as hardware) in bulk for a discount from suppliers.
  3. Higher quality. Since prefabricated construction occurs in a controlled environment and follows specific standards, the components are built to a uniform quality.
  4. Improved Safety. Prefabrication eliminates the variables of an active jobsite that can affect safety. Factors like noise, temperature and ergonomics are easily controlled in a shop setting.
  5. Less time and money overall. When contractors use prefabrication on a project, they are better able to control the planning, scheduling and craftsmanship of their building systems. This translates to a job that is completed on time and under budget!

Which Project Delivery Method is Right for Your Project?

Each construction project is different, and the project delivery system should be tailored to the individual requirements of that unique project. Selection of a delivery method is typically based upon how your organization operates, internal resources available and their level of expertise or knowledge, funding requirements, and overall schedule for delivery. The chart below shows the organization of each delivery system, plus benefits and challenges. Click on the chart to enlarge it.

Industry Progress: The “I” in BIM

By Kevin Kendellen, Construction Technology Manager

Since the early days of implementing Building Information Modeling (BIM) on construction projects, the focus has nearly always been on the visual aspect.  Phrases like “a picture is worth a thousand words” were constantly used to sell the concept of 3D models being used as a tool during the construction process.  While there definitely is proof in that idea, and the communication aspect is one of the biggest benefits of the model development process, the AEC industry is now finally making significant progress on the most important part of the BIM acronym:  The “I” for Information.

Building models themselves are just graphic representations of data.  So, while the industry has been focused on the “pretty pictures” that are so accessible with BIM, this data sat behind the scenes due to it either being accessible to just a few team members, our inability to make sense of what could be exported to Microsoft Excel, or just not having the time to dig into it all due to project demands.  That data is now front and center and the AEC industry is knee deep into learning how to digest this hidden gold mine of information to build projects better and cut back on waste.  This evolution is being fast-tracked through a swell of software hitting the market that is focused on leveraging that data through the lifecycle of the building, affecting not only design and construction, but providing opportunities to change how buildings are managed by facility personnel.

So how do we get there?  We, as an industry, need to look at the flow of information and what shifts in a project’s timeline are now obtainable because of it.  The data that is contained in the models will be even more relied upon due to it being a single source of information being used across multiple software applications and how fast and easy it is for project teams to access that information.  This shift in data usage will continue to change how project teams interact and make decisions.  As the industry shifts to this mentality, there will be new challenges at each phase of a project.

The word “collaboration” is constantly thrown around but rarely is a project team able to capitalize on those initial thoughts or ideas on how to better use each player’s time wisely and teams retreat to the corners of their old ways as soon as a new idea falters.  Data will be the driver for crossing “collaboration” over from a buzz word to a standard practice.  Projects will look to utilize an unbroken chain of information, we’ll be looking at ways to eliminate “hand-offs” and further advance the usage of manufacturing processes such as standardization and modularization to delivery better projects in a shorter duration.

Planning for a Safe Jobsite

By Jim Janquart

Safety Service Plans help keep everyone safe on our jobsites. We review the upcoming 6-week schedule for each job with the jobsite Supervisors, Project Managers and Executives to determine high risk activities and what needs to be done keep our employees and jobsites safe. Once these items are identified, planning takes place to make sure safety is integrated into our work.

Here is a list of high risk work activities (HRWA):

  • Excavation
  • Steel Erection
  • Concrete Work and vehicles/equipment used
  • Cranes
  • Caissons
  • Roofing
  • Scaffolding
  • Building Surveys to determine lead, asbestos, mold exposures
  • Working around occupied areas and pedestrians
  • Demolition
  • Pre-cast concrete panels and decking
  • Hot work
  • Working around MRI
  • Pile driving and shoring
  • Helicopter picks
  • Receiving areas
  • Confined space
  • Silica

These items are reviewed during jobsite inspections, pre-install meetings and at various other times throughout the project.  The purpose is to determine safety concerns and OSHA requirements far enough in advance to pre-plan activities to ensure we have the right equipment, personnel and other items on the jobsite when these activities take place, so work is done safely and efficiently.

Award Winning Construction

We’re happy to announce that the Racine Unified Three School Project that Riley completed in 2016 has won two prestigious awards!

  • 2017 AGC (Association of General Contractors) BUILD Wisconsin Award
  • Nationally recognized 2017 CMAA Project Achievement Award

The annual AGC BUILD Wisconsin awards celebrate the pride and craftsmanship of AGC members’ building projects.

CMAA’s Project Achievement Awards program highlights the best of the best– projects that serve as an example to the industry and are true pinnacles of excellence and innovation achieved.

5 Reasons Why Construction Needs Lean

By Brian Lightner, Lean & Quality Control Manager

For decades, the term “Lean” was applied strictly to manufacturing processes. In recent years, however, the construction industry has begun to adapt Lean principles for their own purposes. This is a positive step forward for an industry that has historically shown flat productivity improvements. How does integrating Lean improve the construction process? Here are five convincing reasons.

  1. Lean Forces Us to Examine Processes. Most construction firms maintain historical data to estimate the time and resources needed to perform certain processes. But how often do we challenge that data? Lean methodology requires us to examine every step in a process, question its value and make improvements as needed. Following where both data and observation take you – instead of using generalized assumptions based on questionable data or no data at all – is essential to collecting measurements that lead to improvements.
  2. Lean Reduces Waste. When we find and eliminate the non-value-added steps in a process, the result is a drastic reduction in waste. This includes physical waste (excess materials, unnecessary tools, etc.); time spent on nonvaluable or redundant tasks, or waiting for others; and the accompanying financial impact of that wasted labor and material.
  3. Lean Establishes Standards. Taiichi Ohno, the driving force behind the Lean manufacturing phenomenon, once said, “Without standards, there can be no improvement.” When adopting Lean principles, construction firms establish baseline productivity standards based on realistic, value-focused processes – and measure future processes against those standards.
  4. Lean Addresses Labor Shortages. Lean construction methods improve and maintain productivity without necessarily adding labor resources. With the ongoing challenge to find skilled labor, this is a welcome bonus!
  5. Lean Improves Scheduling. Glenn Ballard, founder of the Lean Construction Institute, observed that most schedules are just “forecasts,” which typically have two features: they are inaccurate, and that inaccuracy increases the further out you try to forecast. Lean facilitates the transition from ‘scheduling’ or ‘forecasting’ to ‘planning’ – the purposeful act of making work ready. Emphasis is on developing a detailed understanding of project requirements, which increases a plan’s reliability; equal emphasis is on improving the reliability of the commitments required for successful delivery.  Lean fosters a collaborative atmosphere where responsibility is distributed to a team, which is much more effective than requiring one project manager to develop and maintain a single, often overgeneralized schedule and bear the burden of understanding by themselves.