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Lean Project Delivery in the Healthcare Sector


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Over the years, the healthcare industry has welcomed lean practices into daily operations, creating more productive, efficient enterprises. Now, lean principles are spreading in the healthcare industry beyond daily processes to the building and design of facilities—and for very good reasons. Whether for a new or retrofit project, lean construction has benefits for the healthcare market, and all involved in the project team reap its rewards.

The International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC), founded in 1993, began “developing new principles and methods for product development and production management specifically tailored to the AEC industry, but akin to those defining lean production that proved to be so successful in manufacturing,” according to the IGLC website.

The key to lean construction is extensive planning and collaboration early in the process.

With an emphasis on theory, the IGLC and others after it (notably, the Lean Construction Institute) gave industry professionals a forum in which to refine this unique project delivery method. The term “lean construction” is perhaps a misnomer, for the methodology goes beyond a project’s construction phase to encompass the design and planning stages as well. Lean construction represents an equal three-party contract with the owner, architect, and construction manager.

Key to lean construction is extensive planning and collaboration early in the process. The project team’s key players are represented—owner, architect, designers, engineer, constructors, and suppliers—in the earliest planning stages. Each member of the team has a voice and input, and collaboration during the planning phase helps eliminate waste and increase both productivity and profitability for the overall project.

Early collaboration brings additional benefits. With all parties involved, the most efficient design is achieved. For contractors, involvement in the early stage helps them understand the reasons behind design decisions and changes, promoting cooperation when design changes occur. And with all key players involved, costly change orders are minimized.

Why Lean for Healthcare?

Lean construction is gaining rapid ground in the healthcare market. Today’s healthcare industry faces significant challenges that lean construction addresses. For one, the improving economy has spurred an increase in construction starts across the country. The increased demand has prompted a rise in costs for construction materials.

In addition to the rising cost of basic construction materials, modern technological and data infrastructure requirements for healthcare facilities are making them increasingly more costly to build. What’s more, the healthcare industry is surrounded by uncertainty due to regulations and reform. The healthcare market is under increasing demand to find cost savings at every turn. Hospitals are taking advantage of lean construction and building facilities ahead of schedule, with significant cost savings, while sacrificing nothing in terms of quality or features. Lean construction also helps improve safety on the job site.

Technology Assists Lean Principles

Today’s construction management software can play a critical role in a successful lean construction project. Collaboration—the essential ingredient of lean construction—during every phase of the project is made possible through technologies such as cloud computing. The cloud allows collaboration and communication on the job site among all parties. Savvy project teams take advantage of software resources that promote the collaborative spirit.

What’s more, technology facilitates lean construction when information from existing projects is relied upon for new construction. Data from recent projects can be quickly and easily accessed and then applied to new projects. This history of information assists the project team when making decisions. Maximizing the right technology and software can enhance a healthcare facility’s lean construction efforts and maximize productivity.

Lean construction for healthcare begins with the end in mind. With lean construction, hospitals are realizing they can construct facilities at a lower cost-per-bed while creating a more efficient, productive facility. It’s true that the lean delivery method requires a paradigm shift in the building industry, which is well entrenched in more traditional delivery methods. However, its acceptance in the healthcare industry can serve as a model for others to follow and reap similar benefits.

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