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By Duane Craig
April 2, 2018
History of construction is one of conflict. Traditional delivery methods use contracts to pit one participant against the other; or one participant against the many. The goals are to make the highest profit and pass as much risk as possible down the chain. Participants focus on protecting themselves from others and putting their own self interests ahead of the project's interests.
And that leads to 70% of construction projects missing their deadlines and countless closing over budget. Lean construction and design principles offer to change that, and here's how.
Relationships Over Going it Alone
Lean seeks to replace adversarial relationships with collaboration. Since the biggest obstacle to doing just that is distrust, you'll find lean principles rely a lot on building and maintaining trust. That happens first by people becoming open to the idea of partnering, and then following through with better communication and cooperation. It includes addressing all project stakeholder and third party concerns so that everyone feels their input is valued and considered when making decisions.
Trust is by far the greatest challenge of lean construction simply because it runs counter to ingrained business thought. The business world reveres competition. Add contracts that redistribute risk to those least able to control it, and use project delivery methods that primarily rely on competition for awarding contracts, and you successfully disable trust as a project tenet. Lean construction uses team concepts to build trust among participants right at the project's start.
Releasing the Knowledge
For decades, construction firms have taken to heart that "knowledge is power." In fact, they've created elaborate systems designed to sequester and protect project knowledge so they can reduce claims and risks. It's a natural outgrowth from construction's historic business model. So, you have all these project participants, each with its own project silo, holding information for its exclusive use, misuse, or disuse.
Lean construction and design seeks to set the knowledge free so all project participants can interact with it and use it for the betterment of the project. For example, getting inputs from all project participants during the design phase is already proven to substantially increase productivity.
Building information modeling lets participants not only interact with the physical aspects of the project but also with the specified items, and even with the costs. And, when participants can access each others' materials and equipment orders, countless opportunities for decreasing downtime and waste may appear. There's a larger application of this principle as well.
Each project is unique, but there are many aspects that exist across all other projects. For example, any project that uses wood framing uses the same type of wood framing components, from studs, to top and bottom plates, to trimmers. When you release the pent up knowledge on each project, all participants have the opportunity to learn and carry that knowledge forward to other projects. So, when framers on one project use a unique process in selecting lumber to create less waste, other teams can learn and adapt their technique from them.
Making the Goals Common
Making the goals common is another tenet of effective partnering. It lowers self-centeredness and increases collaboration. You don't have to look any further than modern sporting events, like football or basketball, to see this in action. A group of people has the common goal of getting the ball into a specific space. If a team operated like a traditional construction project, each player would instead be focused on getting the ball into a space that's best for them. That might confuse the opposition and make for humorous viewing, but it wouldn't advance the game toward an acceptable outcome. In short, the game would fail its objectives.
The same happens when project participants make their own goals more important than the goals of the project. Eventually, the project might get finished, but at what cost, and on whose schedule? Lean construction and design suggests that team members focusing on common goals redirect their energy and creativity toward solving problems that affect all team members. That, in turn, affects the entire project positively.
The historical ways of building limit innovation and keep processes mired in waste. Such an attitude reduces productivity. But, lean construction and other collaborative delivery methods offer construction projects more on-time deliveries, claims and litigation reductions, predictable costs, and designs that meet owner needs better today and tomorrow.
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