The Lean Construction Champions Spotlight is a series that features Lean champions who are actively transforming their company's culture, practices, and lean journey. In this series, Justin interviews lean leaders in order to learn how they approach the teaching, coaching, and scaling problem. The goal of this series is to learn how lean champions can make meaningful progress while not triggering resistance. We want to share stories about what they are learning and their best practices.

1. Who is Tammy McConaughy?

I started me lean journey pursuing my six-sigma black belts and I further honed my expertise while working for a mechanical contractor in San Diego. Currently, I hold the position of Fellow of Lean Delivery at CRB. In this role, my focus is on mentoring and sharing my knowledge to support projects. I strongly believe in making Lean simple and practical, rather than solely relying on tools.

At CRB, our team is actively working on initiatives to engage people in Lean principles. We are challenging existing biases and encouraging small, incremental changes to demonstrate the value of Lean delivery. It's important to me to show others the benefits of Lean and how it can positively impact their work and processes.

I also love to apply Lean principles to my personal life, such as organizing essentials for our family lake outings. I am happily married with four amazing children!

2. What is a lean initiative you are currently trying to implement?

Currently, I'm working on re-engaging and simplifying the lean initiative at CRB. There is already some existing excitement and previous attempts, but also some skepticism. My focus is on shifting the mindset away from just using lean tools and towards practical application of lean principles. It's about making lean simple and applicable in our daily processes. For example, we're emphasizing accountability, commitment, and gradually working towards implementing the Last Planner system. Another important aspect is integrating the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle into our daily routines to continuously improve and address what bothers us. By celebrating small 1% changes and showcasing the value of lean delivery, we aim to engage and involve more people in the process.

3. Can you give me an example of this?

Sure! One of the initiatives in action is our Lean Champions program, where we focus on the practical application of lean principles without relying on specific tools. The program spans 10 months and is open to individuals in roles supporting our core businesses, such as design, engineering, and construction. We emphasize principles like PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) and the concept of fixing something that bothers you, similar to the two-second lean approach. For example, we encourage participants to share their Continuous Improvement (CI) Sparks, which are small improvements they made in their daily work. These sparks can range from creating templates for new software shortcuts to finding better ways to manage job site keys (shoutout Tim Hoh!). By showcasing these examples and creating excitement around the positive changes, we aim to ignite a fire of enthusiasm for integrating PDCA into our everyday work.

4. What is one way you have seen lean initiatives misapplied?

One way I have seen lean misapplied is when organizations focus too much on the idea of a big, transformative initiative rather than embracing the concept of small continuous improvement. It's important to remember that small, incremental changes made every day can add up to significant improvements over time. I once worked with a school district where the CEO emphasized the importance of taking one step at a time, highlighting the idea that it's not a race to become lean. Sometimes, we become so fixated on the end goal that we forget to enjoy the journey and appreciate the learning process along the way. It's essential to let go of the obsession with specific outcomes and instead focus on what we can improve and do better each day.

5. What are some of the challenges, n your opinion, with implementing lean practices?

I believe it can be challenging to adopt lean principles, especially for individuals in regular positions like project managers or superintendents. The practical application of lean principles is not intuitive, and it's common for people to rely on tools because they provide a clear, step-by-step process. However, understanding how to create reliable flow on a project and implementing it can be complex. Additionally, our industry operates on a business model that revolves around crisis management. Clients hire us as general contractors or design engineers because we promise to deliver the desired outcome while also handling all the daily problems and firefighting. Introducing lean principles can disrupt this dynamic by reducing problems, but it requires a significant shift in mindset and work approach. It can be challenging for individuals who have been accustomed to working in crisis mode for many years and are unfamiliar with alternative methods.

6. What do you think is a good foundation for someone to start their lean journey on?

I believe a good foundation for someone starting their lean journey is to understand the culture of lean. One approach that worked for me was using the "Pocket Sense" book by Hal Malcomer and Collide Davey. This book discusses lean principles and includes short exercises to put them into action and encourage critical thinking. Additionally, it's important to provide one-on-one coaching to address individual struggles and help overcome obstacles. Often, we tend to get in our own way and feel overwhelmed by the time commitment required. Starting with small, intentional practices can be beneficial, such as dedicating 10 minutes initially and gradually increasing the time spent on lean activities. For example, conducting a plus-delta analysis at the end of each day or week and making improvements based on the findings can be a valuable step.

7. What do you think about lean tools vs a lean mindset? Which one is more important?

I believe that having a lean mindset is more important than simply relying on lean tools. While using lean tools can be beneficial for specific projects, having a lean mindset means that lean principles are ingrained in the organization's culture from the beginning. It applies to all employees, from the top to the bottom. Transitioning from "doing lean" to "being lean" is a continuous cycle of learning and improvement. We should always be open to new knowledge and understanding that there is more to learn. The Dunning Krueger effect highlights the importance of realizing that there is a vast amount of information and perspectives we may not be aware of. It is when we acknowledge the breadth of our ignorance that we can truly consider ourselves experts. Embracing a lean mindset allows us to see the bigger picture and continuously strive for improvement, rather than becoming complacent with our current knowledge.

