The Right Start for Your Lean Construction Journey

I got to start off the new year doing one of my favorite things – helping a new client get their lean construction journey started with a bang!

I worked with Susan Reinhardt last week to provide our two-day “Intro to Lean and Last Planner® System” bootcamp for the leading regional builder in central Illinois. LeanProject has been conducting this type of bootcamp for over twenty years, and it’s a great way to shift the thinking of a team or company, while preparing them to put that new thinking to work on real projects. Many readers have probably participated in one of our bootcamps over the years. Elements of our bootcamps have been adopted by many of our client companies, and copied (with varying degrees of success) by other consultants and even by organizations like the AGC and LCI. For this type of session to be successful at starting something big, it requires a combination of elements to come together in a specific way. Last week we got them all!

Leaders Leading

First, organizational leaders must not only support a lean transformation, they have to be on the journey with the group, and at the head of the pack. Last week’s bootcamp started with a message from the company’s owner confirming that lean is not a fad, or a one-off training effort, but a way of thinking about customers, partners and projects that aligns with the company’s beliefs and goals for the future. And for that reason, lean is not optional, it’s a way of thinking that every member of the team must embrace and learn together. In making such a strong declaration, it’s easy to see that the company is committing not just to this training session, but also to the personal and ongoing support that’s necessary to make a true transformation.

The Right People

For one reason or another, many companies are reluctant to include their partners when they kick off a lean transformation. I suspect they want to learn in private rather than stumbling awkwardly with new behaviors in front of others. Or maybe they are afraid that their objectives don’t really align with the needs of their subcontractors, design partners, customers or suppliers. In any case, one of the biggest regrets we hear from bootcamp participants is, “I wish more of our project team members could have experienced this.” 

Last week’s bootcamp did not have this problem. We had about fifty participants, and about half of those were from outside of our client’s organization. The mix made for much deeper discussions about what we can accomplish on real projects, and avoided the one-sided perspective that’s so easy to get stuck in when you’re trying to see things in a new way. By learning together, the participants also built strong bonds that will carry forward into their work on the projects.

Support New Behaviors on Real Projects

One of the pitfalls of the bootcamp approach is that people love the experience and are energized to put new ideas to work, only to become discouraged when their efforts hit a snag on their project. For this reason, we almost never provide bootcamp training without knowing that projects implementing lean tools, such as the Last Planner® System, will be supported by experienced coaches. This support can come from various places, internal or external to the company. 

For the company in Illinois, LeanProject will begin this week coaching three pilot projects in LPS. This support ensures that project leaders and their teams understand the importance of each element of LPS and how to make it work in the real world. It will help them go far beyond the LPS forms, spreadsheets, and sticky notes, to learn how to have effective conversations that cause positive action on their projects. It will also bolster their confidence as they learn new skills and new ways of interacting with each other, and tackle the unique challenges faced by each project. 

Embrace Continuous Learning

Experienced lean practitioners know that what can be learned in a two-day bootcamp, or even in months of on-the-job coaching, is only the tip of the iceberg. It opens a door to a new way of seeing projects and teams, and often raises as many questions as it answers. This curiosity should be fostered and encouraged, along with a new way of talking to each other about ideas that challenge our status quo. 

Last week, the day after the bootcamp, we kicked off a Lean Leadership Group, that has responsibility for learning lean principles and putting them into action in the company. We’re starting by facilitating a Study Action Team™, a small diverse group who agrees to go on this learning journey together. We have seen this type of group lead lean cultural transformations in companies of every size, and we’re excited to watch this group grow, learn, and create new possibilities together.

Conclusion

A lean transformation is a journey that’s unique to each organization and even to each person within it. We’ve seen these efforts breathe new life into stagnant companies, and provide renewed energy and enthusiasm for everyone involved. We’ve also seen the transformation lead to improved project outcomes like faster schedules, lower costs, better quality, improved safety, a happier workforce, and more delighted customers. 

The biggest tragedy we see is when a company tries half-heartedly to implement lean thinking or even just the Last Planner System, only to fall flat on their face. Trying and failing is fine, but be careful that you’re not eroding the organizational will to try again. The potential is so great that it’s worth doing right the first time.

For more information about how LeanProject helps companies orchestrate a successful lean transformation, check out the book, Better Building: Lean Practice for the Project-Driven Organization.

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