Posts Categorized: Lean

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?

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.