Top 5 Reasons You Haven't Adopted Lean Construction - And How to Fix That

StephaneroundStephane Denerolle
Product Evangelist

In an industry as old as construction, adaptability is vital to success. It separates those firms that thrive in a volatile market from those that simply cannot compete. So what can you do to make your company as efficient and competitive as it can be? The answer lies in lean construction, a concept that focuses on reducing wasteful processes and increasing the predictability of project delivery. The byproduct of this system is always increased productivity and saved time and money, making its value in your project management self-evident.

With such clear advantages and a growing base of practitioners, it’s not only foolish to ignore lean values, it may be harmful to your business. Lean construction is an evolution, not a trend, and failing to adopt it as a divining rod can be a major limiting factor to your company’s growth potential. So what might be some of the perceived roadblocks that are holding you back?


1) “I’m no expert”

If you’re no lean expert and don’t have a designated tech guru at your company to research and map out your company’s conversion to lean, such dramatic change can certainly seem daunting. It’s no surprise that many of those firms still stuck in the old, inefficient ways of running their jobs remain there because they simply don’t know where to begin. If you lack basic knowledge about what lean construction is, the odds that you’ll take the plunge aren’t great.

“The top five percent of construction industry companies are employing lean best practices, and the rest don’t even know about them,” says Emmanuel Garcia, Adjunct Professor of CAD for Architecture at LA Trade Tech College. “It’s become essential, because nothing good ever happens without good management tools. These tools should make tracking projects easy and automatic.”

Awareness might certainly be a factor that prevents companies from discovering lean management programs, particularly smaller companies that might not be the most up-to-date about tech developments. But with an expanding pool of resources, blogs, and industry-centered news websites, word about lean benefits is spreading - and awareness with it.

2) “I don’t have the framework”

There is also the misconception that small firms can’t afford to go lean, with the financial and mental strain of switching to modern tactics being too great. But despite such fear, this is actually a dwindling concern as mobile technologies, which help lighten the load of management, continue to be developed both cheaper and faster every year.

Most hesitant companies are likely concerned about not only the monetary price of upgrading to modern methods, but also the price of all that effort. Will this be a waste of time and resources? Will we be left dumbfounded by all of these new processes? Usability and performance are the chief hallmarks of mobile devices, allowing even the least savvy user to get the hang of them with relative ease. And the obvious aptitude that these devices have for communication plays a big part in their value.

“90% of the problems on a construction site are based on miscommunication,” says Carol Hagen, a Phoenix-based construction IT consultant who’s been in the sector for over three decades. “The great promise of AEC tech is eliminating waste, error, and confusion.”

You would be hard-pressed to find a person without a smartphone or tablet for personal use these days, so why not invest in the same type of mobile devices for professional use? Perhaps the better question may be, which ultimately costs you less time and money: upgrading to smart mobile tech, or habitual miscommunication and rework on your jobs? Because make no mistake, deploying your team with construction management apps on their phones and tablets is reducing on-site complications and making the switch to lean swifter.


3) “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

When you’re an expert at your trade and have been in the industry for years, if not decades, it’s easy to believe you know what best practices are. After all, you know your way around the field, so you must know the smartest way to get things done, right? The flaw in this logic is that when you hone in on your craft year after year, and don’t take notice of the shifting tide around you, any advancements in technique or management can easily pass you by.

If you’ve had blinders on, and you’ve only been focusing on the work in front of you, you might not be able to see that your workflow has, in fact, become broken. Staying set in your ways prevents you from growing, and while some may not care to admit it, just because a system is classic doesn’t make it efficient. This is why embracing lean construction becomes so crucial, because this system is all about updating your approach to project management and separating what works best from the rest of the chaff that you’ve simply grown accustomed to accepting as part of your workday. Your skills won’t be changing, just your framework supporting it.

4) “I just work here”

If you shirk the responsibility of taking point on converting to lean because you’re not in charge of the whole operation, that’s more of an excuse than a roadblock. One of the greatest aspects of lean construction is that it can be applied to processes at just about every level of the project or company hierarchy, meaning you can begin making a difference no matter what position you may hold.

Convincing your company to adopt a new creed when you’re just one among many can certainly be challenging, but perhaps the best approach to this problem is narrowing it down. You may not have a say in how others get things done, but you don’t have to be the boss to start changing how you function day-to-day. If you’re on the receiving end of orders, you can still assert new processes that reduce waste and boost the reliability of your own performance. Something as simple as adding tape to the floor to mark material laydown areas is a lean practice. And when your boss notices your improvements stemming from these changes, you’ll be the motivated employee who took initiative and might change how he or she thinks about lean concepts. So don’t be afraid or indifferent about leading the charge toward lean if you’re not running the show. You can still positively affect how you run your own show, if not others as well.


5) “I don’t have the time”

Perhaps the main roadblock for many companies is simply believing they don’t have the time to take that first step toward lean. Researching best practices and determining which management solution suits your team’s specific workflows takes time. It takes exertion, and it’s not a decision that you should make lightly. There’s a good chance you may be swamped with jobs as it is, so adding one more - figuring out what lean construction is all about - on top of the pile might not seem feasible or even welcome.

This is an understandable blockage point, but it’s also quite clearable with the right attitude toward change. If you’re wondering how you can get your time back, the answer lies in the flood of mobile technologies and construction apps available today. Your first reaction to this might be, “Great, more things I don’t have time to research,” but consider the potential reward: a tool that ensures you never lose all of that time ever again.

“Our field staff used to spend 10 hours a week behind a computer monitor. Now they spend it at the job site,” says Manuel Rosas, an IT Manager and BIM Coordinator at Shimizu North America. Thanks to the inclusion of mobile construction management software in Shimizu’s projects, everyone on Rosas’ team saves up to 44 hours a month. That’s an entire week’s worth of time saved doing the same work, just more efficiently.

The proliferation of lean construction has indeed given rise to a host of management tools to choose from, but this is a boon, not a burden. Choice is the consumer’s best friend, and with a wide array of options in front of you, the burden falls upon construction app developers to cater to you and your needs. And once you find the right software that helps you tighten up your workflow, you’ll have plenty of time to give lean construction a chance.


So what’s the takeaway?

The takeaway here is that whatever hangups you might have preventing you from going lean are minor when weighed against the benefits that such change will bring you. Lean construction works, without exception. All of the leading industry giants agree, and it continues to be proven time and again in the manufacturing and construction fields. The puzzling part is that while everyone agrees that lean works, not everyone is actively moving toward it, and failing to recognize lean’s true potential means you will likely be left behind while those of your peers who do adopt lean construction leap forward.

So be open to lean construction. There are no conceivable drawbacks to switching gears toward lean, only advantages. Growth requires change, and while these changes might take some effort, that effort will be well worth the mountain of saved time and streamlined processes you cultivate through lean construction.

Use Case: Inspections

MarielleroundMarielle Price
Director of Customer Success

Throughout the course of any project, inspections are necessary to make sure everyone got it right. And “it” can encompass a variety of duties, from safety to deficiencies to commissioning to QA/QC work, all of which involve attention to detail and thorough issue tracking. We all know the diligence that these inspections require always pays off, but that doesn’t always make getting through them any easier, especially if your team is using outdated methods. So why not make sure you’re doing the best job possible by using a top-of-the-line construction management tool like Fieldwire? We go to great lengths to ensure that our app is catering to your on-site needs, and when it comes to walkthroughs and inspections, there’s no solution more accurate or less complicated to take with you into the field.


All Your Data at Any Time

The first step for any inspection is making sure you have all of the necessary data to know what to look for. While this may sound like a no-brainer, papers and clipboards both pile up and get misplaced all of the time, so it’s easier said than done. Thankfully, Fieldwire collects a complete cloud-based record of your entire project right there on your mobile device, meaning you always have all of your documents at your fingertips - both online and offline - while you’re walking around the jobsite. Any drawings, specs, submittals, details, cut sheets, and tasks can be referenced or approved on the go. If your crew has added new data to the project since you last checked in, it will sync via the internet to your own device so you’re never lacking important details. Having every vital piece of information in hand makes it simple to compare current site conditions to project standards, and makes the inspection process run far smoother.

