Lean Construction is Gaining Traction in Germany: Takeaways from the First GLCI Conference

Lean Construction is starting to gain traction in Germany. The German Lean Construction Institute (GLCI) established on 15th of July 2014, held the first conference in Frankfurt on October 15, 2015. 211 participants including construction companies, subcontractors, consultants, private owners, and researchers, exchanged information and discussed their Lean journey. The program contained various topics. First, a private owner talked about the implementation of Lean Construction based on his own experience; the construction of a plant in Brazil. The second speaker compared car manufacturing and construction. Then a trade representative showed examples of using apps on the site followed by a civil engineering company that improved the pipe jacking process by analyzing the activity “switching tubes” together with the site workers. Coming from a non-construction background, the next speaker talked about the adaption of Lean in cruise ship production. The last two presentations focused on Lean as a corporate strategy and the implementation of a Lean culture in an organization.

All the speakers showed their success by implementing Lean tools and methods. In summary projects were delivered with less change orders, fewer defects, on time, and within budget. Nevertheless, the German construction industry is still at the beginning of the Lean journey and is taking small steps. When it comes to change in the construction industry, people often wait and stick to the system they know. They are afraid to fail or feel that the challenges are impossible to accomplish. The speakers tried to motivate the audience to be part of the journey and shared their experience.

One speaker stated that people have to take the responsibility to start the Lean journey immediately and not lose time while waiting for others to start. It is true that there are challenges that occur by adopting Lean construction. Some of them were presented and discussed during the conference. In one example, an experienced bricklayer had a problem with somebody telling him where to put his tools. Another challenge is the decision-making processes. Problems and conflicts often occur because decisions are made too late. Collaboration and process transparency can solve this challenge, but both are challenges to implement. In order to make processes transparent, measurement via performance indicators can help, but conflicts can arise due to the degree of acceptance. To overcome the lack of acceptance it was stated that aligned financial incentive can help. Other challenges are the digitization for the older generation, new job requirements of the younger generation as well as the current image of the construction industry.

A speaker noticed that to master the challenge of implementing Lean, organizations have to understand that the human factor is key and that construction projects require agility. Consequently, conditions have to be created to build a flexible project framework and to proceed systematically based on a holistically perspective. As change happens all the time a speaker argued that it is not a question of how fast an organization can change; it is a question of how fast the environment is changing. Therefore, continuous improvement should be seen as a permanent change process in which people need to leave the comfort zone and make continuous change to their comfort zone.

The implementation of a Lean culture is not possible without people. A leader’s task is to guide their people on the Lean journey. A continuous dialog with the people is indispensable as well as the respectful interaction. It is essential to explain why the implementation of Lean is necessary and show the effects and the advantages. Therefore, communication is very important to develop a common understanding.

Although the GLCI has just started recently, it looks like Germany is off to a good start. There are still many challenges and many problems that the German industry must address in order to build a Lean culture.

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