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10 essential Lean Construction Tools


Piyush Pandey 2017-03-23


Construction projects generally see a cost overrun caused due to poor cash flow, problems in logistics, materials, delay in clearances and adverse natural/social/political environment. These projects involve various risk factors which have various impacts on objective that may lead to low productivity and time-overrun.

Billions of Rupees can be saved by systematically optimizing processes using modern techniques and technologies. Capabilities of the workforce must be enriched for understanding the “how” to provide each customer “value” while striving to achieve the goal Zero Defect.

One way of contributing to the productivity improvement is to implement Lean Construction. Lean or Lean thinking was implemented for the first time by the car manufacturer Toyota and has been used in the manufacturing industry for decades. Womack and Jones (2003) established five key aspects in lean methodology that are necessary to avoid waste. Lean thinking provides a method to specify value, align the actions that create value according to the optimal sequence, carry out these activities without interruption when someone requests them, and perform them with increasingly effectiveness.

Lean Construction Consultants across the world use various tools and techniques to provide fundamental knowledge and benefits of Lean Construction. These tools have the capability to enhance performance in Construction thus the quality of life for future Indian construction sector. The aim with Lean in Construction projects is to utilize the resources as labour and material better to get less waste, fewer delays and lower costs or, in other words, to minimize the Non-Value adding activities.

The Construction industry has to transition from “one big batch” construction process with Milestones and Metrics where material is delivered to the site, tons of pouring and fabrication takes place to Smart Construction. In the current scenario, engineering is completed, procurement orders at one shot, makes schedule and engages contractors for the whole project. While Lean Construction strategy involves processing a bunch of small invoiceable units to sign off delivery sequence of each unit and deliver on time. The implementation of Lean Construction begins with identifying and eliminating Non-value-Adders from the processes.

1. Waste Elimination: 8 waste of construction or the non-value adding activities in Construction are:

  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Transportation
  • Rework
  • Over- Processing
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Employee Potential

Rework, Over-Processing and Waiting for materials and clearances comprise 73% of the overall non-value adding activities performed in a project which can be eradicated. So, how much is the Process waste? Process wastes here means reworking the designs in the middle phase of the project, breaking the already built structures and making changes, generation of unnecessary files due to duplication of information and producing lot of irrelevant data, lack of communication between Idea Generator, Architects, Project Engineers, Marketing people, etc. Reduction of process wastes like duplication of work, rework on design, unnecessary movement due to inefficient layout of the offices, etc. that not only shoot-up the costs but also delays the project.

2. 5 ‘S’ and Safety for Construction: are some rules for workplace organization and in-house keeping which aim to organize each worker’s work area for maximum efficiency and to reduce waste associated with the workplace organization. The Five S’s are in every internal customer’s responsibility to create a working environment of which people are proud. It is believed that people who are proud of their workplace can produce high quality products easier. The basis of the idea of using 5S (Workplace Excellence) at Construction sites is often because sites are messed-up with huge inventories that is lying everywhere. A large chunk of Inventory is wasted due to weather, improper handling, forgetfulness due to more than one location of material (one type of material stored at more than one location), etc. We consider ‘Safety’ as the 6th S, which is the last but most important aspect as far as Construction industry is concerned. No. of accidents can be reduced and the productivity is improved. Through good housekeeping, we not only improve labour’s morale but also a sense of belongingness is created.

3. Value Stream Mapping: is a set of methods to visually display the flow of materials and information through the production process. The objective of value stream mapping is to identify value-added activities and non-value-added activities. Value stream maps should reflect what actually happens rather than what is supposed to happen so that opportunitiesfor improvement can be identified. Value Stream Mapping is often used in process cycle-time improvement projects since it demonstrates exactly how a process operates with detailed timing of step-by-step activities. It is also used for process analysis and improvement by identifying and eliminating time spent on non-value-adding activities.

4. Fail Safe for Quality: A quality first approach can also save 29% of the cost overruns. Fail safe for quality is about being constantly focused on quality and safety issues from the beginning till the end. Potential quality and safety improvement practices are constantly investigated. Quality is sought to be reached at the source of any failure before a mistake’s taking place. This proactive approach resembles Poka-Yoke in the lean production system.

5. The Last Planner System: Construction companies required different level of planning done by different people, at different levels and at different time during the life of the project. We assign the tag of “The Last Planner” to the individual person or a group who produces the assignments or projects. Planning in the organization tends to focus on achieving particular objectives and these objectives drive the lower level planning processes that specify means for achieving those ends.

6. Total Flow Management: From initial stage of idea generation to handing-over the building to clients, there should be a properly defined flow, also known as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). It must be known to & be understood by all. This SOP must be followed during all the projects and should be a standard.

7. Kanban: for visually controlled minimum inventory with no stock-out. We often notice at construction sites that huge inventory of different types of material has been stored, but even after the availability of most of the needed materials, construction has been stopped due to unavailability of one item. This one item would become critical and it will stall the project. Through Lean way, we plan the quantity of materials needed at different stages of project with some safety stock to avoid any urgency and stoppages at site. Just-in-time (JIT) is a tool which helps industries in managing the inventory well that helps companies to avoid any halted cash flow. Strategic planning of inventory management gives the construction companies upper-hand in cash-flow and help in completing the project on-time.

8. Visual Management: systems enable factory workers to be well informed about production procedures, status and other important information for them to do their jobs as effectively as possible. Large visual displays are generally much more effective means of communication to workers on the factory floor than written reports and guidelines and therefore, are used as much as possible. The targeted and the real production level are made visible to everyone so is the current situation of a production line. Charts, metrics, cards, tables, procedure - process documents, visual indicators are extensively used. Visual management also helps to create a transparent working environment.

9. Lean Partnering with Suppliers & Contractors: is simply about using common sense. It requires a change in the attitude. The partnering process works to facilitate productive communication and cooperative action on construction projects. In partnering, everyone involved in the construction project agrees to treat everyone else as a partner. It is a formal structure for preventing disputes by establishing working relationships among all stakeholders through a mutually developed formal strategy of commitment and communication.

10. Lean Layout for effective utilization of space & reduce motion: As we mentioned earlier in the fifth point, the layout of the offices are generally without proper planning therefore employees often have to travel through different departments many times for every small job thus wasting their productive time. Laying down the office of the companies in the lean way will not only avoid unnecessary motion but also will save time. In Lean, we design the layout according to the sequence of the process flow as followed by the company.

Our hands-on experience in implementing Lean Construction tools in the Construction industry says that Lean has all the solutions to its woes. Since the concern at each establishment is different, our method for implementation for each site is unique. Depending on the diagnosis, we use and array of tools and some of the typical benefits are:

  1. Project lead time reduction by 30-40%
  2. Profits up by 15-20%, Cost reduction
  3. Inventory of material and tools to go down by 20-25%
  4. Productivity rise by 60-70%
  5. Supplier Partners
  6. Resource utilization up by 25%

Read the report on our recent Seminar on the theme “Lean Kaizen for Smart Construction”


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