The Lean Construction in Europe is a series that features Lean practitioners working in Europe. In this series, William Power interviews lean leaders and shares lessons learned. This series highlights how people are currently applying Lean in their projects and how they are progressing on their lean journey. 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. What is your current role and how are you involved with Lean Construction?

I am Project / Construction Manager working on large construction across multiple industries. Currently I am Project Managing the completion of the largest Pharmaceutical Decontamination and Demolition Project in Ireland.

2. When did you start learning about Lean Construction and what made you decide to do it?

I first came across the term ‘Lean’ when I was part of a team managing a €5 billion project for a leading international semiconductor company in 2013. I received my initial yellow belt training and the concept of ‘the Burning Platform’ was used to describe how the need for immediate change, continuous improvement and efficiency gains were a simple ‘must have’ if our project or indeed any company in today’s dynamic and complex construction sector are to survive.

Initially, I maintained that the concept of Lean was not new, and I was already running my projects in a Lean way prior to that point. However, the Lean education and training (once rolled out to all Managers and Supervisors) became an enabler and a driver for change of both mindset and methodology. Individual departments were encouraged and empowered to implement change to seek and implement improvement opportunities.

The Lean concept was the sledgehammer needed to break down overly bureaucratic procedures and office politics that were focused more on controlling than continuously improving processes.

I visualize Lean is like using the Motorway to get to your destination. Without it, most will still know where the destination is, but they will be traveling countless different country roads to get there - a lot of the team will get lost along the way, they will be left to tackle obstacles on their own and some may never make the destination. Ultimately the duration of the journey will take longer, cost more, have a lot more incidents, and the experience will be frustrating for everybody.

3. What lean methods are you currently applying and how are you doing it?

Last Planner, SCRUM and PDCA are the foundations of everything we do.

We carry out Phase Planning, Make Ready Walks, Weekly Planning, Daily Huddles with Daily Tracking and Weekly Reporting presenting trend analysis such as Pareto etc. of progress and failings (see below graph from recent project), with the sole aim of not repeating those failings.

It is vital that identification of failings / improvement opportunities is seen as a positive by all parties, including the Client, and we carry out A3s incorporating 5 Whys and root cause analysis to understand and resolve issues, followed by implementation of continuous improvement projects.

Recently, we have also completed a detailed Lessons Learnt week at the end of a 3-year Project using Fishbone and Force Field analysis. This information is recorded into an overall project finishing report and will be vital to avoid repeating similar mistakes from the outset of the next project when a whole new team will be in place.

Below is an image of one of ten Whiteboard Lessons Learned Sessions completed across the week – this example relates to Project Execution with Positives (keep doing) recorded in green and Improvements recorded in red.

4. Key successes and highlights

Our most recent large scale, 3-year project was completed on schedule, below cost with zero claims for delays or disruption, accommodated numerous scope changes, had zero work defects at project completion and zero Lost-Time-Accidents. Unfortunately, results such as these are extremely rare in construction execution and it is my belief that the implementation of Lean thinking and tools from the project outset played an integral part in these achievements.

5. What are some methods and lean practices that you are currently experimenting with?

Earlier this year, when the team was under a lot of pressure and it was evident that fractures in group relationships and trust were appearing, I carried out a Core Value exercise where each member of the team submitted three personal Core Values that they believed best described themselves and that they would never compromise on. The results below showed that at their “core” all team members were very similar and our differences were very minor in comparison. This exercise solidified the trust within the team and allowed them to pull together during that difficult time and emerge as a stronger unit because of it.

6. What are some things you know now that you wish you knew when you started on your lean journey?

When implementing Lean practices things will often get worse before they get better, and results are only evident over the longer term. See below weekly PPC graph from the recent 3-year project. Every project will encounter setbacks, but it is how the team responds is what is critical in project management. The PPC trended upwards from 77% at the beginning of the project to 89% on completion. Managing expectations and ensuring realistic delivery dates are communicated to the team and stakeholders is very important so as not lose initial momentum and engagement.

7. What is some advice for people who are just starting with LC?

Lean is a Journey and not a Destination - It is not something you can pop in and out of if you want to implement real sustainable improvements - it’s a lifestyle, it’s a mindset, it’s how you live and operate every day!

If your company are using Lean as a marketing gimmick – you are simply ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ and your use of imagery will very quickly be seen through as clients are becoming more knowledgeable and Lean awareness is now becoming an expectation as opposed to being a differentiator.

8. What challenges to LPS did you experience? (resistance, culture, contractual, client support, management support?)

Nobody likes to talk about the root cause of failings for fear of criticism – a psychologically safe environment must be created to ensure true and sustainable improvements are achieved.

9. How did you overcome these challenges?

Building trust and maintaining it is vital. With trust and honesty almost all issues and obstacles can be overcome.

10. Any advice to those considering utilising LPS?

Do it! It’s a game changer!

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William Power is an experienced Construction Management professional with over 30 years of experience in project delivery across all sectors including residential, commercial, pharma, life sciences, marine, infrastructure, underground and overhead utilities. William, a holder of Honours Degree in Construction Management and Honours Master of Business in Lean Practice, is currently undertaking doctoral research in Continuous Improvement in Construction Project Delivery in SETU, Ireland.

Dermot has over 20 years extensive Project Management experience working in the Irish and UK construction industries on large scale projects under various forms of contract incl. NEC, RIAI, Government, Design and Build, Lump Sum Fixed Price, Joint Venture etc. He has developed a wealth of knowledge in managing the successful delivery of complex Building and Civil projects, from design to full completion and follow on client support, while achieving all safety, programme, quality, environmental and cost objectives.