McGraw Hill Construction, the Lean Construction Institute, and Dassault Systèmes teamed up to produce an in-depth report on Lean Construction. Below is an excerpt from that report on increasing efficiency through better practices.
Practices Adopted to Increase Efficiency
While taking a formal Lean approach is relatively new to the construction industry, many of the practices that are intended to increase efficiency have been adopted for a longer period of time.
Long before they considered themselves to be pursuing Lean, firms have been using frequent, regular meetings with workers onsite, prefabrication and optimization of crew sizes, and the data reveal that a large percentage of respondents have been employing these practices for more than three years.
Practices Undertaken for More Than Three Years by Most Respondents
The wider industry adoption of these three practices is also evident among the firms that have not implemented Lean.
1. Weekly or Daily Meetings with Workers: Site meetings used to bring efficiencies to the worker level may be associated with Lean, but firms seeking to improve safety practices rather than eliminate waste may also focus on frequent site meetings.
2. Prefabrication: The 2011 Prefabrication and Modularization SmartMarket Report revealed that 84% of the contractors included in that study used prefabrication or modularization.
This is roughly consistent with the findings of this report, with 80% of contractors using prefabrication.
Clearly, with such a high percentage of firms, this is not a practice associated solely with Lean. However, as the Lean expert in-depth interviews reveal, many Lean firms find prefabrication to be an essential strategy to eliminate waste in their construction processes.
3. Optimization of Crew Sizes: It is not surprising that most contractors, especially those not familiar with any Lean practices, would feel that they optimize the size of their crews. However, to truly gain efficiencies, there are clear advantages to gathering additional input from approaches such as pull planning and to rely on data rather than previous experience. Firms implementing Lean may be more likely to make this distinction, which may explain why the highest percentage that report engaging in this practice are those unfamiliar with Lean.
One additional practice reported widely by firms that have not implemented any of the key Lean practices is training workers with preparatory tools and methods. While the percentage of Lean practitioners is slightly higher, the difference is not statistically significant. A larger percentage also report having used this approach for more than three years versus those that have been using it a shorter period of time.
Again, these kinds of preparations may not always be focused on eliminating waste, even if they help achieve that. Contractors may also prepare workers for safety reasons, and some firms with an advanced green/sustainable practice may also spend additional time preparing workers to handle green technologies for maximum impact on building performance.
The one practice that has a higher level of use among Lean practitioners that is statistically significant and that has also been in use for more than three years by a larger percentage of respondents is Just-In-Time material delivery. This finding suggests that this is one of the earlier Lean practices to be adopted in the industry.
Practices Adopted by More Respondents in the Last Three Years
Not surprisingly, the practices that have been adopted more recently—studies of worker ergonomics/activities and GPS tracking of materials, tools and equipment—are also those more reliant on effective data gathering.
The 2013 Information Mobility SmartMarket Report suggests that the ability to gather and analyze data from the construction site has been increasing with new tools and systems supporting those efforts, although it also reveals that better tools are still needed to support these efforts.
Studies of Worker Ergonomics/Activities
Analyzing data on worker ergonomics/activities can be a time-consuming, manual task without the right tools. It can also be critical to find efficiencies at the worker level and to find new processes, as the the Lean experts in the in-depth interviews reveal. This may explain why 50% of Lean practitioners report engaging in this activity, more than double the percentage of respondents that have not implemented Lean.
GPS Tracking of Materials, Tools and Equipment
The data suggests that this is still an emerging practice among Lean practitioners and non-practitioners alike. Again, to use this information to find efficiencies, it is essential to be able to analyze this data, not just to gather it on individual projects.
Practices Not Undertaken by Respondents
It is noteworthy that, even among the Lean practitioners, none of the respondents report using 4D schedule modeling or 5D cost modeling.
The Lean experts interviewed in the in-depth interviews frequently mention the importance of BIM to implementing Lean at their firms. While a few of these experts do report doing 4D schedule modeling, the larger survey results reveal that this is still a highly limited practice.