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 George Hunt?

I’m currently a Lean Director at Integrated Project Services (IPS). I would describe myself as a lifelong learner who enjoys absorbing information and constantly learning. I love to share that knowledge to help folks find a slightly better way of doing things. My experience primarily lies in the construction industry, where I’ve worked in various roles such as VDC, assistant superintendent, project management, and scheduling. I also took a detour and worked for a software company to broaden my knowledge and skills. During that time, I focused on improving my communication and presentation abilities by engaging in webinars, podcasts, and interactions with clients.

My current goal is to promote the concept of lean culture and provide assistance to individuals in improving their work. I take a supportive approach by guiding and providing tips rather than simply pointing out mistakes. Throughout my career, I’ve has embraced different roles to expand his expertise and continue learning and spreading lean throughout the industry!

2. What does “lean” mean to you?

Lean is about having a mindset of respect for one another as human beings and striving for continuous improvement. This definition has evolved over time and may vary depending on the circumstances and situation. It is a broad concept that encompasses the idea of applying lean principles across various industries. While lean initially originated in manufacturing, the goal is to extend its application to other sectors by starting with a high-level mindset of respect and improvement in the construction industry.

3. What are some challenges in the industry with respecting people?

I think one of the challenges with respecting people is the deeply ingrained hierarchical mindset that has been around for many years. This mentality places those in charge at the top and views those below them as inferior, especially those working with their hands in the field on the project. I think this is especially true in construction, where workers often engage in physically demanding tasks. There are individuals and organizations striving to bring about change and create a more respectful environment. Breaking away from the top-down mentality requires a shift in mindset and culture. Simple actions such as actively seeking and valuing the opinions of workers, treating them as equals, and engaging with them on a personal level can make a significant difference. It has shown in my experiences that treating others as humans rather than business transactions can lead to positive outcomes.

One of the things that I try to do is try to learn names, which happen to be one of the things that is not very easy for me to do. I try and use all those little tricks of associating names to help me learn. Learning people’s names, in my opinion, is the first step to creating human interaction and building trust.

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

I think it takes having the right lean mindset to understand how to properly use the tools. While technical proficiency in using the tools is essential, without the proper mindset, their effectiveness is limited. Take the Last Planner system as an example. You can follow all the technical steps correctly, but if you don't have a mindset that values input from the last planners, incorporates it into the plan, and prioritizes workflow, you won't reap the full benefits of the system.

Also, when people don't embrace the mindset behind the tools, they can misuse or weaponize them. This often happens when individuals view the tools as just another contractual or litigation strategy, rather than a means to foster collaboration and improvement. Different mindsets yield different reactions and results, even when using the same tools.

I think using lean tools without the proper mindset can lead to suboptimal outcomes or create negative experiences that sour people's perception of lean practices. You can use the tool with two different mindset and get two different results. Ultimately, it is the mindset that drives the effective use and application of lean tools.

5. As a corporate lean director, how do help develop a mindset within your organization?

As a corporate lean director, I've learned that developing a lean mindset within an organization requires genuine intentions and connecting with people on a personal level. By expressing sincerity and genuinely valuing their input and opinions, people are more likely to listen and engage with lean concepts. It's important to establish a connection between lean principles and the core values of the business, showing how a lean mindset aligns with the company's mission and goals.

Additionally, recognizing that individuals have different motivations and reasons for embracing lean thinking is crucial. Some may be driven by the business aspect, while others may need a more personal approach. Taking the time to understand each person's "why" and tailoring the communication to resonate with their motivations can be highly effective, even though it can be challenging when dealing with a large number of individuals such as within an organization.

6. Ultimately, developing a lean mindset requires individualized conversations that address personal motivations and finding the WHY. Who finds the “why”?

The process of finding the "why" can vary depending on the situation. Successful teams often establish the why collectively, fostering a shared purpose and understanding. In some projects, the emphasis is placed on establishing the why from the beginning, involving both the client and the project team. This ensures that everyone comprehends the project's purpose and goals, integrating them into the project's culture.

I’m currently working on a project to influence the entire project lifecycle, spanning design, construction, and commissioning. This enables us to establish a solid foundation from the start, avoiding alignment issues that may arise when different teams are involved. Working within a company that offers end-to-end capabilities is exciting, as it allows us to establish a strong sense of purpose and alignment throughout the project. Additionally, the involvement of clients and their recognition of the benefits associated with a clear why are vital factors. When clients advocate for a different approach and understand the value it brings to the project and the final outcome, it reinforces the significance of identifying and embracing the why.

7. What are some tools that you would consider “gamechangers” from your successful projects?

One tool that I consider a gamechanger is the process of team building and establishing project Conditions of Satisfaction. I’ve found sitting down as a team at the beginning and defining project conditions of satisfaction is incredibly beneficial. It ensures that everyone on the team understands the shared goal and what needs to be achieved for the project to be considered satisfactory. This alignment and clarity contribute significantly to the overall success of the project.

8. What do Conditions of Satisfaction look like?

I think the Conditions of Satisfaction in a project are multifaceted and encompass a mixture of tangible goals and also ways of behaving and interacting with one another during the project. They define what we need to meet for the project to be considered successful, going beyond the typical measures of schedule, budget, and the physical outcome. Communication is often a key aspect addressed in conditions of satisfaction, ensuring that decisions are clearly communicated to the right people. This can help prevent the “uncommunicated expectations” that occur throughout a project. On a recent project one Condition of Satisfaction we had was to create a learning environment. For example, creating a learning environment through activities like lunch and learns, mural boards for sharing lessons learned, and recognizing and promoting intentional learning within the team. These less tangible aspects contribute to the overall satisfaction and success of the project.

9. What's something that you've tried to implement that failed and what did you learn from it?

I’m a registered scrum master who was looking for areas where I could help solve problems with scrum. On a project recently, I attempted to implement a kanban board to help a team better manage their tasks and workload. Although some individuals embraced it, it didn't take off as I had hoped. One of the main reasons for its failure was that I didn't invest enough time upfront in explaining the purpose and gaining buy-in from the entire team. Some team members didn't see the need for such a system. Additionally, the person responsible for implementing it didn't fully grasp the fundamentals and ended up using it more as a task assignment tool rather than a collaborative team tool.

From this experience, I learned the importance of dedicating sufficient time at the beginning to ensure everyone understands the why behind the implementation. Rushing through the introduction can lead to resistance and a lack of engagement. I also recognized that not every tool or approach is suitable for every situation. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach can be counterproductive. It's crucial to tailor the solution to the specific needs and circumstances of the team. Overall, I learned the significance of investing upfront time and adapting tools to fit the situation rather than trying to force a rigid implementation.

10. If someone approached you and asked for you to teach them lean, where would you start?

If someone asks me how to learn lean, I suggest starting by identifying something in their regular work that bothers them and trying to improve it. I borrowed this approach from Paul Akers (2 Second Lean). It's important to recognize that we can't impose lean on others; they have to embrace it themselves. So, when someone expresses interest in learning lean, I advise them to begin with a small project or task that they can personally impact. While it's great to explore different lean tools, mindsets, and changes, starting small allows for tangible progress and small wins. I also caution against targeting large-scale processes or company-wide issues right away, as it may be more practical to focus on something smaller that can be improved relatively quickly. The key is to initiate with small steps and celebrate incremental victories.

11. What’s one of the biggest challenges with scaling lean within an organization?

One of the biggest challenges in scaling lean within an organization is the profound change it requires. Lean is not just about changing processes or implementing tools; it involves a shift in mindset. We need to think differently about our work, constantly seeking improvement and approaching interactions with others in a new way. This challenge arises because we are asking people to change their entire way of thinking. It's crucial to find the balance between encouraging mindset shifts and avoiding the forceful imposition of change. As an internal lean champion, my role is to guide and lead rather than push people to change. I aim to provide information and demonstrate the benefits of lean, allowing individuals to see the value and choose to adopt it themselves. It can be challenging to navigate this process since everyone is an individual with their own perspectives and preferences. Ultimately, the difficulty lies in changing people's minds while respecting their autonomy and individuality.

12. What piece of advice would you give someone coming into your role as an internal lean champion?

If someone were coming into my role, I would advise them on two levels. Firstly, from an implementation standpoint, I would emphasize the importance of considering each situation individually and adapting the approach accordingly. It's essential to right-size the strategies and solutions to fit the specific circumstances at hand. Secondly, on a personal level, I've learned the significance of finding and celebrating small wins. Being in a role where you're driving change can often feel like an uphill battle, as people tend to resist change. It can be frustrating and demotivating at times. Therefore, it's crucial to recognize and appreciate the small victories that come along the way. Even on a daily or hourly basis, acknowledging these wins reminds us of the purpose behind our work and keeps us motivated to continue pushing forward. By celebrating the small wins, we can sustain our drive and determination, knowing that progress is being made, even if it's incremental.

13. What is your favorite quote?

“We can’t see the system when we are inside the system”. We need to seek assistance from external sources or intentionally step outside the system to gain a fresh perspective. This quote reminds me of the importance of seeking outside help or taking a step back to gain clarity and make meaningful changes. It acknowledges that it's often easier for others to spot areas of improvement in our own systems than it is for us to see them ourselves.

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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.

George is the Corporate Lean Director for IPS, a global EPCMV firm. He uses his passion for Lean construction to help teams improve the way they work. He has held past positions in the field, VDC, project management, and planning and scheduling, and has delivered projects of varying scope and complexity.