A Bottom-Up Approach to Lean Construction: Increase Business Opportunities for Subs, Value for Owners

Trade contractors that have thought about going Lean but are still waiting for the “right” project to come along may be missing major opportunities.

It’s true that as Lean first moved from manufacturing into the construction arena, its use was typically driven by a project owner’s desire to keep costs from running over budget and ensure project milestones were reached on time.

Pioneering owners led the formation of integrated teams and required everyone (construction managers, architects, engineers, GCs, and major subcontractors) to apply lean project delivery methodologies

Today, however, even a single project contributor who adopts Lean Construction practices to improve business processes will ultimately deliver increased value to the customer.


Trade contractors that adopt Lean on their own initiative are able to offer highly competitive bids while still providing safe, quality work.

In fact, improved safety is seen by trade contractors as one of the biggest benefits of Lean.

Whether from specifically implementing more ergonomic processes, or generally better managing a safety culture with integrated task hazard analysis, subs report seeing as much as a 15% improvement over industry safety averages.

Often, simply adopting reliable planning and controls will reduce the frequency of executing unplanned work with inherent safety risks.

ROI and Profit

Many subcontractors wait for top-down direction from construction managers or general contractors on “Lean” projects due to the upfront costs of collaborative scheduling and planning requirements.

However, those costs generally are recouped by overall reductions in wasted resources, materials, and time.

In addition, trade contractors that adopt Lean report seeing more consistent, reliable profit on their projects.

Positive Influence

3DS partner CornerCube reports that taking a Lean approach even to a non-Lean project can positively affect the processes and behaviors of non-Lean practitioners, driving overall project efficiency and delivering value to the owner.


According to Lean Construction: Advanced Project Delivery for the AEC Industry, a whitepaper by CornerCube,

Lean Construction can enable subcontractors to have greater control over their work—avoiding change orders and other challenges—by improving communications and collaboration among all parties.

Subcontractors that are adopting the tools related to Lean—including modeling and prefabrication—are earning reputations as “super subs.”

Many owners today are looking for trade contractors already familiar with Lean to serve as a resource early in the project.

One contractor states in the report that owners are looking for super-subs with which they can establish long-term relationships that go beyond the construction window and into the building’s operation.

By going Lean now, trade contractors can become a resource for owners and win a steady backlog for the future.


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As head of global marketing for the AEC Industry at Dassault Systèmes, Mr. Moriwaki launches and promotes groundbreaking Industry Solution Experiences including "Optimized Construction," "Façade Design for Fabrication," and "Civil Design for Fabrication." He is a member of buildingSMART.