Lean thinking can work in construction

SAN DIEGO I work for a contracting company, and I have a few question about the article in your magazine called "Lean thinking works in construction too" (February 2005, pg. 5; archived at www.contractormag.com). One section of the article states: "Contractors can implement lean thinking on construction sites by tracking productivity and their percent-of-plan-completed every day. The object is to

SAN DIEGO — I work for a contracting company, and I have a few question about the article in your magazine called "Lean thinking works in construction too" (February 2005, pg. 5; archived at www.contractormag.com).

One section of the article states: "Contractors can implement lean thinking on construction sites by tracking productivity and their percent-of-plan-completed every day. The object is to keep crews installing, reduce inventory and cut costs. The work has to be made ready every day and anything that's impeding the crews must be eliminated."

Do you have any examples of logs that contractors use to implement this process?

Another part of the same article quotes industry consultant Dennis So-wards, who says the biggest impediment is a mind-set that lean thinking does not work in construction. Sowards adds, however, that it's been proven to work by construction industry leaders, such as Dallas-based TDIndustries, which consistently beats its estimates and works to continue to beat them. He further says that contractors who have implemented lean thinking keep finding ways that they can improve their processes and procedures.

Is there a written program that you can provide that helps to follow this process. If you can help with either of the questions that I have asked, I would greatly appreciate it.

Anthony Lorenzo
Rudolph & Sletten Inc.

Dennis Sowards replies: The answer to your first question is a "lean" tool called the Last Planner System, or LPS . You can find information about it by doing a Web search. It is not complicated but you should take time to make sure you understand how each part works. As for logs, there are several basic forms:

  • Look-ahead form – used to make work ready;
  • Weekly work plan – used to determine what work tasks are to be done that week and to report PPC (percent of planned work completed) at the end of the week; and
  • Variance tracking – used to track variances (constraints) reported on the weekly work plan.

More than the forms there is a weekly planning cycle that uses these forms and discusses each plan and the past week's constraints in a weekly coordinating meeting. There is more to cover than I can cover here but these are the basics.

The answer to your second question is that the Lean Construction Institute teaches classes around the country every so often (see www.leanconstruction. org). I teach and coach contractors in implementing the Last Planner System and other lean construction tools independent of LCI. I am a member of the LCI but work on my own. Other consultants also do the same thing. There is not a book or any written material that does a good job of explaining how to implement LPS. Let me know what further questions you have, however, and I will try to answer them.