Lean Construction and Building Information Modeling (BIM) are important change and transformation drivers in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. Lean Construction is a process/operations focused approach to construction management aimed at increasing the AEC industry’s efficiency and the quality of its end products through developing new principles and methods akin to those defining the Lean Production System. BIM, on the other hand, stands for a verb or an adjective phrase to describe tools, processes and technologies that are facilitated by digital, machine-readable, object-based documentation about a construction project (i.e. buildings, highways, power plants etc.), its performance, its planning, its construction and later its operation. The documentation is not only on the project’s form (3D visuals) but also on its functions; its performance, its planning, its construction and later its operation.

Recent research in Lean Construction and BIM exhibits that there is a considerable synergy between the two that is waiting to be exploited by the industry (see Figure 1)1. The advent of multidimensional or multifunctional (nD) BIM enables the extension of this synergy from the design phase to the construction and operations management phases. Giving ways to many innovative construction management opportunities, the object based, machine readable nature of BIM models also enables effective integrations with emerging technologies in data capturing, data visualisation and manipulation. Some of those technologies include laser scanning, Virtual Reality (VR), sensor networks, physics engines and Cloud databases. In this post, an overview of the widening BIM support to various Lean Construction related principles in the construction phase of the project life-cycle will be briefly presented.

In Figure 1, while the green cells indicate a positive interaction, the red cells denote a negative interaction between a BIM functionality and lean principle. Each number in the cells corresponds to a specific interaction explanation which can be seen in Sacks et al. (2010)1 in detail. Hence, there are 52 positive interactions out of all 56 interactions between Lean Construction and BIM (the numbers in cells). The literature shows that the number of interactions and possibilities have been expanding as the BIM use is quickly developing over the project life-cycle.

Some of the significant positive interactions (synergies) of the total 56 interactions from Figure 1 (green cells) include: BIM reduces design and construction variations, BIM reduces design and construction cycle-times, BIM enables visualisation of the product and process and BIM supports a number of lean principles and lean construction. BIM is good at identifying and in some cases correcting design and construction errors, clashes and generating correct quantity take-offs1, which leads to reducing variations in the design and construction processes. It also enables rapid generation of design drawings, design alternatives, quantity take-offs, constructions schedules, and tasks along with an extensive prefabrication support resulting in reduced cycle-times. Capturing value can be better facilitated by rapidly visualising different design alternatives with their possible impacts on the cost and schedule. The competent visualisation features of BIM models feed well into the management through the visualisation of the principle of Lean Construction.

Some of the negative interactions from Figure 1 (red cells) include: immaturity in the BIM technology, increased complexity in the management, increased inventory of alternative designs and design drawings. Indeed, the technology is not free of its challenges; there are interoperability issues between different BIM software vendors, BIM objects and data protocols need further standardisation. Furthermore, different countries have different BIM maturity levels, which may seem contradicting to the lean mantra of using proven and value adding technology. Also, integrating Lean Construction with BIM may introduce further complexities and overburdens for AEC professionals in practice. The rapid generation of design alternatives, quantity take-offs, construction schedules and tasks can also quickly create a large inventory of documents (drawings, schedules, bill of quantities etc).

BIM and Lean in the Construction Phase

Currently, BIM provides an effective visualisation platform for Collaborative Planning/Last Planner meetings, design briefs and stakeholder engagements. The visualisation of construction intent in those efforts increases transparency, triggers discussions between construction trades, helps collaboratively identify possible work clashes, and near-future process bottlenecks/constraints2.

The combined use of BIM models, BIM servers and emerging on-site data capturing technologies, like rapid laser scanning, barcode and RFID tagging, and advanced photogrammetry, enable the automation of non-value adding activities such as site actual progress and production monitoring, subcontractor progress payment calculations, production quality control and tolerance checks, checking production against construction codes and requirements, surveying and scanning the existing site/system conditions, stock monitoring and material, plant and equipment tracking3. Construction safety checks can also be automated using the BIM technology4.

