Lean Perspectives: My Top 5 mindsets debunked

Lean Perspectives: My Top 5 mindsets debunked


I have a confession to make: I didn’t always buy in to the idea that Lean would benefit my projects. I resisted drinking the Lean Kool-Aid at all costs. Why? As someone who has built millions of square feet of interior tenant improvement jobs, I believed they were just too fast and too furious, so anything that had the potential to slow my project down was just too risky.

Do you believe any of the statements below? I did until I tried using Lean processes on my projects. I would admit that my long-held belief was short-sighted and the simple act of someone convincing me to just try really did open my eyes.

'Interior tenant improvement projects are too fast to use Lean' 

The interiors business is not slowing down any time soon. So there’s no time to incorporate a time-consuming process like Lean, right? Wrong! When a schedule is as aggressive as an interiors project schedule, there’s no time for mistakes or misunderstandings. One of the things about non-collaborative schedules is no one knows the intricacies of how a schedule will work because it’s literally inside of one person’s head. Your vision can derail really fast, and when it derails, chances are that you’ll throw manpower at the job in hopes of getting things back on track. While the extra manpower might help you make up for lost time, you’ve also spent a significant amount of overtime, and the quality of the project will undoubtedly suffer.

'There is no time for planning when you’re released to begin construction two days after you interview for the project'

When owners tell you to proceed with construction, it’s time to get everyone out to the jobsite. Sure, there will be some hiccups along the way, but it’s better to figure things out as you go along than to waste any time planning…right? Wrong! It took me a long time to learn this lesson: Planning is doing. Do you really have to start swinging a hammer on that first Monday, or could you take that Monday to engage your trade partners and figure out how you’re going to meet the schedule without throwing manpower at the job towards the end of the project? Measuring twice and cutting once is a better rule to live by than not measuring and then backtracking.

'My schedule doesn’t look any different than a Lean look-ahead schedule'

While your look-ahead schedule might resemble a Lean look-ahead schedule, there’s more to it than meets the eye. A traditional look-ahead schedule is created in the confines of one desk, with one or at most two people’s input. The Lean look-ahead schedule, also known as the Last Planner® System, is the result of multiple people getting together in one room with one common goal: Create the most realistic, efficient schedule possible. Participants are encouraged to be honest about what could hold them back, and they’re also pushed to reject the wasteful schedule planning processes that too often happens in construction. The people who participate in this process are the people who do the work, not the managers. So while you might take the time to plan very good schedules within the confines of your desk, using the Last Planner®System will allow you to not only build a great schedule, you’ll build bridges among your trade partners while you do it.

'Lean does not benefit my clients'

While most clients in the interiors market have never heard of the Lean process, I would bet that any client who wants to work with a sophisticated contractor also appreciates a process that has the ability to reduce risk and uncertainty. Think about it: If we take time to track construction activity every day, our ability to predict and project future construction activity is much more reliable than if we didn’t take the time to track. If a client needs some time to make a decision, we can tell them how much time they have without incurring additional cost. When we take time to engage others and create a detailed schedule, quality improves and the number of punchlist items decrease. If we can manage workflow and not increase labor towards the end of project, confusion amongst trade partners decreases, the project site becomes safer and overtime costs are reduced.

'Subcontractors will never go for this Lean process' 

Many things have changed in the construction industry over the past 5 to 10 years. Scopes are becoming more complex, and the success of our project hinges on the success of our subcontractors. Our subs are no longer subs, they are trade partners, and it’s critical that we utilize their specialized expertise to create the best solutions possible for our clients. While learning curves can take some time, our trade partners appreciate that we actually engage them as part of the schedule creation process. They are seeing that workflow is more predictable, they’re spending less in overtime and are profiting in the process.

So while it’s never easy to change, it’s easier when you realize that change almost never occurs overnight. To my surprise, no one judged me when I didn’t get it right the first time. But when I tried, it gave me an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and be better the next time. And I can’t stress enough that throughout my Lean journey, I have been surprised with the results.

The author is a vice president and partner at Skender Construction in Chicago. He has managed many large interior tenant improvement projects for clients such as Nokia, ACCO Brands, and Fresenius Kabi. Edwards holds a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering from Purdue University.

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