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When lean principles were first introduced to the construction industry five years ago, project managers raced to implement the production method. The internet was rife with content about how to easily overhaul a jobsite and transform it into the picture of efficiency.

However, the number of lean construction critics have multiplied significantly in recent months. They claim concepts are near impossible to implement or, even worse, automation eliminates the need for deliberate human processes. These ideas are misleading. Lean principles are still valid for a few key reasons.

1. Lean involves seeing things from the customer’s point of view

One of the defining principles of lean construction is understanding value from the customer’s point of view. The concept encourages stakeholders, including the owner, contractor and supplier, to come together during the early planning stage of the project. The significant level of trust created from this exercise can’t be replicated by machinery. It involves compassion, collaboration and a sense of creativity that artificial intelligence is yet to possess. Moreover, the rapport gained through this service-oriented exercise is worth the time investment.

2. Lean uses pull planning and scheduling

Creating a reliable workflow is best determined by those downstream—who are typically contractors. They communicate with each other to determine the schedule of tasks, and the best ways to eliminate waste. Many project managers are hesitant to involve contractors in decision making. This presents a challenge when attempting to implement the lean principle. Using smart machinery or the internet of things takes some responsibility away from the individual and allows for constant monitoring. However, training employees to think proactively and honing leadership skills is essential for business development.

3. Lean is dependent on continuous improvement

The jobsite is constantly evolving because of the belief that it’s possible and necessary to improve processes and eliminate waste. Opportunities for advancement are identified throughout the project, and are applied to future work. This commitment requires a keen eye for detail and a determined individual. Key performance indicators and analytics are now readily available, but change is dependent on a committed project manager.

Effectively implementing lean construction principles requires a great deal of patience and creativity. Furthermore, the concepts are used across many industries, which means the variation of processes that works for one organization might fail in others. Perhaps the individuals who are critical of lean principles haven’t discovered the right production method; or, critics are looking for a quick fix to their jobsite woes. Though lean construction is hardly a quick fix, the concepts are not only valid, but can create dramatic improvements in scheduling, budget and delivery when implemented correctly.


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