From Top-Down to Collaborative: Benefits of Lean Construction

There is a huge productivity deficit in the construction industry, with only an estimated 30% of working time being spent on value-adding work. The reasons are deficits in communication, management and tools. Lean construction is an approach that significantly improves these processes.

Minimizing waste and maximizing results

A typical day at the construction site can look like this: fetching tools, checking materials, doing work, finding drawings, doing more work and so forth. In this scenario, work is the productive part of the day. Having to constantly interrupt work for data or material disrupts the workflow. While resource efficiency is good as there are no breaks, the result is still ineffective. 

Lean construction is designed to eliminate non-value-adding tasks, material and time waste by clarifying and streamlining the workflow. The key is in data sharing. Production happens in every phase of the project–designer, detailing, fabrication, transportation and construction companies. Altogether, production is more than what individual stakeholders do, it’s a collaborative process based on shared data. New technology provides tools for this kind of crowdsourcing and collaborative planning that not only minimizes unnecessary waste, but also consequently creates the best possible outcome for the whole organization.

A tracked workflow in sprints

Lean construction works in 1-2 week loops. The loop concerns each stakeholder from fabrication and detailing to logistics–everyone in the value chain. The planning includes organizing and scheduling work for every stage. With short sprints, any occurring conflicts can be tackled early on. Weekly production plans are managed with progress tracking, namely status tools and sensors. In the future, tracking will be further automated, and even made predictive with machine learning. A more advanced way is tact planning, where tracking is done in intervals as short as a day or half a day. 

The goal is a smooth, predictable workflow throughout. In the shipbuilding industry for example, this kind of project management has made things 3-4 times more productive than conventional processes. Construction companies should start organizing work in the same way, with seamless cooperation with subcontractors.

Lean construction tools boost productivity and profitability

Applying a lean method to an industry as complex as construction requires digital tools, and a change in structure from top-down to collaborative. Access to real-time data is one of the cornerstones of cooperation. When the project flow is transparent for everyone, there is no information gap between the general contractor and subcontractors.

People in the construction industry are used to doing things the same way they have always done. However, systematically poor productivity is a sign that things need to change. Lean construction methods are designed to get rid of the wasted time and effort, and re-focus resources on creating value. 

About the Author

Jukka Suomi

Jukka is a Product Manager responsible for the development of digital concepts, services, and tools for managing construction workflows. He has not only a decades-long history in developing Tekla Structures capabilities but also an active role in pushing BIM adoption forward in the industry in collaboration with Finnish and global research and industry stakeholders.

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