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In our industry we have lost sight of who makes the money on the construction project. The reason this is important is because this disconnected thinking leads to classical management styles and away from lean management styles.

In the book The Triumph of Classical Management over Lean Management, Bob Emiliani provides some possible reasons for our industry’s addiction to classical management. Here they are in summary:

  1. To implement Lean Thinking, leaders must learn themselves and lead it from the top.
  2. Most leaders are not allowed to learn lean and change anything or are not motivated to.
  3. Leaders do not suffer the consequences of non-lean systems, so there is little motivation to implement them.
  4. There is a division of labor, a division of classes, and a division of groups, and lean removes that hierarchy and threatens the leader's sense of superiority. Therefore, the disconnect widens.
  5. This means we do not act as a unit.
  6. Then leaders make decisions in a silo or the office and manage or change the wrong things.
  7. This continues because leadership groups mostly protect their social group before protecting the people they oversee.
  8. Even if leaders can and want to implement lean, they may not have the confidence and determination to implement and scale it.

There are ways to fix this, but the fact remains that traditional project management and management in general continues to be disconnected from the people doing the actual work. And until traditional management is treated as a public health crisis or removed as an option under normal standards of care or starved from the market because of healthy and qualified competition, the condition of the industry is not likely to change.

So, what can we do?

Well, first, we can understand why the connection to workers and foremen is necessary. First, people should matter to us, but secondly, and most practically, treating people right adds to the bottom line. So, here is the question again? Who makes the money?

The answer is that the workers and foremen do.

We as an industry have forgotten two very important truths:

First, only the workers and foremen make the money. ALL other positions in construction are necessary, but NON-VALUE-ADD employees. (Example: No one would pay for a submittal in and of itself without workers)

Second, we do not create flow, production, and profitability by only optimizing the office--we create those things when we get the workers and foremen what they need. Everything should flow to them, so they have what they need, when they need it. And they should feel respected and cared for while doing it. When this begins to happen, construction will take a turn for the better.

So, to implement lean in construction we will have to begin leveraging our most valuable resource.

That means:

  1. Leaders will begin to learn lean themselves and lead it from the top.
  2. Leaders must have the ability to learn and implement lean and have the budget to do so.
  3. Leaders must begin to truly care about what happens on the worker level.
  4. We must erase the division of labor, class, and hierarchy and connect with our people at all levels.
  5. So we can start making decisions together as a team.
  6. And begin focusing more on what is best for the people and company over what our small social group cares about.
  7. And we must stand up, set up, and get the job done with tenacity and accountability.

We must re-route our efforts to optimize flow to the worker and not just our company departments and leaders. That means our foremen will have everything they stand in need of when they need it.

This, in my opinion, is the first step to changing the construction industry for the better. We must re-enthrone workers and foremen as the heroes of our projects, the focus of our efforts, and the cornerstone of our teams.

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Jason Schroeder is a former Field Operations and Project Director. He has worked as a construction leader for 22 years through positions that range from field engineer, to project superintendent, general superintendent and field operations director. He is the Owner and Lead Consultant at Elevate Construction IST, a company focused on elevating construction from coast to coast by providing insights, solutions, and training that create respect in the field, through trained leaders, which ultimately preserves and protects families in construction. He is the creator of the Field Engineer Boot Camp and Superintendent Boot Camp, which are immersive courses that train field leadership.