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how to Make Lean Planning even Leaner

how to Make Lean Planning even Leaner

by TODD STOLARSKI | Nov 4, 2015

In 2012, the Lean Construction Institute hosted 300 people at its 14th Annual Congress, outside Washington DC. A respectable number, to be sure. But fast forward to last month in Boston where attendance had more than tripled to 999!  Something must be up.

Conery, the king of lean

Conery, the king of lean

“I always tell people that when something grows that much in that short of a period of time, a matter of significance is happening in the industry,” said Dan Conery, VP of business development at Newforma, a Manchester NH-based software firm focused on technology solutions for the entire project team. “Something must have happened to cause that growth,” he added.

But what's behind that surge in popularity for lean planning? Last month, as Newforma prepared to release its new LeanPlanner software, BuiltWorlds spoke to Conery about collaboration, hitting milestones, and the rise of lean.


BW: The concept of lean planning has been around for 25 years now. How can today’s technology improve the lean process? To make it even more efficient and, well, leaner?


CONERY: Technology does two main things: It enables you to do analog processes faster, and it generates data on the things you did faster. So, the thing that takes so much time – reporting – the basis of any real management – automation makes reporting push-button simple. 

BW: What makes lean construction work?

CONERY:  The three tenets of lean are: 1) Add value; 2) Reduce waste; and 3) Respect people. I don’t think the “respect people” part has been at the core for our industry until lately. As respect has grown, people become more cooperative. And the other tenets of lean – adding value and reducing waste – also begin to work better.

BW: A lean plan has been set and the journey begun. A few weeks in, though, the everyday chaos of project life sets in at the site. How can you get back on your plan once you’re off track?

CONERY:  I don’t care how well you plan, something will happen to change the plan. If you’ve built good trust, you can overcome the issues in front of you. A lean plan promotes that trust, as opposed to everybody searching for a way to get out of taking responsibility. [Before lean] it’s been a nightmare for the contractor trying to coordinate with everybody.


"A lean plan promotes trust, as opposed to everybody searching for a way to get out of taking responsibility."


Mobile Apps in Construction: Conery graced our space here at BuiltWorlds last summer. Revisit our event recap.

Mobile Apps in Construction: Conery graced our space here at BuiltWorlds last summer. Revisit our event recap.

Without lean, you have an incredibly unsmooth work process. It’s as if, during rush hour, everyone is going 70 mph down the highway and someone touches their brakes. The result is a big snarl. Eventually, everything works itself out and the cars are moving at 70 mph again. Someone taps their brakes...again, big snarl. What Newforma is trying to do is make sure everyone is going 70 mph throughout the entire project. No traffic jams. What we’ve witnessed is that when lean methodologies are put into practice, collaboration continues on a daily basis. Your plan is predictable. There's no rushing to hit milestones. 

In the past, lean was achieved by taking a pound of flesh from the subcontractor who was holding up the schedule. And that happened a lot.

BW: If you search the web for images of “lean planning,” all you see are dozens of whiteboards with multi-colored sticky notes. With cloud computing now paving the way for a paperless jobsite, are we ready for an app that allows you to build a lean plan in the palm of your hand?

CONERY:  Absolutely. A contractor I was visiting with recently began its lean journey. The first comment they made to me as they put thousands of stickies onto a wall is that it was driving their people "nuts"! All that paper is a waste. It's so 1990! We believe that you can go completely digital, with little concern and tons of benefit. Software can make lean planning leaner.

BW: In a highly competitive software market, how does Newforma, and now its LeanPlanner, manage to stand out from the pack?

CONERY:  Information silos are a big problem in all industries, and construction is no exception. Newforma is in the best position to eliminate those information silos, bridging the office with the field, and integrating design and construction. That bridge building is in our DNA. So with LeanPlanner software, we need to make sure it works with our other products. For example, our products manage RFIs and submittals, which are among the constraints managed by lean design and construction.

By the way, speaking of integrating design with construction, the LeanPlanner tool is not limited to the construction phase of a project. It is an equal, if not greater tool for design teams to use. Designers are visual people, just as construction people are. So we built a tool to help people plan better wherever planning is important. 

BW: LeanPlanner aims to enable greater collaboration on job sites. How?

CONERY:  One quick part of lean is to identify constraints. What are the things that will prevent us from getting work done in the future? One particular aspect is the submittal process. So, if you don't get that one approved, then another team will not be able to start fabrication. Then the people downstream will not be able to do their work. We say, "Let’s identify that four weeks in advance." So, Newforma has submittal workflows in our products. We can help them make sure that submittals get approved in a timely fashion so that constraint does not bog down the schedule. We’re not trying to solve just one point problem. We're trying to solve the more universal issue. 


As our conversation with Conery drew to a close, he also spoke of the growth potential for lean jobs in the construction field. “When I talked about 'lean' five years ago, people were skeptical; they scoffed," he said. "Now, if you do a LinkedIn search, contractors nearly have as many lean groups as they do for virtual design and construction. So, we think it’s going to be at least as big as that.”

This year, the concept of lean planning, itself, is celebrating its silver anniversary. But as its popularity continues to grow exponentially, it may soon jump into an even higher echelon of precious metals. In practice, the methodology challenges the work paradigm of “Cost – time – quality: Pick two.”

Lean Planning wants all three.


To contact the author, write to or find him on Twitter @toddstolarski.

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