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What is Lean Construction: An Overview

2 engineers in a construction site with a crane in the background

84% of contractors believe that lean principles contribute to higher construction quality.

Lean construction offers significant advantages as the goal is to enhance construction efficiency right from the start through to final hand over.

Lean construction methods achieve this by decreasing wasted time, effort, and materials to provide an optimised and more productive construction process. No matter what the project is or the scale, lean principles can add significant value and be the enabler of sustainable construction.

What is Lean Construction?

A myriad of resources are used for the most basic construction projects, and, in most cases, there is a substantial amount of wastage. Aiming to reduce wasted resources is something that all construction managers hope to achieve, but the critical aspect of this is understanding what allowances have been made for waste on any given project. Being able to identify the parameters of the wastage allows project managers and construction managers a benchmark to work to. Lean construction methods are used to maintain these benchmarks and improve and provide a knock-on effect for sustainability.

Lean construction is a form of setting up construction systems in a project that aims to save on any of these wasted resources. This includes time, materials, and effort. The purpose of lean construction is to get the project done more efficiently - and with minimal costs without compromising on quality. The principle of this is to maximise the value of the project and increase the ROI. Because of this, lean construction increases construction productivity across the board.

The Framework of Lean Construction

No two construction projects are identical, so unique approaches always need to be developed. However, for an effective lean construction project, you should always try to apply the following framework.  

  • Focus on Customer Value

There is more to construction than just building what the customer wants as drawn on the plans. Understanding the customer’s real values goes beyond this. The underlying aspect is for contractors to eliminate anything that does not add value.

To really tap into the customer’s value system, it’s important to start building trust from the very early stages of the project. The entire construction team should aim to provide a streamlined and efficient service to meet the customer’s wants throughout the project, instead of just delivering a final result.

  • Value Stream

First, you need to know what the customer’s value is, then you need to set up a value stream. This includes all of the processes and equipment that you need in order to complete the project. A continuous flow of production by reducing non-value flow activities should be focused on while the conversion activities are better controlled and improved on, to enhance lean production.

Efficiently developing the value stream is important for a good lean construction process.

  • Minimising Waste

Reduce waste wherever possible. This will significantly streamline the entire construction process, reduce expenses, and make the workflow more efficient.

Waste is a pretty broad term used in construction, as there are various types of waste that occur. When focusing on lean construction principles, there are seven main types of waste to consider. These are:

  • Quality standards and non-compliance
  • External quality costs
  • Lack of constructability
  • Poor materials management, this can include double handling and certain storage principles
  • Excess utilisation of materials on site, a good indicator is the ability to be able to identify the wastage at estimation stage and continuously measure and control
  • Working time used for non-value activities, i.e. Inspecting certain elements, waiting for areas to open for work to commence and moving (logistical reasons).
  • Lack of safety

 

  • Simplify the Process

Creating a continuous workflow without any interruptions or room for error is an important step. Make sure that there is a clear workflow set in place with clear communication.

  • Downstream Demand

Lean construction follows the idea that you should release work according to the downstream demand. This is important for strong workflows.

Working closely with subcontractors is important here. This is because close collaboration can help to maintain an efficient, error-free flow of work.

A number of other principles which require a mention are:

  • Increasing the productivity outputs
  • Transparency of the process
  • Continually building improvements into the process
  • Benchmarks and the ability to consistently measure back to these benchmarks

Conclusion

The lean construction process can vastly improve the efficiency of a construction project. This is a continuous process of waste elimination and improving the different operations in the project.

In order to reduce wastage, maximise efficiency, and enhance all sectors of construction, it’s a good idea to apply lean principles in construction. Using specialised software can help to streamline this process.

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