IGLC Boston 2016: On the Brink of a Lean Revolution - Part 1

The 24th Annual International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC) Conference and Research Summer School took place between July 18 and 24 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It was a very busy week of learning (and some social activities!) which was attended by over 250 academics and practitioners. This blog (Part 1) will cherry pick some of my key takeaways and highlights from the first two days of the week long industry and research programme. Part 2 of this blog will focus on the research conference and summer school.

Day 1: Gemba Walk and Un-Conference

The Gemba is the place where the value-added work takes place on a project. A Gemba Walk is where leaders will go and see for themselves exactly what is happening at the workface. There were five options for the Gemba Walk: three construction sites (Consigli, Shawmut, and Suffolk), lean in an architect’s office (SBA), and the Lean Enterprise Institute. I was fortunate to attend two of these.

Lean in an Architect's Office

At SBA (Steffian Bradley Architects) it was really refreshing to see an international design firm show some lean leadership. My key takeaway was regarding the benefits SBA realised in a recent IPD (Integrated Project Delivery) hospital project through early contractor and trade partner involvement in the design phase. However, it was noted that a successful IPD project is dependent on having the right owner who is open to this approach. This mirrors a paper1 that was presented at IGLC Perth which warned of the dangers of misaligned incentives on IPD projects. The IPD team (including owners) really needs to understand what they are signing up to. Adding to this caveat is how people behave in a guarded manner on IPD projects following a troublesome traditional project. People learn not to trust following bad experiences on projects.

Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI)

Figure 1. Gemba Walk at the LEI Office

I had the opportunity to take another Gemba walk at LEI’s office in Cambridge, Boston. Their organic nature and approach to lean transformations through action research together with their dissemination of learning is typical of a lean sharing culture. Mark Reich (LEI) gave a presentation on LEI and also provided commentaries on the visual management, planning and control mechanisms used in their office space. It really emphasized the importance of having wall space in any working environment. Some of the images above and below really demonstrate the power of wall space to create a common thinking area. An additional post-it for "lean in construction in 1993" (when IGLC was formed) will be added to the revised lean timeline!

Figure 2. A Snapshot of LEI’s History of Lean Wall (work in progress)

Regarding the dissemination of knowledge from lean transformations, any organisation using LEI's services must sign an agreement that any learning can be openly shared and disseminated to the public. In a true lean spirit, LEI illustrate a clear purpose with their Co-Learning Partners (CLP) which includes:

1. Use action research to deepen understanding and create shareable learning
2. Create demonstrable examples
3. Develop people

The UnConference

Figure 3. UnConference Participants Placing Their Topic Suggestions Prior to Voting

The UnConference was an interesting experience. Facilitated by Hal Macomber, each participant was asked to suggest topics (7 words or less) followed by a vote. This created a discussion matrix for the afternoon. Roar Fosse's (Skanska Norway) topic on metrics for lean and BIM integration was the most popular and kick-started the (un)panel discussion. Prior research on this topic from IGLC Oslo2 outlining Metrics of Public Owner Success in Lean Design, Construction, and Facilities Operations and Maintenance is well worth a read.

Two rounds of 4 x round table breakout discussions followed. They covered relevant topics voted on by the unconference participants which included:

  • Resistance to implementation
  • Implementation strategies
  • How to get lean into the Field?
  • Lean in non-IPD or Design-Build environments
  • What should be taught to undergraduates about lean design and construction?
  • Best practices for quantifying the value of lean
  • How do we get owners to partake in collaborative project delivery?
  • How do we create and sustain a lean (culture) environment?

I think they are all worthy blog post so please reach out to us at the Lean Construction Blog if you would like to write a blog about one of these or any other related topics!

Day 2: Industry Day

Industry Day was kick started by a CEO panel. This included two trade partners (Cannistraro and Worcester Air Con), one general contractor (Consigli), and a design partner (TOC Boston). In summary, the key takeaway from the CEOs and a foundation for a successful lean transformation (as it never ends) is not only buy-in from senior leadership but the commitment from leaders to "walk the talk" - a key trait of lean leadership. Choosing lean as the focus of an organisation’s business and operational strategy is key - i.e. lean is not a bolt on to traditional strategy…

Anthony Consigli noted that his firm tries to introduce one lean concept each year and build on it. Words from my Sensei, Dave Umstot, rang in my ear: "don't drink from the firehose!" Learn a little and use it rather than learn a lot and lose it. Just-in-time training as we like to call it! A combination of A3s and CBA (Choosing By Advantages) is used by Consigli for team selection, procurement practices, and to simplify the decision making process. CBA is definitely emerging as a strong tool to add objectivity to subjective decisions and also provide a log for decisions. The premise for Consigli's use of CBA was clear:

• Not choosing partners on lowest cost (the traditional way)
• Not treating people like commodities
• Simplifying the decision-making process

Anthony also alluded to celebrating successes and removing the barriers as part of the CEO's role to enable successful lean transformations.

Mark Jussaume (TRO Boston) argued that momentum builds when people are asked to participate - not forced. He added that people must be recognised for their successes and that financial incentives (Motivation 2.0) are not the answer. True to Dan Pink's excellent book Drive3, intrinsic motivation (Motivation 3.0) is critical for right brain thinking and 21st Century business. Mark also spoke about the need to move from an inward mindset (what you want) to an outward mindset (recognising how your work impacts others). The mind-set shift must move from my success to our success.

John Cannistraro (Mechanical Contractors) emphasized how lean thinking helped them sit down and develop their corporate strategy. John has invested heavily in upskilling and developing his workforce to ensure the company survives in the next recession. Lean is their strategy, not a bolt-on. Derek Drysdale (Former Northern Head of Highways England) reinforced John's point by insisting that lean just won't happen unless it is part of an organisation’s strategy. Sustaining lean transformations is best using maturity models which puts a strong focus on the soft skills required (See Claus Nesensohn’s blog post for more info). Jim Morgan (Worcester) was clear that their partners must be of the same mindset to foster successful projects.

Bevan Mace (Balfour Beatty) delivered another keynote presentation based on his extensive research in the US. He posted the adoption curve and asked the audience where does Lean Project Delivery fit on the curve. The vast majority were of the opinion that we are in the early majority stage now. I believe that both the IGLC and LCI have played significant roles here to build the momentum. Prior, Bevan was aware of any on-going IPD projects, but not anymore. A clear indication of momentum building towards a better future for project delivery. He also added that business culture influences project culture, new methods require new training/skill sets and that contracts need to support projects not thwart them.


A special note of thanks to the Conference Chair Cynthia C.Y. Tsao, PhD the driving force behind IGLC Boston. The IGLC community really appreciates all her hard work that made this conference such a success. Also, the industry chair Hal Macomber, treasurer Shannyn Heyer and the scientific committee Professors Christine Pasquire, Thais Alves, and Justin Reginato.


1. Do, D. , Ballard, G. & Tommelein, I.D. 2015, 'An Analysis of Potential Misalignments of Commercial Incentives in Integrated Project Delivery and Target Value Design' In:, Seppänen, O., González, V.A. & Arroyo, P., 23rd Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Perth, Australia, 29-31 Jul 2015. pp 277-286

2. Umstot, D. , Fauchier, D. & Alves, T.D.C.L. 2014, 'Metrics of Public Owner Success in Lean Design, Construction, and Facilities Operations and Maintenance' In:, Kalsaas, B.T., Koskela, L. & Saurin, T.A., 22nd Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Oslo, Norway, 25-27 Jun 2014. pp 1495-1506

3. Pink, D. 2009, ‘DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’ Penguin Group. New York.

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