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What Is Lean Construction and How Can It Help You?

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When a company becomes large and complex, management principles really begin to reveal their importance.

After all, if a manager gets bogged down dealing with too many processes he or she can’t handle, the company can grind to a halt.

what is lean construction

Good construction management can mitigate a complex operation and have a huge impact on productivity.

If you’re a construction company or real estate developer, you aim to have as many construction projects at one time as you can handle. This means your growth and productivity depend on how you handle your limitations.

You can convert such limitations into strengths by applying relevant management principles and theories—the most popular of which are “lean principles.”

An overview of lean principles

Lean principles are derived from the principles, theories, and applications of lean production, popularized by one of the largest automakers in the world, Toyota. Toyota, a Japanese company, started implementing these principles based on Japanese philosophy.

Developed on the principles of addressing every need, Toyota came up with a system now known as lean production. Other industries are beginning to adopt this practice—including the construction industry, which has further led to the creation of a principle called “lean construction.”

The idea behind lean production is to minimize waste while maximizing value without compromising productivity.

There are three types of waste that lean production seeks to eliminate: muda, muri, and mura.

Muda (non-value-adding work)

Muda is a type of waste that results from performing unnecessary tasks that do not provide value. Lean production further breaks down muda into seven categories: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, and defects. By cutting back on this type of work, you’re able to produce more efficiently without any reduction in quality.

Example in construction: You’re spending a lot of money on fuel to have dump trucks make visits to one construction site at a time, when you could have a truck stop at multiple sites at once and therefore cut back on your overall number of trips.

Solution: Invest in fleet management software.

Muri (overburden)

Muri is a type of waste that means excessiveness or immoderation. It is a type of waste in which a process goes to the extreme and beyond what is standard, or places an undue burden on your employees.

Example in construction: Your employees are running around trying to figure out how to do a task on their own because they don’t have clear instructions on how to do it, leading to costly mistakes and delays.

Solution: Create fully documented standards that everyone can follow for each phase of the project.

Mura (unevenness)

Mura is a type of waste in which a process becomes irregular or sporadic. Things aren’t where you need them to be at the right time.

Example in construction: You’re ready to begin the next phase of the project, but because of bad planning the materials you need for it won’t arrive on site for another two days.

Solution: Use inventory management software to better manage your materials.

All these types of waste can be reduced and eliminated using tools such as SMED, just-in-time (JIT) production, autonomation, and more. Autonomation is automation of a repeated task, so that other tasks best performed by humans can be given to workers.

Nowadays, there are studies that assess the implementation of lean principles to other industries, such as construction.

What is lean construction?

Lean construction is the application of lean production to the construction industry. According to Lauri Koskela of the Lean Construction Institute, it’s a “way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value.”

Construction projects are just like production lines, in several ways. For example:

  • Both have complex processes and tools to achieve a certain output
  • Both need materials, equipment, workforce, and workflows
  • Both are vulnerable to waste and inefficiency

This is why both of them need a system to address the same issues.

However, lean construction does have its differences from lean production in terms of eliminating waste and maximizing productivity. In construction, projects are temporary. Moreover, the work environment is unpredictable because projects can be done elsewhere and not in a controlled situation. In addition, lean construction uses different tools to reduce and eliminate waste.

Nevertheless, lean construction attempts to follow all principles practiced in the manufacturing industry. Only time will tell whether it can become a separate body of knowledge independent of lean production.

Can lean production help your construction project?

If you are a contractor or a developer, lean construction is the easiest way to control waste. It helps you avoid unnecessary work and resources and increase the value of the output.

You don’t have to become a micromanager and check every little thing one by one just to manage and control waste. The system is designed to do that for you. All it needs is collaboration among stakeholders such as owners, buyers, suppliers, contractors, and managers.

Tell us your thoughts on lean construction

Lean construction sounds simple in concept, but it’s tough to change the fundamental nature of your business, even if it’s beneficial in the end.

If you’ve tried to use lean construction principles before, please let us know in the comments below what you did, what results you saw, and what advice you’d have for anyone seeking to get involved in lean construction.

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About the Author

Jessica Kane

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., a leading supplier of carbon, alloy and stainless steel pipes, tubes, fittings and flanges.

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