Stay Up-to-Date in Real-Time

As your team updates their tasks in Fieldwire, that new progress is automatically synced with everyone else on the team. Best of all, those involved with specific tasks will be informed via email and mobile push notifications, so you can always track issues in real-time from start to finish. You can even tie tasks together so one trade knows when their work directly affects another’s, and you’ll know at a glance when each job is ready for sign-off. If any punch items or safety hazards suddenly arise during an inspection, just create a task for it and assign it to the appropriate person for immediate attention. It’s possible to duplicate tasks as well for repeated or similar duties across the jobsite. Task attributes such as priority and due date help identify the severity of each issue, and Fieldwire employs Admin-controlled two-step verification for all completed tasks to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. In other words, you’ll never lose track of anything!

The Value of Checklists

If a particular job has a number of steps that need to take place in a certain order, add a checklist to make this clear to your subs while they work. Checklists also make it easy to confirm that everything was taken care of while you’re on your walkthrough, so there’s never any confusion about who did what. Creating a checklist is a simple process on both the web and mobile versions of Fieldwire, and you can also save checklist templates in your project so that they can easily be inserted into any other tasks from that point on. Savvy users can facilitate inspections by creating a task that includes a checklist to act as a template for walkthroughs, then duplicate that task as many times as they like directly on their plans. All of the key attributes of that task will be included in each clone you create. This is useful when you have multiple rooms to inspect or numerous areas across the jobsite to look over.

Reporting Made Simple

If you want to document an inspection, you can generate a PDF or spreadsheet report to paint a clear picture of where your project stands at any given time. Reports are entirely customizable, meaning you can share as much or as little task information as you need, and can be sent to anyone you like. You can sort report content by date range, priority, category, assignee, and just about any other core characteristic you can think of. Every report template you create is automatically saved in your project as well, making it easy to edit or send it out again. And if you’d rather not even be bothered with remembering, reports can also be scheduled for specific dates to be sent out on a repeated basis. This makes creating inspection reports a lot simpler than jotting down notes and photos and assembling them all manually in a Word document that you then have to print and distribute in person.

5 Easy Steps for Inspections

To summarize, you can handle your inspection needs with just a few easy steps in Fieldwire. To get started with your inspections quickly:

  • Create checklists (and save the templates).
  • Add the checklists to your tasks.
  • Duplicate the tasks if they apply to multiple areas.
  • Take the Fieldwire app on-site during your inspection to add photos, comments, and make note of all the details.
  • Document the inspection by generating a report.

Inspections are an integral part of getting jobs done the right way, and Fieldwire is dedicated to relieving any stress or unnecessary steps from the inspection process for you. With a few clicks you can quickly survey, record, and send out all of your findings to the appropriate teammates and ensure that every aspect of the project is built to perfection. Now keeping an eye on the quality of your project really can be a no-brainer.

Fieldwire is free for small teams on Apple iOS, Android, and on the web. We already support 1,000+ companies across 50,000+ projects, and we’d love to join you in the field on your inspections!

Customer Use Case: Shimizu North America

DavidroundDavid Vasquez
Head of Customer Support

As a subsidiary of a Japanese construction company more than 200 years old based in Tokyo, Shimizu North America LLC is based in Atlanta and manages jobs all along the East Coast from Georgia to New York. They primarily focus on manufacturing and the automotive industry, often taking on feats upward of $500 million in scale, which makes them ideally suited to handle a wealth of building projects.


“One person using Fieldwire for one year can save us up to $26,000. That one person ends up saving 44 hours - one full week - per month by using the app to do everything quicker.” - Rick Lane, Project Director at Shimizu North America LLC

Quality Control and Deficiency Management

Since 2014, Shimizu has placed its trust in a mobile construction app that could help facilitate getting jobs done. Rick Lane, Project Director at Shimizu North America, recognized the value in a system that could efficiently track punch list items and maintain quality control throughout the company’s daily activities. That system turned out to be Fieldwire, whose mobile construction software quickly became Shimizu’s go-to solution for managing the bulk of their issues.

“We have 3 or 4 major uses for Fieldwire on recent projects, most of them related to quality control. From reinforced steel inspection, concrete pouring, steel erection, and even safety monitoring,” says Lane. “Right now we’re focusing on quality control to create reports. We generate reports pretty regularly with Fieldwire and they get distributed to subcontractors immediately, so we send all of the defects that we find directly to them.”

