How to Create Project Success Using Lean Principles

Tracey Kidder said, “Building is the quintessential act of civilization.” Think about it. If three people washed up on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is collaboratively build a shelter. Unless, of course, the three people were an architect, owner’s rep, and contractor. Then, they would have to wait for two lawyers to wash up on the beach so that they could proceed with the project.

There is a project that I read about recently where the parties involved hate each other. I don’t say that lightly. You can tell from their comments that they truly loathe and despise each other. The ENR article titled “A Hospital Job Dispute Reaches Fever Pitch” tells of a total meltdown with all parties involved.

How did this project get to this point? Could the parties involved have seen this coming? How did they begin the project, and more importantly, what can you do on your projects to avoid such a fate? By using Lean concepts. Here are some simple steps:

Step 1: Get as many people involved in the process as soon as possible from owners to facilities folks to end users designers to contractors to trade partners to materials vendors. Get them in a big room. Build a sense of team and trust and collaboration. Clearly define the value stream. Create the Master Schedule. Note: This cannot be done in a day. One day “partnering” sessions are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Lean, IPD, ILPD are perfect for having a framework to achieve this. Forget IPD-ish or Lean-ish. Just do it! We recommend a two week retreat for all of the major players on a project. This may sound ridiculous to some, but it will allow for an amazing start to your project.

Step 2: Make this focus on team, relationships and trust ongoing. Every meeting should start with the team stuff. Bring folks in to reinforce team and collaboration and communication and trust throughout the entire project from inception to demolition. This embraces the concepts of the two pillars: respect for people and continual improvement.

Step 3: Continuing the idea of continual improvement and respect for people, give everyone tools in order for them to achieve their peak level of mental, physical, and emotional performance. Think about it. We throw people in a big pot that has high stakes and crushing stress without any tools and expect them to perform like a well-oiled machine. This is ludicrous. And they don’t get enough sleep, eat crappy food, and have really poor health habits during a demanding project. As part of your ongoing team building, have discussions about stress and nutrition and sleep and other things that will inhibit performance. Give them the tools they need to succeed. Provide healthy food and perhaps a room to recharge on site. This focus on health and wellness and peak performance also creates a sense of connection and team because everyone is looking out for each other and caring about their well-being.

Step 4: Offer classes and sessions throughout the project that will address the needs of the project at that time. This is about eliminating waste. Unhealthy conflict is waste. Poor communication creates waste. Poor performance creates waste. In the beginning, maybe there are sessions about high performing teams. A little further along, maybe a session on relationships. Then, a session on communication. If you perceive an issue on site, have a class to address that issue. During the crunch time filled with high stress, have a session on stress management. You get the idea.

Step 5: Constantly monitor and adjust. This is the people part of the concept of PPC. Check in often with the goals, the values, and what you are actually trying to accomplish on this project, not just the work in place. Weekly surveys and interviews will show you when things are getting off track. Address any issue immediately. Have a project coach who can be called at any time to address a specific issue with an individual or an issue between or among other people on the project. A coach can work through those issues before they become problems.

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