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On Tuesday, I posted about our local partner Superior Mechanical and their use of Lean, a system that fuels efficiency. The Lean Enterprise Institute summarize well by saying, “The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

I was intrigued by what Lean was doing for Superior and how it might have applications to our work, so I asked our CFO Del Allen to take an exploration trip. He visited Basic Lean, home of Lean training and implementation consultants, located in Midway, Kentucky. He then crossed into Indiana to see the system in action at Jasper Engines.

He came back with notes on the 7 wastes of Lean, which I think are helpful to all:

Over-Production– More product is produced than can be purchased.
Inventory-Extras beyond raw materials, works in progress or finished goods.
Transportation-Product movement increases risk of damage/loss/delay.
Motion-Unnecessary worker movement.
Waiting-Time a stationary product is waiting to be worked on.
Defects-Mistakes mean reworking…and extra costs.
Over-Processing-More work is done than required.

I asked him for a few observations on how Lean might apply to the corporate and construction world, and he shared great takeaways.

 Lean is embraced by upper management. At Jasper Engines, everyone from CEO to cleaning crew is held accountable for productivity and waste. For Lean to work, it needs to be system-wide. No exceptions.

Lean is process-oriented. People adjust to processes rather than vice versa. Your company should have time tested systems in place, and your team should follow them exactly.

Lean theory would work well for construction project managers. We hope to use the ideology to eliminate waste with our subcontractors, saving everyone time. For example, we are perfecting our pre-project meeting procedures, establishing a precise order for subcontractor visits.

We’ve already seen benefits of Lean by eliminating duplicated efforts and unnecessary report filing in our accounting department.  How could Lean work for your business?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email
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Recently, our friends at Superior Mechanical were kind enough to give me a tour the new half-billion dollar Children’s Hospital expansion here Birmingham. I was interested to see how they are integrating Lean construction initiatives with their BIM work to be more efficient, and save their ultimate customer time and money.

As background, Lean is a system that seeks to streamline practices and eliminate wasted effort. The idea is to create more value with fewer resources. The system is process-oriented, with the goal of entirely eliminating excess—be it physical or in the form of time.

While Lean technology has been applied to manufacturing for several decades, Superior is using it to make them be more efficient in construction. Rodney King, their Lean Coordinator, explained the efforts.

Superior has made perfecting processes their goal. Errors are identified and the procedure is refined until mistakes evolve out. The emphasis is on the series of tasks rather than the individuals performing them, systematizing delivery.

No more creating a new mold with every project. The system becomes the skill.

Rodney gave me the example of their pre-fab shop. It was created so that many standard assemblies–like plumbing systems–can be put together in a warehouse before installing on site. The benefits are multiple:

Speed. All the tools needed are at arm’s reach. Also, with repetition, the labor becomes more time and cost efficient.

Safety. While plumbers onsite might have to work on a ladder, the tasks are at chest-level in the prefab shop.

Lower waste. Excess product that might get thrown out on the job site is set aside for another use. This is better for landfills and the bottom line.

We are evaluating lean ourselves. In fact, we’re planning a post later this week about our CFO’s visit to Basic Lean. For us, I can see the potential. While it’s not always easy to change mindsets and habits, I believe there are some wins out there in the construction industry. As Rodney said, it’s about small incremental successes over time. I agree.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email