Creating reports in Fieldwire is an essential method for Lane to deliver duties out to his team, tracking issues as they are created and worked on so that he can monitor overall progress on the project. Report templates in Fieldwire feature a wide array of filters, so each report can be tailored to include the tasks of specific subcontractors and be sent out automatically on a regular schedule. This makes it easier than ever to track what everyone is doing, since all their progress can be viewed in real-time from any device connected to the internet. No more trekking across the job site, no more waiting on the crew for in-person check ups. Once each defect has been updated in Fieldwire, Lane and his construction team can look them over and include those tasks in the next report that goes out. And while they are currently focused on quality control, using reports for punch list management is not a foreign concept to Lane.

“We started using Fieldwire very regularly, so we’re very used to it by now. We don’t get bogged down in unnecessary steps anymore. You just create a task on a mobile device and that’s that, you’re done.”

Positive stories like this became more frequent among Lane’s team as they continued to use Fieldwire, and helped support his findings as he encouraged Shimizu North America to deploy Fieldwire on additional projects. The quick familiarity and improved metrics from his team’s performance cemented the construction management app as a worthy addition to their field arsenal. It was a no-brainer for Lane to introduce the app into his team’s day-to-day operations when other clients came calling.


Saving Time and Money

“People don’t understand the immediate value until you put it in terms of money. One person using Fieldwire for one year can save us up to $26,000,” says Lane. “That one person ends up saving 44 hours - one full week - per month by using the app to do everything quicker. You can have your PM or your superintendent spend more time focusing on the construction side of things instead of sitting behind a computer doing administrative work or creating reports the old way.”

Rick Lane has had tremendous success cutting down on wasted time by using Fieldwire. Continued use of the construction app has streamlined his team’s on-site pursuits and improved their organizational skills. As work continues on their projects, the Shimizu North America crew relies on a steady stream of reports to get out to their subcontractors each day, so being able to save large amounts of time on that whole process is invaluable.

“Before using Fieldwire, the old fashioned way of doing things was just too time-consuming,” says Lane. “We needed to find something to help us be more efficient. Our projects can run pretty large in size, and we would need at least 2-3 more people just to create reports all day if we didn’t have Fieldwire.”

Freeing up several people so they can actively contribute to construction, instead of preparing task lists for everyone else, makes a world of difference day by day. And since the reports are composed directly in the app itself, they don’t need to be printed out in order to be distributed. The project management team can email out reports directly to their trades all from within the office. The benefits of incorporating Fieldwire into their routine kept piling up, as Lane and his squad were able to boost communication and cut down on time spent making reports.

“It used to take us from 40 minutes up to an hour to create a report the old way. That time has dropped down to less than 10 minutes using Fieldwire. We can get all the deficiencies out to the subcontractors right away. It saves us a lot of time.”

Such a drastic reduction in the time dedicated to generating reports creates benefits that reverberate throughout the entire work flow like a shock wave. Lane saw a decrease in downtime and an increase in time spent smoothing out snags across job sites. The temporal savings naturally lead to monetary ones, and with each passing day, Lane regularly sees a trend toward less spending in the big picture.


A Construction App that Fits Like a Glove

With all of the advantages being reaped through use of Fieldwire, those unfamiliar with the app might assume a lot of effort had to go into setting it up to Shimizu’s standards. But as Rick Lane will tell you, adopting Fieldwire and becoming fully fluent with it only took a matter of hours, and the hours it subsequently saved them more than made up for the brief learning phase. Regardless of their varying levels of technological expertise, his crew took to Fieldwire like a hammer to a nail.

“We got our team up and running with Fieldwire in one day - even less than one day,” says Lane. “It wasn’t hard for everyone to get used to it quickly, even all of our old school guys out there working. They all got used to Fieldwire pretty easily. It’s very simple, very user-friendly, and it has what it needs. There’s no extra things to confuse you. It has a very intuitive interface.”

Improving daily workflow is the overall takeaway from Shimizu North America’s implementation of Fieldwire, but the core difference being made extends beyond that. They are achieving a level of productivity that helps drive them forward at a steady pace, leaving behind the sluggish methods of the past. Smart phones and tablets are replacing pencils, paper, cameras, and physical drawings. Despite the huge size of their projects, the answer to growing issues has been paring down the task repertoire. Everything can be contained in a single tool, accessible on any other mobile device in any other pair of hands.

