What is lean construction?

Lean construction

Lean construction combines best operational practices with process and design ideas. It also incorporates lean manufacturing principles adapted for the construction industry. Construction is project-based, so aligning improvements in all areas is tricky but necessary.
This includes design, construction and maintenance. The aim is to improve construction procedures at minimal cost but with the most value. Implementation using a construction app designed for this purpose makes it simpler.
“Lean construction” was so named by the International Group for Lean Construction. It is important to note that lean construction encompasses the entire industry. It helps owners, designers, architects, suppliers, engineers and contractors get more from resources.
Lean construction is defined as “a way to design production systems to minimize waste of materials, time and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value” according to Lauri Koskela in a white paper written for Michigan State.
Production systems that meet those parameters must have the collaboration of everyone involved. This encompasses end-users to contractors, facility managers and owners at the onset. Being proactive in influencing design and scheduling is one of the keys.

What are the features of lean construction?

Lean construction in practice
Lean construction needs the means to achieve positive results. This means the proper allocation of resources, from manpower to tools and supplies. Indeed, it combines “the principles of project-level management and the principles that govern production-level management” according to Dr. Tariq Abdelhamid in the International Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences (IJEAS). Further, Abdelhamid noted that materials and data flow in the production system; meshing of the different project and production management paradigms were necessary for success.
Workflow on construction sites is too often haphazard. Lean construction aims to tackle that problem. Alignment of the supply chain and other resources is key to minimizing waste of materials and time. To this end, there are three main tools developed for lean construction. These are the Last Planner System, the Lean Project Delivery System and the Target Value Design.
Additionally, some useful manufacturing techniques have been adopted. Included are process design (Lean Design), offsite fabrication and JIT (Lean Supply) and many Lean Assembly components. These components include value chain mapping, 5S, visual site and daily crew huddles.
Priorities for lean construction are:

  • Keeping work flowing and crews productive installing products.
  • Reducing inventories of materials and tools.
  • Reducing costs.


How does lean construction differ from other types of project management?

There are some differentiations between “normal” project management and lean construction.

  • Control means measuring and improving planning processes. Workflows are reliable and outcomes are predictable.
  • Minimizing waste at the project level while maximizing value is the goal. Traditional practices tried to optimize each separate activity with no overall plan.
  • Value to the end-user customer defined and delivered throughout the project life. Traditionally, requirements are set at the outset for final delivery. Lean construction takes market changes, technological advancements and business practices into consideration.
  • Coordinating actions with pulling motions of continuous supply and workflow. The old way of doing things was a push method of schedules and relying on resource management. If you’ve ever had your window installer show up when there were no windows to install, you understand.
  • Decentralised decision-making empowers project participants with transparent information. Improved efficiency through the use of a comprehensive construction app for smartphones and other devices is possible.


Practical applications and examples of lean construction

Seeing the success that others have is important to gaining total buy-in from project partners. To this end, let’s look at a few lean construction case studies and their results.


  • One company, a construction supplier, engaged a lean construction consultant to improve outcomes. This complex area of their business had traditionally poor performance. These issues included excessive lead times, lots of rework and high costs. Mapping an end-to-end solution and identifying causes of high costs and extended lead times was the first step. Operators were enabled to address problems quickly instead of “passing the buck” to the next area. Design and implementation of a structured problem-solving solution using a variation of 5S was established across the plant. This entailed displaying required tasks posted around the facility and weekly audits. Daily production increased using technical work instruction, standard work procedures and daily problem-solving. With a supportive client and a lean champion appointed, good improvements were realized. Overall, the results were a 90-percent reduction in lost time injury rates, a reduction in lead time of 50 percent for joinery kits and a 75-percent reduction in the end of line defects.
  • Scott Homes completed a lean construction modification that resulted in completing homes in 30 percent less time. These results were due to improved scheduling, better vendor delivery performance and reductions in defects. This company builds about 15 houses a year with three projects ongoing at any given time. They embraced operational changes through the use of lean construction techniques like last planner, lean project management, visual workplace and vendor management to achieve those astounding results.

Embracing lean construction makes construction companies more effective, more efficient and more profitable.

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