8. What is some of the feedback you’ve gotten from implementing a lean culture within an organization? Do you mind sharing a success story?

One of my favorite stories about implementing a lean culture within an organization is about one of my lean champions. She was a group lead in engineering and wanted to transition into a project management role. We worked together to coach her and focus on collaborative planning, as her team wasn't yet experienced enough for a full Lean pull system. We also worked on developing behaviors like outlining conditions of satisfaction and utilizing problem-solving techniques. Recently, I received an email from her boss expressing gratitude for the time I spent with her. They were amazed by her growth, especially considering that it was her first project as a project manager. She excelled in her role, and her boss let her take full ownership because of her outstanding performance. It's incredible to witness the progress she made, and she even shared her experience with over a hundred project managers on a recent call, emphasizing that it wasn't perfect but highlighting the lessons learned and her excitement for future projects. It's truly fulfilling to see such positive outcomes from implementing a lean culture.

9. Can you share some of your experiences with lean construction from different sectors of the industry?

In my experiences with lean construction across different sectors of the industry, I've noticed a common challenge. Many existing processes hinder innovation, even though innovation is expected. For example, as a mechanical trade partner, when we receive a schedule from a general contractor (GC), we are expected to adhere to it without question. Raising concerns or suggesting improvements can be seen as combative or not being a team player. However, involving builders in the design process early on can greatly improve the estimate and constructability. Unfortunately, builders often face resistance when they try to speak up or propose alternative solutions. This can be deflating, as it implies that their opinions and feedback don't matter. It's frustrating when you ask for input and then disregard it or fail to engage the participants in meaningful discussions. These issues contribute to an adversarial relationship between different stakeholders in the construction industry. There are pockets of progress and challenges, but overall, there is a need to overcome these barriers and create a more collaborative and innovative environment.

10. Who are some folks doing awesome things that you want to give a shout out to?

Rachel Poirier, Daniela Gracie, Rebecca Snelling, and Tim Hoh (check out the lean in action series)!

11. What advice could you share about asking questions to help the learning process?

The advice I would share about asking questions to help the learning process is to practice humble inquiry. Even if you believe you know the answer, it's important to ask the question anyway. Humble inquiry involves asking questions in a non-confrontational manner, seeking to understand and learn rather than challenging or criticizing. Instead of approaching someone with a judgmental attitude like "What the heck are you doing?" it's more effective to say, "Help me understand. Can you walk me through what you're doing?" By asking why, what, and how questions, you allow the person to explain their thought process and show you how they approach their work. This approach fosters curiosity and leads to better responses and deeper understanding. It's essential to be genuinely curious rather than confrontational when seeking knowledge from others.

12. What advice to do you have for young folks coming into the industry who want to learn lean?

The advice I have for young folks coming into the industry who want to learn lean is to prioritize back-of-the-trailer training. Regardless of whether you're on the design or construction side, this type of training is crucial for young professionals. However, you can't assume that it will automatically be provided to you. It's essential to actively engage and ask for it. Back-of-the-trailer training takes what you learned in school and applies it to real-world situations. Keep in mind that not everything you learned in school will directly apply to your projects, regardless of your role. Instead of assuming and stating what you learned in school, ask questions to gain understanding. Ask why and seek clarification by requesting to walk the field with someone or having them show you. This approach helps bridge the gap between theory and practice.

We need to break the cycle of insisting that things should be done a certain way because that's how we did them. By doing so, we can shorten the learning period for young professionals, enabling them to become active leaders more quickly. It's a journey, and we must take responsibility for breaking the cycle and nurturing a culture of continuous improvement.

13. What role does systems thinking play in lean construction?

Yeah, when it comes to lean, it's all about systems thinking and optimizing the whole. We need to consider how improvements or changes in one area affect the entire process. It's important to understand the interconnectedness and the upstream factors that can impact downstream outcomes. If we make an improvement that benefits one person but makes it harder for someone else or disrupts the overall flow, is it really an improvement? And taking it further, if something is more efficient for an individual but worse for the entire system, it's not truly beneficial. We need to think beyond individual gains and focus on the overall effectiveness.

14. What is your favorite quote?

As Dr. Deming said, "You can learn a lot about ice and still not understand water." So, while you may become knowledgeable in your specific role or area of expertise, it's vital to understand the bigger picture—the entire project and how your processes fit into it.

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Justin is a Project Superintendent with 10+ years’ experience in the construction industry. I’m passionate about lean construction and making the project experience better for everyone involved. I’m also passionate about teaching and training the new generation of construction professionals. Justin has successfully completed projects in the office, retail, interiors, high rise, education, and manufacturing sectors. Justin graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering and Western Carolina University with a Masters in Construction Management.

Coaching and mentoring people to focus on what matters most, whether that is customer value, continuous improvement, respect for people or wellbeing is my passion. I have more than 17 years of experience studying and applying lean principles and 10 years actively coaching others. Facilitating diverse groups of thinkers in problem solving and ideating fills my bucket and energizes me just as much as mentoring 1:1 with individuals who are seeking improvement in their careers and daily lives through practical application of lean principles.