The 4D (3D model plus time schedule) and 5D (4D plus cost) capabilities of BIM provide constructors with a better understanding of different construction methods and material alternatives with their cost and schedule impacts. It was also shown that BIM enabled 4D as well as 5D simulations and discussions over critical resources, time/schedule, safety, construction space and constructability analyses resulted in reduced on-site cycle times, Request for Information (RFIs), process wastes and increased safety by avoiding work clashes with better constructability in some critical work tasks (e.g. reinforced concrete works)5.

There are also efforts to create BIM based systems to holistically visualise the construction information flows and to facilitate on-site visual controls (e.g. KanBIM and VisiLean – see Figure 2). In those process transparency increasing models, construction managers and workers can easily see and communicate the location-based work schedule and situation of a work task (on-going, stopped, facing a problem) with its actual constraints on an interactive BIM model6. The visual control systems are extensively integrated with the Last Planner System and displayed on large, on-site touch screens.

Thanks to BIM models’ high compatibility with industrial Computer Numerical Control (CNC) units in manufacturing, the prefabrication of complex construction components (e.g. ductwork, MEP, RC panels, cladding, dry wall structures), which extensively reduces construction cycle-times and increases construction quality, is possible7. Also, the construction material quantity-take offs rapidly generated through BIM models can be integrated with suppliers’ Enterprise Recourse Planning (ERP) software to facilitate Just-in-Time (JIT)8 by avoiding communication delays and material tracking /take-off errors.

With the integration of an overlaying physics engine, BIM enabled models/simulations have been recently used to train the construction workforce on some critical process, quality and safety issues9, 10 in virtual and interactive environments.


1. Sacks, R., Koskela, L., Dave, B. and Owen, R. L. (2010), The interaction of Lean and BIM: a conceptual analysis. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 136 (9) 968-980.

2. Dave, B., Koskela, L., Kiviniemi, A., Tzortzopoulos, P. and Owen, R.L. (2013), Implementing lean in construction : lean construction and BIM. CIRIA.

3. Tang, P., Huber, D., Akinci, B., Lipman, R. and Lytle, A. (2010). Automatic reconstruction of as-built building information models from laser-scanned point clouds: A review of related techniques. Automation in construction, 19(7), 829-843.

4. Zhang, S., Teizer, J., Lee, J. K., Eastman, C. M., & Venugopal, M. (2013). Building information modeling (BIM) and safety: Automatic safety checking of construction models and schedules. Automation in Construction, 29, 183-195.

5. Gerber, J., Becerik-Gerber, B., & Kunz, A. (2010). Building Information Modeling And Lean Construction: Technology, Methodology And Advances From Practice. In 318th Annual Conference, International Group for Lean Construction, Haifa, Israel, July14-16.

6. Sacks, R., Barak, R., Belaciano, B., Gurevich, U. and Pikas, E. (2012), KanBIM Workflow Management System: Prototype implementation and field testing, Lean Construction Journal, 19-35.

7. Hamdi, O. and Leite, F. (2012). BIM and lean interactions from the BIM capability maturity model perspective: A case study. In Proceedings for the 20th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction.

8. Said, H. and El-Rayes, K. (2014). Automated multi-objective construction logistics optimization system. Automation in Construction, 43, 110-122.

9. Ku, K. and Mahabaleshwarkar, P. S. (2011). Building interactive modeling for construction education in virtual worlds. Journal of Information Technology in Construction, 16, 189-208.

10. Clevenger, C., Glick, S. and del Puerto, C. L. (2012). Interoperable learning leveraging building information modeling (BIM) in construction education.International Journal of Construction Education and Research, 8(2), 101-118.

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Dr. Algan Tezel completed his PhD. at the University of Salford on Visual Management. He has published many research reports, conference papers and journal articles on Lean Construction. He is currently working as a Research Assistant at the University of Huddersfield, and acting as the board secretary and vice chair of the Lean Construction - UK North West Community of Practice.