Lean construction improves project delivery

Lean benefits include greater productivity and better risk management.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
by Kathleen Lausman

The construction industry is at crossroads with projects regularly delivered late and over budget. We’re lagging behind other industries in productivity and wasting billions annually. Lean project delivery holds promise for change. Lean Construction Institute of Canada (LCI-C), established last year, provides education and training for Canadian companies wanting to embark on their lean journeys.

What is Lean Project Delivery?

Lean is based on the Toyota Production System Principles used in manufacturing. Lean, as applied to design and construction projects, has a focus on value creation through waste reduction/elimination, workflow efficiency, highly collaborative processes, trusting and respectful behaviours and continuous improvement through continuous learning using reflection.

Lean design and construction had its origin in the U.S. based on lean manufacturing and additional methodologies developed by Glenn Ballard and others plus the establishment of the Lean Construction Institute in the late 1990s.

Lean project delivery started in Canada in Saskatchewan with health care projects (Moose Jaw Hospital), in Manitoba with post-secondary education projects (University of Winnipeg) and Alberta with commercial office (Mosaic Centre) and education projects (Red Deer Catholic Schools). The experience of these lean practitioners has influenced others across Canada.

Lean Project Delivery Education and Training

A volunteer group of lean project delivery practitioners comprised of facility owners, designers, constructors and supply chain across Canada were the catalyst and organizers behind the establishment of the LCI-C. It was established in June 2015 as a special committee of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA). It provides awareness, education and training across Canada on the why, what and how lean project delivery improves the industry.

LCI-C provides education and training on lean methodologies and tools such as:

  • Target Value Design (TVD) where a target budget is a design criteria;
  • Last Planner System to improve productivity and predictable scheduling;
  • 5 Why problem identification and A3 problem solving;
  • Choosing by Advantage (CBA) advantage-based decision making;
  • 5S to organize the office or construction site.

Various local lean project delivery communities of practice are being established to share knowledge and experience with other practitioners in the area.

LCI-C hosted its inaugural conference and training day themed Lean for Extraordinary Results in April 2016 in Calgary to a crowd of over 170 delegates interested in change.

Why Care?

Facility owners are dissatisfied. Seventy percent of projects are over budget and delivered late with less quality than required. Construction continues to incur the greatest incidents of injuries and deaths by comparison to non-farm labour. Traditional delivery methods create silos around owners, A & E designers, general contractors / construction managers, subtrades and the supply chain equating to waste. A lack of trust between parties results in systems of checks, double-checks and over-specification creating yet more waste. Designers and constructors are concerned about dwindling profit margins, while owners have increased facility project demands with less per-capita funding.

“Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Construction Industry” by Barry B. LePatner was the first book to document the inefficiency and waste – $120 billion annually – in the U.S. construction industry. In Canada, the situation is similar.

Additional impetus for changing the way capital projects are designed and executed is the flat or declining productivity of the building industry over the past number of decades relative to most non-farm labour.

Project Delivery Benefits

The application of lean principles and methodologies in the building industry within Canada is catching on. The positive results from other countries and from the early adopters within Canada have sparked interest.

Lean practitioners ranked lean project delivery benefits as follows in a 2013 McGraw Hill Construction survey:

  • Improved safety (77 per cent);
  • Greater customer satisfaction (80 per cent);
  • Higher quality of construction (84 per cent);
  • Reduced project schedule (74 per cent);
  • Greater productivity (77 per cent);
  • Greater profitability / reduced costs (64 per cent);
  • Better risk management (71 per cent).

The industry cannot continue to do business with yesterday’s approach and expect improved results. Early adopters to lean project delivery have started their journey and hold a competitive advantage and a track record of better project outcomes. A commitment to continuous and shared learning will improve the industry with added value and reduced waste.

“Lean project delivery helped the project teams meet tough sustainability targets set by the owners such as LEED Gold & Platinum and the Living Building Challenge – at no additional costs,” said Murray Guy, commissioning agent with Integrated Designs Inc. who has participated in a number of lean projects in Canada.

The benefits of lean design and construction are proven but this new way of operating is not without challenges. Cultural change is probably at the core of slow adoption within companies and organizations. Change is difficult and there really needs to be a commitment at the leadership levels. However, frustration with traditional project delivery methodologies suggests this is a perfect time for change.

“Our use of 5S on a project had a surprising by-product. It enhanced our safety culture onsite so much that we reached our goal of zero incidents, which we track constantly” added Gary McEwan, manager of special projects with PCL Westcoast Constructors.

Kathleen Lausman is LCI-C co-chair and the former Deputy Minister of Community & Government Services, Nunavut. To learn more about LCI-C, visit lcicanada.ca.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *