Mar 25 2015

Lean into construction

Lean ConstructionRecently we have talked a lot about BIM, and with the deadline for the BIM Level 2 Mandate looming it can be easy to forget that it is a milestone on a much longer journey of improvement for the industry.  Waste and inefficiency have been perennial problems in just about every country’s construction industry, and the UK is no different.  BIM is part of a process to tackle this by enabling collaboration at all stages of the project and putting greater focus on the owner/operators needs from the very start of the design through to handover and beyond.  The end goal of this journey to increase efficiency and value whilst reducing waste is lean construction.


What is Lean?

‘Lean construction’ is an adaptation of the ‘Lean production’ techniques pioneered by automotive manufacturer Toyota in Japan after the Second World War.  Then considered the most efficient business in the world, Toyota recognised that its principles – detailed in a best-selling book, The Machine That Changed the World  – could be applied not only to other manufacturers but to other business activities, including construction.

At its simplest level, ‘lean’ is a systemic method for eliminating waste in a process, including waste created through overburden and through uneven workloads and maximising value of the end product, the built asset.

So what does this mean for construction?

Repeated reports have recommended changes to how UK businesses procure and deliver built assets, with lean thinking influencing many of them, particularly Rethinking Construction published in 1998. Its author Sir John Egan stated:

We recommend that the UK construction industry should also adopt lean thinking as a means of sustaining performance improvement.”

Since 1998, several organisations have sought to promote lean approaches in construction.  In its different guises, Constructing Excellence (of which CONJECT is a member) has long been a champion of lean thinking, as has the Lean Construction Institute UK. The latter stating:

“Lean Construction requires a Lean Supply Chain so that information, materials, equipment and manpower for each task in a project come in on-time, complete and to quality.  This requires collaboration.”


Supporting a leaner approach

We have emphasised the words ‘information’ and ‘collaboration’ above as these key challenges are the raison d’etre for CONJECT. Communicating information effectively is the first hurdle, but genuine collaboration is about people working together to create value that could not be achieved by working separately.  Similarly, ‘lean thinking’ has to be translated into ‘lean behaviours’.  As a result, our core technologies are geared towards helping clients, designers, contractors and suppliers work together.

For example, from our perspective, lean construction means helping teams to:

  • Understand the customer’s requirements and the resulting perceptions of value
  • Identify, optimise and support collaborative processes that deliver customer value (the value stream).
  • Identify and eliminate potential duplication, waste and errors as early as possible (and capture the associated learning and carry it forward to later projects)
  • Improve communication, including use of models and visualisation
  • Improve work planning and scheduling, striving to get it ‘right first time’
  • Enable and manage positive change
  • Identify and manage risks
  • Promote working practices and environments that are safe, healthy and reflect sustainability best practice
  • Support appropriate offsite fabrication and modular construction, and apply efficient logistics (eg: just-in-time deliveries)
  • Streamline commissioning and handover processes, and provide feedback loops for continuous improvement on future projects


At a Constructing Excellence meeting last year, we heard from the Lean Construction Institute UK how government client organisations such as the Highways Agency have been enthusiastic about developing long-term collaborative relationships with their supply chains and about using ‘lean construction’ to “drive power to the edge”.


The agility required by this approach is not always possible with traditional centralised or hierarchical communication structures, so mobile and web-based tools are well suited to agile management.  For example, online services allow teams to:

  • Respond swiftly to changes at the site level
  • ‘Pull’ information as they need it
  • De-silo: break down barriers between companies, teams and projects
  • Handle information efficiently: a single version of the truth, WORM (write once, read many)
  • Share data within a common environment
  • Work within consistent quality and security constraints


Our Common Data Environment is the latest solution in CONJECT’s history of supporting collaboration, communication and integration on built environment projects.  To find out more about how you can deliver your project from the planning stage through to asset delivery and operation in line with BIM Level 2 see our CDE Datasheet.

About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

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