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. Hello Dr. Selim-Tugra. Tell us about yourself and where you first encountered Lean Construction (LC)?

I go by the name Tugra. I live in Stuttgart, Germany. I am the head of Lean Solutions at Drees & Sommer SE, a leading project management consulting company in Europe. Our vision and strategy include being Lean and Digital in all our projects. This means we have the challenge of transforming more than 5,000 projects to make them Lean.

The first time I encountered Lean was back in 2008. I was working on a project in Abu Dhabi and read an article about Lean in a construction journal during my lunch break. The article was by Drees & Sommer. I still love the idea. Since then, I have become a passionate ‘Leaner’. Since then, my entire professional career has been about adapting Lean culture to the real estate and construction industry. I truly love what I do and also feel very privileged. And I am still just as excited about the basic idea as I was on Day One back in 2008. I still speak with the same passion and enthusiasm about the movement, the transformation of projects and of course about the value of Lean Design, Lean Construction and Integrated Project Delivery.

2. What is your design / construction experience and how did you first apply the concepts of Lean and LC?

In the meantime, I have had the opportunity to directly implement or supervise more than 100 projects. Currently, Drees & Sommer is doing more than 350 Lean projects a year.

My first experience of applying Lean myself was almost 10 years ago. I implemented the Lean Construction Management (LCM®). A process management system for an office building. LCM® is a methodology developed inhouse by Drees & Sommer. The main point of differentiation is the kanban card system, the same as you can find in any Lean production facility. The project, like any other, was under a lot of time pressure – and I had to make up for time lost due to the hard winter and a delayed bidding process. We were able to do so. The client was impressed and commissioned us to undertake further two projects. From there, my trust in the idea and the Lean Construction approach continued to increase.

3. What do you see as the ‘gap’ or the ‘shortfall’ in traditional construction management methods and how does LC address this issue?

I think Leaners have the greatest influence on schedule. Managing time is essential, especially in the current difficult global situation. Poor time management has a negative impact on the project. It leads to missed deadlines, budget overrun, delays, and sometimes failure. It can also lead to dissatisfied customers and loss of reputation.

In practice, managers often mask problems and obstacles by simply adding additional resources such as personnel and materials. Resource efficiency is primarily about the efficient use of resources that create value within an organization. Resource management gives us a firm grasp on available labor, projects and deadlines. With flow efficiency, the focus is on the unit that is processed in an organization. It is thinking from the result. Stringent flow management breaks thinking down in silos. Processes and their outcomes are clear. Transparency regarding the status of the process at any time enables all parties to identify disruptions early, intervene, and avoid mistakes.

With the right Lean Solution for your project, you can ensure the desired balance between resources and flow.

4. How do you feel the sector is embracing the transition from traditional to Lean methodologies? What are the prominent challenges you are encountering?

In the past, the focus was on understanding, believing and the methodology itself. That’s why we have implemented many projects with Lean. All pilot projects have either shown direct added value in the project or at least identified the potential. After that, the sector wanted to turn one pilot project into several. In other words, to scale up the topic and bring it into the company. This succeeds up to a certain degree of saturation. However, full penetration is only achieved when the Lean culture is anchored in the corporate DNA.

Many companies in the construction and real estate industry have not yet been able to achieve this. At the moment, Lean is primarily associated with the operational coordination of trades on the construction site or the scheduling of the construction project. As a result, it is often seen as one of many topics and is lumped together with aspects such as costs, risks, sustainability, and BIM. However, Lean is the topic, and not one of many. This lack of understanding creates a deadlock. We are not moving forward. I think that once we have understood how to integrate Lean outside the operational construction project and into line management of the company, Lean will find an even greater place in the construction and real estate sector.

5. You have reported on the applicability of Scrum and Agile Design Management – has the sector adopted this framework and concept, and can you describe a successful example?

While I was doing my consulting work as a Leaner, I got more and more inquiries about Lean in design. Customers asked me directly, “Lean on the construction site is great and also brings added value. Is there no Lean for Design?” In the design phases, we basically have similar problems and tasks to those in execution, at least with regard to time and time management. We have multipage schedules, unclear dependencies, wrong assumptions, buffers, waiting times, and generally poor visualization for task management. However, when I started looking at the design phase and also working operationally in the design phase, I realized that what design needs is not Lean but Agile.