“We can have anywhere up to 40 people or more active on projects. Of course everyone uses their own mobile devices, but we also usually have about 4 dedicated mobile devices on-site, so Fieldwire is always present on the job. People can walk through the site, make inspections, and check everything all the time.”


Building a Winning Streak

Shimizu North America is pushing forward with continued success in all of its endeavors, thanks to the vigilance of those among their ranks with an eye for progress. Construction management across a multitude of manufacturing projects is being streamlined through the data reports, quality control, and user-friendly design that Fieldwire provides, and with every finished job, Shimizu’s East Coast presence is further solidified. Other Shimizu branches in Asia and other international markets are also rolling out Fieldwire on projects after such stellar confirmed results from Shimizu North America. Indeed, Shimizu proves its ability to define building quality time and again, and its North America branch plays a large part in that with the help of people like Rick Lane. His winning streak with Fieldwire shows no signs of slowing down.

“It’s working great, we’re definitely planning on using Fieldwire for our future projects,” says Lane. “I would definitely recommend it to others as well, as long as they’re not my competitors! We’re saving a lot of money and taking care of work really well, and I don’t want the competition getting in on this!”

If you would like to download a shortened PDF version of this customer use case, click here.

Customer Use Case: Webcor Builders

DavidroundDavid Vasquez
Head of Customer Support

Located in San Francisco, CA, the folks at Webcor Builders like to keep their plates full. As one of the largest building firms in California, they can be regularly found in the field working on a multitude of sizeable projects. Past triumphs include the California Academy of Sciences, the SFMOMA Expansion, Lucasfilm Headquarters, and San Francisco General Hospital, and ENR recently included Webcor Builders in their list of Top 100 California Contractors - they were #5. As a subsidiary of Japanese construction giant Obayashi and with an annual revenue approaching $1 billion, it’s clear that Webcor possesses some serious construction prowess.

One of their current missions is the $500 million expansion of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. At over 2 million square feet of building area and 700,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Moscone Center is one of the most popular convention sites in the United States, but it is still operating at capacity despite its great size. In an effort to increase contiguous event space and accommodate more clients, Webcor Builders has been tasked with expanding the Northern and Southern wings of the convention center, with construction scheduled to extend into 2018.


Successful Sheet Management

The Moscone Center Expansion, due to its layout and the fact that much of the existing convention space is still in use during construction, presents a host of ongoing challenges for the Webcor team. Matthew Watley, Assistant Project Manager, knew that he would need to run a tight ship in order for his crew to tackle such a large and tricky venture. Luckily, he did not need to rely on good fortune to keep the ship afloat. Webcor Builders, being no stranger to projects of massive scale, has the experience to successfully navigate a multi-phase project of this size. And after testing out Fieldwire, with its built-in plan management capabilities, he knew they would be well-equipped to handle the growing convention center by combining the app’s strengths with his team’s expertise.

“Our main purpose for Fieldwire is looking at current documents in the field, predominantly drawings,” says Watley. “Our project has an immense amount of drawings, which are very difficult to manage on their own. We upload lots of different versions and then sync them into Fieldwire via Box, which is a big help once we’re on-site.”


Having access to all drawings on a mobile device is a major advantage for Watley and his team, as both they and their inspectors are utilizing Fieldwire to oversee the expansion project. They can keep the latest sheets and older versions in hand while walking the construction grounds, adding markups and annotations as they go, as well as attaching tasks, photos and videos, measurements, and files directly to the drawings. The time and trouble being saved thanks to digital plan management exceeds measure for Webcor, and through automatic syncing and offline functionality, Watley’s team grows more organized and effective as they improve the convention space in Moscone North and South.

Although Box integration has been available in the app for years, Fieldwire worked directly with the Webcor team to enhance the integration capabilities so that the feature was better suited to their project needs. This level of service was something special that Watley had not encountered with other construction software that his team had tried in the past.

“I would certainly recommend Fieldwire to other teams because it’s a great solution for viewing documents in the field without creating excessive work,” says Watley. “Having updated drawings on-site has helped us avoid rework, and it’s definitely saved office-side time too since the syncing system automatically publishes new drawings. We don’t have to manage each set manually, as we’ve had to do with other programs. The less office work required to support documentation in the field, the better.”


