Breaking down the 6 principles of Lean construction

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Learn about the lean methodology as we break down the six core lean construction principles and explore how to implement them in your organization.

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Construction companies worldwide are embracing lean construction principles in hopes of reducing waste, lowering costs, and increasing productivity.

However, understanding the core principles of lean construction can be confusing—you’ll find different explanations of the methodology everywhere you look.

We’ll explore the six principles of lean construction and discuss some strategies for implementing them in your organization.

1. Rethink customer value

In traditional construction processes, companies and contractors focus on what the customer wants to build—the specifications included in the plans.

However, following lean construction principles means going a bit deeper to understand why they want to start a particular project. This means establishing trust and collaborating with project stakeholders from the beginning to determine what qualifies as value for your customer.

Part of lean construction is ensuring that every stakeholder is unified in their purpose—from suppliers and subcontractors to engineers and architects, everyone must work together to deliver true value to the client.

Free eBook: Quick guide to Lean practices for construction professionals

2. Define your value stream

Now that you understand what value means for your customer, the second lean construction principle involves putting the processes in place to ensure you can deliver that value. This is called the value stream.

Define what you need to deliver true value to your customer: information, equipment, labor, and materials. Then, remove any wasteful or unnecessary steps.

You can use a value stream map to visualize your flow of resources, create value for your customer, and eliminate waste during the process.

3. Eliminate construction waste

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Eliminating construction waste is at the core of lean construction principles. This waste includes:

  • Adding features that don’t bring value to the customer
  • Ordering extra materials that you have to store and might degrade
  • Moving materials, equipment, or people to job sites before they’re required
  • Failing to match workers’ expertise to the job at hand (skill wastage)
  • Waiting for prerequisite tasks to be completed or materials to show up
  • Completing portions of the project too early, causing a gap in work
  • Performing  tasks incorrectly, leading to rework and material and labor waste

4. Create a steady workflow

Another essential principle of lean construction is ensuring an uninterrupted, continuous workflow. Your processes should be reliable and predictable.

You can achieve this by focusing on clear communication between every party, including subcontractors, project managers, the customer, and project stakeholders.

Each part should work together—sequence is crucial. For example, if one part of the project gets delayed or finished ahead of schedule, communication is critical so you can make necessary adjustments to the rest of the process, avoiding excess inventory and wait times.

5. Embrace pull planning and scheduling

Traditionally, many construction professionals use a “push” system, basing production on predicted demand. In lean manufacturing, companies use a “pull” system, basing production on real-time demand—they don’t create a product until there’s an order for it.

The same lean principle applies to construction: releasing work based on demand. So, following this lean construction principle means that you don’t plan work for something like creating frames until the footings have been set.

Pull planning and scheduling means everyone involved in the project must communicate and collaborate to determine the scheduling of labor, materials, and tasks.

Further reading: Target Value Delivery in lean construction

6. Strive for continuous improvement

Another core lean construction principle is Kaizen—change for the better. The goal is gradual improvement throughout every process.

During every step of every project, construction teams should identify opportunities for improvement and take necessary actions to make those improvements. Continuous improvement means less waste, more efficiency, and a better end result.

Like every lean construction principle, Kaizen requires everyone to participate and depends on collaboration and communication to deliver the customer a project that provides them with real value.

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Adopting lean construction principles in your organization

You won’t become a lean company overnight, but any organization can implement these lean construction principles with some time and effort.

While every project is different, and you’ll implement different lean principles and techniques for each one, there are some general ways to get started with lean construction:

  • Your project processes are directly impacted by information and materials. Talk to the customer, get their input, and listen to their ideas to determine how you can provide them with true value. These steps are key to hitting the lean construction nail on the head.
  • Waste happens when the project’s end result doesn’t align with customer value. Listen to the customer, establish a comprehensive plan of action before starting work, identify any potential causes of waste, and ensure consistent communication between every group and team member.

Webinar recording: How to get from reactive to proactive planning on your multi-storey construction sites thanks to Lean & Digitisation

Implementing lean construction principles is a win for everyone

The construction industry likes to resist change, sticking to traditional methods that worked in the past. However, the benefits of implementing these lean construction principles have more and more firms changing their processes and incorporating techniques to reduce their waste while improving efficiency.

Ultimately, when you complete a project on time and on budget and provide true value to your customer, it’s a win for everyone involved.

Learn more about implementing these lean construction principles, fueling communication and collaboration, eliminating construction waste, and increasing productivity with our free ebook: A quick guide to Lean practices for construction professionals.

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