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CPD 2 2017: Implementing lean construction

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Lean construction can be applied at every stage of a project to cut waste and improve efficiency. This CPD, sponsored by Newforma, discusses the challenges of implementing this approach and how they can be overcome

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How to take this module

UBM’s CPD distance-learning programme is open to anyone seeking to develop their knowledge and skills. Each module also offers members of professional institutions an opportunity to earn between 30 and 90 minutes of credits towards their annual CPD requirement.

This article is accredited by the CPD Certification Service. To earn CPD credits, read the article and then click the link below to complete your details and answer the questions. You will receive your results instantly, and if all the questions are correctly answered, you will be able to download your CPD certificate straight away.

CPD CREDITS: 60 MINUTES

DEADLINE: 28 MARCH 2017

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INTRODUCTION

Lean production, or lean manufacturing, is a philosophy developed by Toyota in Japan after the second world war. Toyota’s production system was considered to be the most efficient in the world, leading to attempts to apply its approach to many other organisations and industries, including construction. A lean organisation understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.

The Lean Construction Institute is a US-based not-for-profit organisation established in 1997 to act as a catalyst to transform the industry through the implementation of lean principles. It defines lean construction as “the application of lean thinking to the design and construction process, creating improved project delivery to meet client needs and improved efficiency for constructors”.

Lean construction refers to the entire industry and is applicable across owners, architects, designers, engineers, constructors, suppliers and end users. Lean construction is concerned with the alignment and ongoing improvement of all aspects of the built and natural environment: design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance, demolition and recycling.

Traditionally, the UK construction industry has been perceived as highly wasteful, especially compared to other industries, and it is not considered to deliver good value to clients. This can be partially attributed to the bespoke, project-based nature of construction, in which each building is necessarily a response to a unique set of site and other circumstances. It can also be attributed to contractual arrangements that frequently lead to confrontation and disputes.

Over recent decades, there have been a series of attempts by government to improve the efficiency of the construction industry. In 1994, the government-commissioned Latham Report “Constructing the Team” was published, in which Sir Michael Latham was highly critical of the ineffective, adversarial and fragmented nature of the industry and made many recommendations. In 1995, the Construction Industry Board was established to implement these. In 1997, then deputy prime minister John Prescott set up the Construction Task Force, chaired by Sir John Egan. His report, Rethinking Construction, was published in 1998, reinforcing many recommendations in the Latham Report and recommending that the UK construction industry “should adopt lean thinking as a means of sustaining performance improvement”.

Many organisations were established subsequently, including Rethinking Construction, Design Build Foundation, Construction Clients’ Group and Local Government Task Force, all of which merged to become Constructing Excellence in 2003. There were also attempts to reform government procurement to encourage a “partnering” approach between client and suppliers, and to encourage collaboration. Today’s construction industry is generally considered to be safer and more efficient, but many are disappointed by the overall rate of change, including Egan himself.

Subsequent reports have repeated the damning conclusions of Latham and Egan, including Never Waste a Good Crisis – A challenge to the UK construction industry by Andrew Wolstenholme of Balfour Beatty, the 2011 Government Construction Strategy and, most recently, Mark Farmer’s Modernise or Die: The Farmer review of the UK construction labour model, published in October 2016.

There is clearly still much room for improvement in UK construction.

CHALLENGES OF LEAN IMPLEMENTATION

Lean construction promises many advantages, including improved safety, greater client satisfaction, higher quality construction, shorter schedules, greater staff productivity, reduced costs and better risk management.

Despite these well-publicised benefits, adoption in the UK has been sparse thus far. The reasons were explored in a 2015 research paper published in the International Journal of Architecture, Engineering and Construction, Overcoming the Challenges facing Lean Construction Practice in the UK Contracting Organizations, by Abubakar M Bashir, Subashini Suresh, David A Oloke, David G Proverbs and Rod Gameson. The authors conducted semi-structured interviews with lean construction practitioners working with 10 UK contracting organisations.

The research identified 10 different challenges that prevented the implementation of lean, covering human, technical, financial, educational and management factors.

