The Lean Construction in Action is a series that features Lean practitioners who are working in the field. In this series, Tim interviews lean leaders, superintendents, and foreman who are actively applying Lean Construction. The goal of this series is to connect people with the lean practices that they are currently using. We want to share stories about what they are learning and how they are improving their practice.
1. Do you mind sharing a little bit about yourself, maybe a little bit of your background?
I am a carpenter by trade and have been in construction for about 24 years. I live in central Illinois where I was born and raised. I work for a regional size general contractor (GC). Since joining O’Shea almost 15 years ago, I’ve spent my time working in two different healthcare systems in Springfield, Ill. I worked for Memorial Health for five years with one and the last 10 years with HSHS. At HSHS, I supervised numerous projects large and small. We became the “easy button” within that health system facility. During my time with HSHS, I just stacked projects on top of projects and had a lot of fun down there. As I’ve started my lean journey, I learned a lot, but I'm just a couple years into it, which is why I'm on LinkedIn listening to podcasts and really diving into continuous improvement and development.
I'm currently a superintendent transitioning into a field excellence role. I work with our superintendents and try to elevate their role and bridge some of the gaps we see with our lean journey. So, that's me professionally. Personally, I’m married with an 11-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. I grew up in central Illinois, and we built a house in 2010. We recently sold that house and moved outside of town with a bigger yard. Our family loves the outdoors, and we are doing are best to get outside to enjoy it.
2. Is lean something that's new to O'Shea? You said you've been on your lean journey about two years. So is that something new that you guys have kind of tackled? Did you ever hear lean anywhere in your journey through becoming a Carpenter?
No, I didn't really. O’Shea started diving into lean with our leadership team in 2017. The team was working through our three-year strategic plan to figure out what the areas of focus needed to be. One of the items that came up for development was advanced project execution and delivery.
For the next couple of years, advanced project execution led us down a journey of researching how projects and construction would be delivered in the future. This led us to working with a couple different lean consultants and doing an evaluation of our organization.
In early 2020, we started implementing the last planner system on a few pilot projects, and this was really how I was introduced to lean (through those pilot projects). Early on, it was pretty overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. There's so much information out there. Where do you bite off the small chunks, and where do you start?
The introduction of lean really came from our leadership team, and we started with the last planner system. That's where we started and where we've developed from.
3. What do you think makes a lean project or project that's using lean tools better than a traditional?
Whenever I think about lean, I think about collaboration and communication. Rather than just the GC or the owner saying, "This is the way we're going to build it, and this is the way we're going to do it.” Lean utilizes the experience of the team. When you collaborate with the trade partners and everyone has buy-in, you can build the plan and logistics on what not only makes the team successful but what makes the project successful.
The processes and the systems are a lot better throughout the construction process, and that gives you a better end result. By utilizing the experience of the team and solving problems, you see the different levels whenever you're trying to implement lean. Some guys grab a hold of it a lot quicker and easier, and some guys are a little more reluctant. We've even seen this internally. If you focus your time and energy on the people who are embracing lean, the others will eventually elevate to that level as well. Even with the trade partners on your job, you know that person who's helping out the champion. If you're focusing your energy and resources on that person, a lot of the other guys are going to elevate to that level as well.
4. What do you think the biggest hurdle towards lean implementation is?
Whether you're a GC or trade partner, I think the first hurdle is change. If you’re a leader, you adapt to your environment. If your environment is broken and dysfunctional, you adapt to it. You don't realize it's broken and dysfunctional. Like if you're constantly in a firefight, you don't necessarily see there are fires all around you. How do you influence or encourage guys to change when they don't realize there's something broken?
This is the first hurdle, and then, you think about our clients, owners, or architects. It's that level of transparency. It’s opening up, being more transparent, and building trust that historically has not been there. At O'Shea, we're pretty fortunate in our region to have repeat clients and repeat trade partners on our projects. It makes us a little bit unique with our lean journey because we can move quicker than some of the other contractors who don't have that luxury. I would say the initial roadblock is change and just getting people to realize they are living in a broken system.
5. What would you say the number one trait that a lean builder can have is?
Everybody throws around the term “respect for people.” So, I think—what makes someone respectful? And how do you build trust? A lot of it comes down to your communication and listening skills. How am I listening and respecting the person I'm trying to communicate with and knowing we're adding value to each other? I make him successful. He makes me successful as a project leader. Communication is key. A close second would be being open minded and realizing there is a better way of doing everything we do and continuously improving. How much higher a level or how much more quality would we get out of a conversation if you came in Monday morning and I was able to call your kids by name and ask how their baseball game went this weekend or ask how you and your wife's dinner was Friday night? This type of conversation breaks down that defensive barriers and opens up a whole line of communication.
6. What do you think one of the largest misconceptions about lean construction is?
One of the largest misconceptions, is “the whole do more with less.” If I talk to you about lean and you don't necessarily know what lean is, you might think I'm asking you to work harder and to do more with less. Some people think the system is just about the end result. If we respect the process and the system, it enables us to do more with less. This is because of all the different parts and pieces that play into it.
7. Why don't more superintendents implement lean construction?
It's the change thing. Guys don’t realize there may be dysfunction or an issue with the way they're leading a project. Whenever a guy does something a certain way for a period of time, it becomes his identity. When you're asking them to change and do something different, it's like you're threatening their identity. Their response is, "Well, I don't want to be different. This is who I am.”
If you don't have a high level of trust and aren't able to communicate with that person, you can't really show them the value of the system. All they see is you're asking them to change the way they're leading that project. Some of the situations where we've struggled is because the leader doesn't understand why you're asking them to change, or maybe we haven't communicated the “why” behind the change.
8. What's next for Nick Clemens on your lean journey? Where do you see yourself going?
I'm trying to shift somewhat from the tools to the people. As a superintendent, you go from 80% tools and 20% people to kind of flipping that upside down. As you develop your leadership and lean journeys, you shift more towards 80 to 90% people and 10 to 20% tools. It’s about trying to figure out how to connect to people and how to elevate our field teams and our field leadership to bridge those gaps we're seeing with our leadership and our lean journey. The lean tools are pretty easy to learn. You could almost teach anybody the tools, but leading the project with the lean tools and the leadership are where there can be gaps.
9. Is there a specific in house training you guys do for your superintendents or you're project teams?
Yes, we're currently in cohort three of our Superintendent 2.0. This cohort is introduced and familiarized with the O’Shea Production System. It's about six months long, and there are seven or eight superintendents. We try to keep it a smaller group. We're in the middle of cohort three currently and are planning to start cohort four before the end of the year.
We're also kicking off field excellence, which kind of goes back a step with our self-performing crew leaders, our carpenter foreman, and the other guys who are working towards becoming a general foreman and a superintendent. We’re starting this group off with some development, similar to an entry level of learning and development.
10. Do you guys have anything that you do like that for trade partners onboarding when kicking off a project? Do you guys do a lean on boarding?
We've done a couple last planner workshops, and it's a one- or two-day workshop depending on the size of the project and the number of trade partners who are in the room. We've done those on several projects and have seen a lot of success there. We're really developing it with our trade partners and are starting to get some good buy-in. Our trade partners are taking the ball internally, running with it, and developing their own lean system, so we're trying to keep up with each other and figure out how we can align and improve.