Agile Design Management was derived from Scrum, where I incorporated content and approaches from LCM® as well as shop floor management from the stationery industry. It is a methodology that is very well suited to early project phases. In later project phases, however, the project needs a more rigid approach and must be transformed into a plan delivery machine.

I think that some scientists and practitioners have been inspired by this work. But I also think that many of them came up with it independently without having seen or heard of my previous work. The reason is that the basic idea is not a difficult one but very logical. And I am optimistic that approaches such as Agile Design Management will become established practice for planning in the near future.

6. Do you consider construction has been slow to adopt digitization and automation and, if so, why is that the case?

To be honest, my assessment of the degree of digitization in the construction and real estate industry is not in line with what has been published in recent reports by institutes and elite consulting firms outside the construction industry. I believe that if we look at this globally, we are advancing and innovating many of the digital topics in major projects. Construction has long offered more digitization than just CAD. We have a wide variety of technologies that focus on integration with Building Information Modeling. These technologies, such as GoPro cameras, laser scanning and RFID, have been in use for some time. In addition, we are currently driving disruptive technologies forward like no other industry, with contour crafting, 3D printing, robots, and even drones. There are also more pilot projects and new use cases are still in progress.

A great deal of digitization and automation has taken place – and still continues – in construction projects, especially those involving large companies working across multiple regions. One of the indications of this is the fact that almost all large construction groups employ programmers – or even have their own software development company. The issue, however, is that construction is very much shaped by the trades and the construction market is largely locally defined with small and midsized companies. Offering new opportunities with digital technologies or digitization is not a key focus in this regard. I personally find that very unfortunate, because the skilled trades as well as the small and midsized companies or engineering offices are the backbone of the economy in Germany – and probably also in Europe.

7. What can be done to accelerate data capture, data management, and implementation of data-driven improvement processes?

What we need is a connection between the office and the project. This means smart, future-oriented technologies that can collect data. As soon as data no longer has to be entered manually but can be collected passively in a structured and analytical way, we will see a breakthrough into the next era. A first step in this direction is certainly to find a link between digital process systems such as LCM® and Building Information Modeling. This would then develop into a smart Lean process system. Smart Lean Project Delivery is a platform that enables project participants to network people, machines and materials. The possible scenarios are unlimited and depend only on the imagination and willingness to invest in those involved in construction. Due to the large amount of real-time data, demand for data scientists will be particularly strong in the construction industry in the future. Real-time data can be used to calculate future measures on a statistical basis.

This changes in the era of smart Lean Project Delivery. The passive acquisition of data reduces the effort involved in generating and collecting project data. The ability to collect this data in a structured format during ongoing project operations, to evaluate it quickly and use it to drive improvements will be a key competitive factor in the future. Companies in the construction and construction supply industries that already have this capability will have a clear competitive edge.

But it goes much further. In general, companies in the construction and real estate industry need to think about their own data warehouse, as well as the associated handling and storage of data. But the most important thing in this topic is the willingness to learn and to develop topics further.

8. What do you see as the next steps for LC to develop and evolve further and what does the future of LC look like?

In view of growing project complexity, the synchronous construction site is a noble goal. The demands of sustainability, increasing cost pressure and ever-shorter project cycles mean that construction does not get any easier despite technological advances. On the contrary, engineers and technicians face increasingly difficult tasks. In the future, it will be about using technology to control projects via the planning framework. The need for holistic process systems that lead to structured consolidation and improvement of this synchronicity in implementation will take Lean to another level. This may ultimately lead to the disruption of Lean.

Visualizations, project-related data streams and smart connections between interdependencies and influencing factors will be transformed into autonomously created project and production plans. Thanks to artificial intelligence and real-time data, the project will constantly learn and improve. Perhaps the project will become the platform that will do everything independently in future. I don’t know. But I do recommend that companies start preparing today for this coming era. The processes described will make it easier for companies involved to keep pace with the enormous changes that are to come. That’s why these developments have been conceptualized as the ultra efficient construction site.

9. What is an ultra efficient construction site and what is an ultra efficient project?

We don’t actually know. But we know we need them. The vision of every lean factory is the synchronous factory. Construction sites can probably also evolve in this direction. The synchronous construction site functions flawlessly using processes that are fully digitized, smart and autonomous.

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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.

Dr. Selim-Tugra Demir is Senior Manager at Drees & Sommer. Tugra is the central point of contact for all group-wide lean activities. Dr. Demir first came into contact with Lean Construction in 2008. Since then, he has been a passionate Leaner.