What lean lessons can the construction sector learn from other industries?

Sometimes the greatest innovation comes from outside your own area of expertise. Sport has embraced hospitality principles in order to delight fans with pre-ordered food delivered to their seatsHealthcare sectors are embracing lessons from aviation experts, such as the way they investigate incidents and the programme for training pilotsThe legal sector is even beginning to take customer service principles from retail. Innovation thrives on diversity of thought and an acceptance that the answers might be found somewhere unexpected   

So what lean lessons can construction learn from other industries?  

Our previous Nine Feet Tall construction sector blog looked at the principles of lean methodology in construction. Here we take a look at how construction can learn from other industries where lean already plays an established part.

Manufacturing – lean origins 

The lean principles involved in the review of processes and elimination of waste originated in manufacturing. Factories will always be challenged to produce more for less, to evaluate and continuously work to streamline processes. Manufacturers largely make the same product again and again, using a reliably repeatable sequence of activities that lend themselves to analysis of time and resultant cost savings. The drive for ever more efficient production suits an industry where the focus is around repeatable processes and construction like manufacturing has many processes which are repeatable.  However, construction tends to ‘reinvent the wheel’ rather than look to utilise proven processes on subsequent projects or across different areas within projects.  

Where possible in manufacturing, efficient processes are taken directly as a start point for use in the production of future products, which is where another concept from manufacturing plays a part: Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) considers at the outset not only how a product will look or function but also how it will be made – again, building on best practice repeatable processes where possible.  For construction this can be reflected in taking repeatable build processes and moving these offsite into a manufacturing environment.   

Why stop after the first pass?  

This is where the culture of continuous improvement comes into play. Maintaining a focus on furthering the efficiency and therefore competitiveness of a manufacturer. Further lessons can be taken from manufacturing in reflecting on how the customer requirements are traced from concept right through manufacture. In this way the ‘voice of the customer’ is heard in every activity that delivers an end product which meets customer requirements and the entire supply chain can be seen to be working together to achieve a common goal in delivering value to the customer. 

There are clear lessons for the construction sector to be learnt from manufacturing.   

1. Eliminate Unnecessary Waste – this is costly and harmful, with effort being placed in non value-add activity, taking away capacity to deliver on time. But this can be methodically eradicated through the application of lean tools and reviews.  

2. The importance of research and development– spending time at the outset to discover exactly what value means to the customer provides confidence in the requirements that are to be met in order to deliver success.  

3. Hear the voice of the customer – trace your customer requirements from concept through delivery to handover. Adopting a pull system, where the customer demand drives delivery is key, as is baking in review points during handovers between functions and processes to ensure that the ‘voice’ and message doesn’t get lost in translation. 

4. Embed a continuous improvement culture – some firms are moving towards making continuous improvement a part of everyone’s role by making it part of objectives and performance conversations. 

Which other sectors utilise lean principles?  

Public Service Sectors are under constant scrutiny to ensure that the taxpayer’s money is being directed as efficiently as possible. The government and local councils need to assess where costs can be cut, evaluate positions which do not deliver value to users and improve the quality of the services they provide.  

Public sector organisations often use systems and design thinking as well as lean and continuous improvement to shape their service offerings. They have moved towards becoming more outcomes focussed – reducing time and effort spent on activities which don’t clearly add value.  The focus often lands on trying to reduce waste generated by unnecessary internal hand-offs and review processes which have evolved over time, add little or no value, and do not reduce or eliminate risk or increase quality. The PaceSetter programme at HMRC is an interesting reference example and while there is some debate regarding the outcomes of the programme, it has started to embed a culture of lean thinking and paved the way for further roll-out of lean initiatives across the public sector 

If construction companies faced the same media scrutiny as public services, would lean principles be embedded faster?  Consider how many of your team have knowledge of lean, systems or design thinking approaches. 

Healthcare is another sector which has historically had a lot of waste and inefficiencies. The increasing need to focus on patient, “the customer”, has driven private healthcare organisations to invest in lean. This has resulted in the digitisation of processes, the removal of management layers and the reduction of clinical waste, paper and storage, and significant changes in the supply of clinical products. 

Hospitality. With a high number of repeatable processes and tight margins, hospitality is a prime candidate for lean. Organisations looking to eliminate waste and prioritise customer experience have found these principles to be extremely effective and a number of large hotel chains have invested in lean programmes, which also extend to bringing lean to their diverse supply chains.  

To do away with inefficiencies and maximise output for less money and time takes skill and consideration. These inefficiencies first need to be identified and often that is tricky to do within your own organisation and ensure you are delivering value to the customer right from the outset. At Nine Feet Tall we are experienced at embedding lean culture and would be happy to help explore how these principles can be applied to your organisation. For a free consultation click here or contact Davidd@NineFeetTall.com  


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