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A Lean Mean Construction Machine

We recently attended the annual update meeting staged by Kiley Advisors in Houston.  One of the most interesting sessions had three speakers who discussed the plusses of Lean Construction and the legal changes underway as this process is integrated into the industry.  Interestingly I found a very good description of the overall process in Wikipedia.

Basically the Lean Construction Management System is an adaptation of the Lean Production System utilized by Toyota in its production plants.  In Lean Production, the materials and the parts are moved through the process and the assemblers work in one place to do the assembly.  I was in a Nissan plant in Japan in the early days of the use of Lean Production or Kaizen and found the process amazing.  There were three models of new cars being built on the same line at the same time.  Utilizing the process, the computers and robots working the line alongside the humans were able to time the materials and processes so that everything arrived at the appropriate point on the line and was assembled into the final product more efficiently than in the past.

Of course in the construction industry it is not possible to move the building along an assembly line, but it is possible to adapt processes for tracking, scheduling and constructing the buildings that come straight from the Lean Production Management System.

The Lean Construction Institute is the non-profit institute comprised of construction industry members who are interested in maximizing value to their clients by providing efficient, low waste, on time projects.  The key delivery system in Lean Construction is Integrated Project Delivery or IPD, a system of delivery that requires cooperation and shared risk and rewards among the owner, design team, contractors and subs.  A number of projects have been delivered using this system and so far, according to a recent article in the Engineering News-Record, there have been no court cases related to the system.

Not everyone is enamored by the concept, particularly architects.  A May 5 article in ENR (subscription required) submitted the following:

IPD is “almost all hype,” says Art Gensler, chairman of the 2,300-plus-person architecture firm that bears his name.  The San Francisco-based architect maintains that multiparty contracts are not in the best interest of architects, good design or the client.  It’s not a plus to have “the architect and contractor in bed together,” he says.

The Lean Construction Institute responded to the article.  It is obvious that the system is relatively new in the US and new to the industry.  Although it is not appropriate to all projects, sophisticated owners and complicated projects are demanding a better approach to the delivery of projects in today’s climate.

Are your clients demanding Lean Construction management systems on your projects?  Tell us about your experiences.

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