Expanding Horizons

As fall begins to grow cooler, the expansion of the Moscone Center continues to heat up as it shifts into its next phase. But it’s not just the convention floor that’s expanding down in the heart of San Francisco. Webcor Builders is broadening their approach to document organization and construction management through their consistent use of Fieldwire, and seeing tangible boosts in their efficiency as a result. By using the app to handle all of their drawing sets and accompanying data, Matthew Watley has embraced an innovative tool to make each day in the field a little easier for his team.

If you would like to download a shortened PDF version of this customer use case, click here.

What You Need to Know About Lien Waivers

Olivia zlien roundOlivia Huppman
Marketing Associate - zlien

As part of our continued collaboration with zlien we're bringing their expertise to break down the different types of lien waivers and help you identify which ones make sense for your projects. zlein is a cloud-based platform built to make lien rights easy, empowering a fair construction ecosystem that everyone can trust.


What You Need to Know About Lien Waivers

Lien waivers are tied to nearly every payment on a construction project, so almost everyone involved with construction work is familiar with these documents. However, they are so common that many companies view waivers as nothing more than a piece of paper that needs to be “rubber-stamped” to get paid. This practice is dangerous because not all waivers are created equal. Read on to learn how to distinguish between safe lien waivers that speed up the payment process, and those that expose the signing party to financial risk.

The Fundamentals of Lien Waivers

Signing a lien waiver waives lien rights. Once a contractor, supplier, or other party who provided materials or labor to a construction project waives lien rights, they are unable to file a mechanics lien in the event of nonpayment. Mechanics liens are incredibly powerful tools for combatting nonpayment, so it’s important to be careful when relinquishing lien rights.

All lien waivers fall into one of two categories: conditional or unconditional. Both these types of waiver can apply to either a partial or final payment. Read on to learn the differences between these types of waiver and best practices for managing them safely.

Conditional Lien Waivers: A Contractor’s Best Friend

Conditional lien waivers - whether for a partial payment or a final payment - are typically extremely beneficial for contractors, suppliers, and other parties who furnish labor or materials on construction projects. As the name implies, conditional lien waivers are conditioned upon the occurrence of an event, usually actual receipt of payment. This means that even after the waiver is signed, the signer maintains the right to file a mechanics lien until they get paid. Therefore, signing an unconditional lien waiver doesn’t expose the signer to financial risk.

Because conditional lien waivers are conditioned upon payment, contractors and suppliers can use them to their advantage. Proactively signing a conditional lien waiver prioritizes your invoice and motivates the paying party to make sure you get paid first. Those making payment would rather pay someone who has signed a waiver than one who hasn’t in order to avoid the risk of double payment. Furthermore, proactively signing conditional lien waivers speeds up the payment process by cutting down on time spent waiting to receive, sign, and return a waiver. Proactively initiating the waiver process with a conditional also ensures that you don’t sign an unconditional waiver prior to getting paid, which can be risky. Free online tools like the Waiver Exchange can be used to create, sign, and exchange custom waivers electronically.

Unconditional Lien Waivers: Sign With Care

Unlike conditional waivers, unconditional lien waivers go into effect and are fully enforceable as soon as they are signed, regardless of whether or not payment has been made. Signing an unconditional waiver eliminates the signer’s right to file a lien in future no matter what. Keep in mind that these waivers can apply to a partial payment (when further payment is expected in future) or a final payment.

An unconditional lien waiver should only be signed when the payment described in the waiver has been received.Here are a few reasons when not to sign an unconditional waiver:

  • When the money isn’t in the bank. If the check hasn’t cleared, it’s a good idea to wait to sign or to provide a conditional waiver instead.
  • When the amount stated in the waiver has not been received. When it comes to unconditional waivers, what is written in the waiver matters more than what has actually happened. If you are paid $5,000 but sign away lien rights for $10,000, you won’t be able to file a mechanics lien for the remaining balance owed.
  • When dates don’t match. Lien waivers typically waive lien rights for work performed to date. Make sure that the dates in the waiver match the dates for which payment has been received.

Want to learn more about lien waiver best practices? Check out the simple guide to lien waivers.