  • Resistance to culture change among workers, who prefer to stick to traditional ways of doing things or find it difficult to change
  • Lack of cooperation with site managers and lean implementation consultants, especially when there is no incentive for employees to do so
  • Lack of long-term forecast and investment, leading to inadequate support and commitment from management for the implementation of lean principles
  • Long implementation time – for example, time is needed to train workers, apply principles, select the appropriate tools and implement them on site, manage change to working culture, and carry out an evaluation to identify areas for improvement. Lean is also a continuous improvement process.
  • Cost of implementation, including worker training, consultancy fees, workshops and signs and labels to be used in visual management. Production hours may also be consumed in daily huddle meetings.
  • Lack of knowledge or understanding of concepts
  • Lack of incentives – in some organisations, workers are not offered any reward for being smarter or more efficient
  • Misconceptions – workers may see lean as a way of reducing the number of staff required, paying lower wages or forcing them to complete a task within a shorter period so that they will be paid for fewer hours. Some staff also misinterpret it as doing a job more quickly.
  • Complexity of lean implementation, which includes administrative functions as well as activities on site
  • High expectations from management – they may expect to see sudden, significant and dramatic achievements in terms of productivity, cost and time, which puts pressure on workers and can lead to disappointment.

STRATEGIES FOR ADOPTION

The research team also asked interviewees about the strategies that could overcome these barriers. They made many suggestions, including:

  • Enlighten workers about the benefits of lean and the need for change
  • Publish results in newspapers, magazines and journals, for staff and even the general public to read
  • Reduce fear and overcome reservations
  • Educate workers in a continuous learning process to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills
  • Encourage clients to insist on a lean approach to project management and to insert it into contract terms
  • Involve and empower staff, both senior and junior, in decision-making on lean construction practice
  • Involvement and support of top management in continuous improvement activities
  • Persistence, despite obstacles and inconveniences of culture change
  • Instil confidence and belief in the new approach among site team and supply chain
  • Government policies and legislation to encourage construction companies to engage in continuous improvement practices to reduce waste
  • Simplify lean terminology to make instructions and directives easier to understand
  • Robust planning and an organisation-wide policy
  • Gradual step-by-step implementation – avoid introducing lean principles and tools suddenly, all in one go

IMPLEMENTING LEAN CONSTRUCTION

The founders of the Lean Construction Institute, Greg Howell and Glenn Ballard, published Implementing Lean Construction: Understanding and Action in 1998, including a series of steps that firms can take.

  • Find a “change agent”: This means identifying a person within the organisation who can act as a champion for change. Taking action immediately supports the development of a new, company-wide mindset and gives staff confidence that changes can be made. The change agent requires a strong will to stand against attempts to resist lean.
  • Get the knowledge: Construction firms should gain sufficient knowledge to start, and then continue the learning process throughout implementation. Systematic thinking is uncommon in construction so this will require a cultural shift.
  • Find a lever by seizing a crisis or creating one: The idea is to find an opportune moment through which lean management can be introduced into the organisation. Howell and Ballard describe every construction project as “one crisis after another” so this point should come naturally to construction firms.
  • Forget grand strategy for the moment: Howell and Ballard claimed that while the wider strategic reasons for implementing lean construction should remain front of mind, the day-to-day project implementation will be key in getting lean processes up and running.
  • Map your value streams: The construction industry is unique in that the value stream inevitably involves other organisations, so seeing them on the roadmap is the first step to developing their participation. It is important to begin with a significant and visible activity, such as the production planning system and the way assignments are made. When Howell and Ballard’s paper was first published, measuring and improving planning performance was a new idea in construction – it reveals gaps in common sense and leads to immediate improvement.
  • Demand immediate results: Ensure that you are demanding results, but be careful to demand the right results – anything off course will destroy the lean initiative. It is recommended that companies steer clear of requesting cost cuts within an activity, as well as faster completion of tasks. Companies are advised to ask for immediate results in planning performance and in translating improvements into reduced backlogs between activities. One way to achieve this is through measuring quantitative KPIs as well as collecting regular qualitative feedback from project teams.
  • As soon as you have momentum, expand your scope: According to Howell and Ballard, the rate of change is the most important metric. If a workforce’s effort is not causing action in all corners of the organisation, if people aren’t finding and making changes on their own, then it is clear that the strategy is off track. Implementing lean always brings more opportunities to the surface.

CPD logo

How to take this module

UBM’s CPD distance-learning programme is open to anyone seeking to develop their knowledge and skills. Each module also offers members of professional institutions an opportunity to earn between 30 and 90 minutes of credits towards their annual CPD requirement.

This article is accredited by the CPD Certification Service. To earn CPD credits, read the article and then click the link below to complete your details and answer the questions. You will receive your results instantly, and if all the questions are correctly answered, you will be able to download your CPD certificate straight away.

CPD CREDITS: 60 MINUTES

DEADLINE: 28 MARCH 2017

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