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.