Applying Theoretical Lean Processes to Construction Projects

The concept of Lean Construction is the implementation of processes based on theories, aiming to increase efficiency among the Construction Industry as a whole.

I have recently began studying a Lean Construction module, where we have discussed where the current inefficiencies are, how we can learn from other industries and why our industry is so far behind achieving change.

Some of the current issues arising between the working relationship of the design and construction professions include;

– Poor coordination between changes in design and the transfer of information; lack of coordination between disciplines and supply chain capabilities.
– Duplicated drawings with wrong revisions being delivered to the site manager.
– Build-ability issues, understanding the cost/time impacts of late changes to design.
– Poor communication with designers; unrealistic expectations.
– Lack of detailing at the design phase can lead to loss of design integrity when dealing with main contractors.
– Incorrect and uncoordinated specifications.

Manufacturing Vs Construction
The manufacturing industry is well known for it’s innovative ‘lean’ processes. Although many would say that construction and manufacturing industries differ hugely; there are key successful theories and processes that are used by the manufacturing industry, which should influence the way a construction project is managed. The obvious difference is that the manufacturing industry is chain production, repetitively fabricating the same products. This has allowed the industry to learn from experiences and become more efficient. Consistency is something that the construction industry lacks. 

Listed below are some of the reasons why it is much easier for the manufacturing industry to incorporate lean processes; followed by some explanations as to why the construction industry finds this more difficult.

Manufacturing                                                          

– Quality control measures.
– Waste management.
– Reducing processes which can be avoided.
– Controlled environment.
– Forward thinking approach.
– Automated / robotic processes.
– Foreseeable issues/resolutions.
– ‘Business as usual’ mindset.
– Coordinated processes.

Construction
– Need of skilled workers.
– Uncontrolled environment (weather impacts).
– Likes traditional methods.
– Lots of stakeholders in construction.
– Unforeseeable issues/resolutions (every project is different and faces new challenges).
– Construction is fragmented.
– Lack of customer focus.
– Lack of coordination.

Whilst there are many differences with the way the two industries work, they do share some characteristics. For example, they both use designers and materials, and both are quality driven. If manufacturing efficiency or quality is sacrificed, poor products lead to a devalued business and ultimately a drop in sales. Similarly, if a construction project’s quality is a risk; there are serious health and safety implications, resulting in not meeting building standards and therefore creating a poor reputation.

The construction industry can learn a lot from manufacturing, and is beginning to show signs of doing so. For example, a lot of building components are now manufactured and prefabricated off-site. There will always be the greater ‘human’ factor in construction, however as technology (BIM) improves, we will start to see an increase in efficiency.

There is however an underlying issue to the fragmented and inefficient industry we see today, which Koskela establishes as the lack of overarching theory to Construction Management (TFV Model, 2000). 

Why do we have theories?

– Explains why things happen.
– Helps identify how we can make advances.
– Take good ideas from one context and apply them to another (manufacturing – construction).
– Shared theory can unite. 

(Koskela 2000 & 2005)

Proposed theory

Theory of transformation (input > production > output)

The theory of transformation explains that everything starts with an input, often customer and / or clients value requirements (value = perceived benefits / perceived sacrifices), leading into production and finishing with the output.If you take this theory and apply it to construction, it is clear that there is not enough emphasis on ‘production’ processes. However manufacturing have broken work processes down into ‘bite sized’ manageable sub-processes, which puts emphasis on making the production of those individual processes tailored and therefore efficient. The BIM process is achieving this by standardising workflows and specifications. However in order to become Lean, all stakeholders must be committed to a common theory. Both BIM and Lean Thinking are about embracing change.

The ways forward for construction;
– Standardised and consistent processes.
– “Stage gate” approach – heavily focused on getting the design right. Understanding the client and their needs.
– Improving coordination.
– Stakeholder involvement.
– No ‘customer’ like with manufacturing.
– Continual improvement and learning (manufacturing has repetitive and refined processes through feedback).
– Implementing BIM further – adopting a common theory.

For more information on Theories of Production – click here

For more information on Lean Construction – click here

Shelby Green,
Scan2BIM Manager.
The Severn Partnership. 


For more information please email us at scan2bim@severnpartnership.co.uk or speak to us on 01743 875 000.

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