Personal BackgroundIn 2015, and with 25 years of experience in Construction Management, I had grown increasingly frustrated with the traditional approach to construction management and project delivery, and the associated thinking and mindset that was holding the sector back. So, I researched the higher education institution offerings and spoke with a number of people in construction and manufacturing who were doing Lean, and it quickly became clear that I should undertake the executive Lean Masters programme at the School of Business in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) to develop my Lean leadership knowledge, know-how, and skills.
WIT’s approach has been hugely influential in challenging my thinking and shaping my assessment of how construction could apply a better way of thinking to how it designs and delivers projects. WIT place significant emphasis on the criticality of systemic and holistic thinking, and the programme is distinctive in developing an enterprise excellence mindset and in providing a balanced and integrated approach to the “hard” (tools, techniques, projects, results) and the “soft” (philosophy, leadership, strategy, culture, engagement, behaviours) elements of Lean leadership and management.It was exactly what I needed and after completing the programme, I joined DPS Group Cork Office in 2017 excited to work with a progressive organisation that was adopting Lean thinking and practices in its capital project delivery.
Company Background & Context
DPS Group is a global consulting, engineering, and construction management company, serving high-tech industries around the world and delivering full-service Engineering across a range of disciplines: Project and Programme Management, Procurement, Design, Construction Management, Health & Safety Management, Commissioning, Qualification, and Start-up. DPS employs more than 1,850 people worldwide.
DPS Group was using the Last Planner® System (LPS) on selected projects, but the Cork Office was largely unaware of the potential offered by Lean and the adoption of Lean Construction (LC) principles and concepts. The then Operations Director, Aiden O’Dwyer, learned of Lean and LC and was determined to increase the awareness of the Cork Office and its operations. Aiden was hugely supportive of my proposal of adopting a long-term view and integrating both the hard and soft aspects of Lean. A five-year Lean roadmap was created, and a Lean Steering Group was established to work towards striving for Operational Excellence within the largely traditional Architectural, Engineering, Construction (AEC) sector. Lean training initiatives, supported by State agency Enterprise Ireland under its “Lean Business Offer”, were implemented with the entire workforce receiving LC yellow belt training and 37 persons receiving green belt training. The ensuing improvement projects, allied to focused LPS implementation on selected sites, led to the introduction of a new LC language and working environment within the DPS Engineering, Construction, and Commissioning delivery space. It is key to note the importance of having the support of a senior leader like Aiden as a sponsor and critical enabler in starting and sustaining progress.
External LC Expertise
To supplement our existing internal LC implementations, specialist external support including, for example, Paramount Decisions, Umstot Solutions, Felipe Engineer Manriquez, Scrum Inc., was secured for IPD, TVD, LPS, and Scrum coaching and training. I recognised that utilising the expertise of globally recognised LC subject matter experts would signify a step-change in our journey. Developing case studies from Lean construction projects, collaborative project-team building, on-site workshops, and on-site coaching and mentoring fine-tuned and enhanced our practitioners’ skillsets. A key learning from my Lean Masters studies came to the fore at this juncture, namely that tools alone were not going to sustain the requisite change. Thus, focusing on the softer aspects of respect for people, team alignment, employee engagement, and collaboration became critical components for developing and maintaining momentum. Employee empowerment and enabling confidence to initiate new and innovative improvement projects has meant that LPS, TVD, and Scrum have become baseline methodologies on each DPS project. Internal practitioners collaborated across global regions to generate a suite of “Lean Guidelines and Templates to ensure consistency of process implementation across our global projects, thus extending the implementation outside the Cork operation. Currently, guidelines exist for LPS, LPS in Design, TVD, LPD & IPD, Scrum, A3 & DMAIC, CBA, Direct Observation, and Takt Planning.
Knowledge Exchange & The Learning Organisation
My own Lean education and learnings affirmed that organisational learning and developing a learning organisation were integral to Lean enterprise excellence. Sharing our Lean experiences and learnings has resulted in DPS both developing and acquiring new knowledge from discussion and feedback with others. Such collegiality commenced within DPS with our Lean Community of Practice (COP) and has extended with attendance at and contributions to COPs globally. Presenting at national and global Lean and LC conferences; contributing to Regional Lean Network events; publication of internal action research case studies in the Lean Construction Ireland Annual Books of Cases; and publication in the Lean Construction Journal is recognition of DPS’s Lean advancement and our colleagues commitment to LC innovation. I also found that alignment and collaboration with pioneering partners has led to successful development of innovative solutions, particularly around scheduling and digitising of LPS. Adopting an inquisitive and growth mindset, akin to the TPS in asking “Why”, has been a crucial enabler when analysing and improving our internal processes.
Whilst DPS has progressed on its Lean journey, Aiden and I acknowledge that we have merely ‘scratched the surface’ with the enterprise-wide and sector-wide potential of adopting a Lean culture and enterprise excellence mindset. I suggest any company consider the following points prior to embarking on a Lean journey:
- Senior Leadership must understand that the essence of Lean is the creation of a culture of proactive problem solving and continuous improvement, and that their role is to sponsor and consistently lead and enable such a culture and its accompanying behaviours.
- Align the Lean programme to support the company strategy, vision, values, and objectives.
- Conduct a baseline “Leanness” study to identify the current Lean status – future progress and developments can then be measured and celebrated.
- Capability development is key – support ongoing Lean education, training, and coaching for staff at all levels, and in the office as well as on-site.
- Don’t force or ‘push’ Lean onto teams – let the results and benefits permeate from project to project.
- Seek alignment with a client’s or owner’s Lean journey as both party’s implementations can be mutually reinforced.
- Don’t ‘hoard’ your learnings and newly acquired knowledge. Increased learning accrues from discussion and critique of your experience with others. By benchmarking and presenting at conferences and seminars.
- Foster a climate where innovation and CI are encouraged. Look to partner with like-minded individuals and companies that are similarly motivated to change the sector.
- Join Lean, LC, and Scrum communities as enthusiasm is infectious. Sustainable improvement will only arise from a sector moving forward together.
As we move onto the next phase of our DPS Lean Journey, we have just completed a re-alignment (mid-Covid) of our Lean strategy and developed our 5-Year strategic plan. We have re-baselined our current Lean maturity assessment. Our key Lean objectives over the coming three years are to:
- Advance an underlying Lean mindset and culture of excellence that is founded on guiding principles and behaviours.
- Develop a climate of CI across all offices and projects which will create an appetite to understand and analyse the systems and processes comprising the company value chain.
- Align with key and repeat clients on a shared understanding of ‘Value’ and commit to jointly and consistently deliver such ‘Value’.
- Develop and embed our implementation of LC tools and extend this across our supply chain.
- Leverage increased digitisation in construction to create and manage ‘virtual’ project teams.
- Incorporate the concepts of Agile and Scrum to enhance our existing information-sharing and decision-making across a horizontal project management organisational structure.
- Explore the potential value of Project Production Management & Operations Science to streamline engineering and construction management execution.
I firmly believe and advocate that the future of a sustainable, productive, and value-oriented construction sector necessitates all stakeholders adopting the philosophy, tools, and techniques of Lean. Improvement will only emerge from the whole sector systemically and holistically identifying value and positioning it in the context of impending global threats, for example, recovering from post-Covid recession and global climate change. Each stakeholder in the sector can play their part by looking internally and applying the principles and thinking of Lean Enterprise Excellence to their strategy, values, and objectives.