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For Broken and Fragmented Construction Industry - Lean is the Solution

September 1, 2021

Bring Productivity with Lean

If you attend a conference or participate in professional development related to productivity in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry, you will surely hear Lean Construction come up. It’s become a popular buzzword/keyword in reference to the many different ways to boost productivity on a construction site.

Construction projects are becoming more complex due to tighter project schedules, increasing cost and quality pressures, and associated continuous change during the execution phase. Technical requirements are also increasing, and the division of work between the various technical experts involved is highly fragmented. This results in construction projects with unreliable schedules, cost overruns, and defects resulting from the lack of coordination on-site.

Lean construction is “A way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value for all stakeholders”

Lean construction management is the philosophy, principle, methodology, ideology. In other terms, it is a better project planning and management process and system.

Can add …...

Lean is an absolutely continuous improvement process,

Waste is continuously reported, so we can find a strategy.

Lean theory forces you to adopt a certain process.

Don’t think lean is a new process, it’s more than that.

Architecture building plan, image

Lean construction brings together all stakeholders including the owner, architect, engineers, general contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers. The project team not only delivers what the client wants, but they provide advice and help shape expectations throughout the project.

The basic principles include: creating a predictable atmosphere based on planning and data, reducing the overflow of waste from careful planning, and increasing the communication flows between the customer and the project at hand.

The main aim of this lean is to reduce or eliminate waste at every possible aspect and opportunity

Why Lean Construction?

Graphical representation of a building,image

The objective of lean construction is to profitably meet customer demands and dramatically improve the Architecture Engineering Construction (AEC) process as well as product.

  • On-time completion of projects
  • Total employee involvement
  • Reduced lead Time
  • Reduction in cost
  • Improved quality etc.

Some indicative values from studies

  • 30% of construction work is estimated to be rework ( 2.5% - 3% of revenue).
  • 50% of site time is unproductive.
  • At least 10% of materials are wasted
  • 20% to 30% time delay compared to the scheduled time.
  • Actual project cost more than budgeted cost by 20 to 30%

What is waste?

Waste can be anything which is not adding value to the product or project.

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Types of wastes

It is observed that there are eight major types of wastes in construction.

  1. Defects / Errors - Work that contains errors, rework, mistakes, or lacks something necessary.
  2. Overproduction - generating more than the customer needs right now / having extra.
  3. Waiting - Idle time created when material, information, people, or equipment are not ready.
  4. Not utilizing people’s talent - Not using people’s brains.
  5. Transportation - Movement of material/information that does not add value.
  6. Inventory - More material on hand than the customer needs.
  7. Motion - Movement of people that does not add value.
  8. Extra processing / Variation - Efforts that create no value from the customer's viewpoint.

The approach is simple and attractive in an industry where budgets, timeframes, and safety are all critical, but the project delivery is very different from traditional construction methods. This makes the proper execution of the philosophy and techniques difficult to implement.

One way of recognition of a type of waste

One way of finding about waste in construction is to focus on :

  • 5 M (Man, Material, Machine, Method, and Management )
  • Quality
  • Safety

Is Lean Construction the Same as Lean Production in Manufacturing?

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It is correct to say that the Lean construction approach was influenced by and shares many of the same principles of Lean production,

The ideals that Lean construction has in common with Lean manufacturing include:

  • A focus on optimizing the whole system based on collaboration and built-in learning
  • The belief that processes can always be improved in an effort to achieve perfection
  • The recognition that every person involved can contribute to the maximum value
  • Dedication to ensuring value flow by removing obstacles and eliminating parts of the process that don’t add value

Of course, construction projects and production factories are not the same. Lean construction places emphasis on making sure that workflow enables crews to be consistently productive, reducing project costs, and minimizing the need for inventory and equipment.

In the manufacturing industry people design, produce, and test the products. If the product is successful in all tests. Then it will be produced in huge numbers at a time - multiple products produced in the process or device(machine). Whereas in the construction industry it is entirely different due to multiple factors. The construction of each building is unique in many terms and not limited to weather location, people involved, materials involved, etc.

What is there in Lean?

There are a number of tools, including the Last Planner System, Integrated Project Delivery, Building Information Modeling, 5S, and Kaizen events that can be used in combination to achieve Lean. This gives practitioners a wide range of options that can be applied to each project.  

There are, however, guiding principles that help firms achieve lower costs, reduced construction times, more productivity, and efficient project management. They represent a holistic approach to the construction process.

Often it is referred to and found that the Last planner system is the heart of the lean construction.

Last Planner System

One of the key tools of Lean is the Last Planner System (LPS) (also known as Pull Planning), which is a work plan method that is based on the following:

1. Creating a backlog of tasks that are ready for execution (make-ready)

2. Committing to tasks that will be achieved in the next sprint–weekly work plan (e.g., one week, two weeks, three weeks, etc.)

3. Reviewing and assessing the success of those commitments–track progress, remedy issues, feedback, and learnings.

When implementing the Last Planner System, detailed knowledge of exactly where your team is at every stage of the project (progress tracking), and where they can execute most productively in the next sprint (look-ahead) is required.

Integrated Project Delivery ( IPD )

IPD is a cost and profit-sharing delivery method that eliminates typical contract barriers and incentivizes all team members to make “project” decisions rather than “trade” decisions.

IPD is uniquely suited to put Lean Construction principles into practice because it has solved the contractual issues that prevent true collaboration–empowering team members in the sharing of ideas, materials, and manpower.

The main goal of Integrated Project Delivery is to create a team that can work together well enough to power the project for success. This team works together for the length of the project and may include members from a variety of disciplines including owners, contractors, subcontractors, architects, and others

Benefits of lean construction

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Lean is cheaper- savings are reached through improved efficiency, reduced waste, and shorter project durations.

Saves time- by using lean tools it is possible to significantly enhance the schedule reliability and minimize the project durations.

Safe- most of safety incidents occur when people undertake unscheduled activities. With the use of lean tools, We can reduce the unscheduled activities happening on sites thus reducing the number of safety incidents. 5S workplace organization safety can be improved.

The enhanced sustainability-the main aim of lean construction is to eliminate waste in all forms. Wastes include rework, repairs, unnecessary transportation, overproduction, and extra processing, by eliminating the waste reduces the energy consumption and resources used to enhance the sustainability of the construction.

Less disputes- lean construction reduces the construction disputes by developing the aligned project goals, by using the collaborative types of contract and increased communication between stakeholders.

Improved risk management- lean construction take-up a partnership approach to risk management by using a collaborative type of contract where decisions regarding risk are taken into account on a project basis.

Improved project quality- By using prefabricated components is an important element of lean where much work is undertaken in the controlled offsites before being brought to the site this improves overall quality.

Barriers to implementing lean

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After analyzing the research data the significant barriers for implementing lean principles in the construction business identified as,

Lack of exposure on the need to adopt lean construction  

Uncertainty in the supply chain  

The tendency to apply traditional management  

Culture & human attitudinal issues (Mindset issues)  

Lack of commitment from top management  

Non- participative management style for the workforce, etc.


From the many surveys, researches, and case studies it is found that lean constructions aim attention on the overall reduction and not only for profit but also to enhance the bottom line of construction. Primary and the successive methods of lean construction are found to be the Last Planner System, 5S system, Increased Visualization, and Daily Huddle Meeting.

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