Owner Criteria for Lean Provider Selection

A popularly quoted and important concept is that "Lean Transformation is a journey, not a destination". At the 2016 International Congress on Lean Construction, people at all stages of the journey were on display: beginners, in-progress implementers, advanced practitioners, etc. How can an Owner distinguish between the levels of Lean and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) experience when selecting AEC team members for a project? As an "ILPD" Coach, here are 5 questions that I recommend my clients to ask when selecting their Lean service providers:

1. Has the company being considered formally chosen to engage in their own, dedicated Lean Transformation Process? If so, why? How long ago?

A key distinguishing characteristic between real lean practitioners and "posers" who claim to be "lean", is whether the company has adopted lean practices as an internal operational strategy, not just when a client requires it. Often these companies have internal “Lean Teams” and can cite examples of internal business process improvement in areas such as estimating, proposal development, invoicing, etc.

2. Who is driving the transformation? Is top management directly involved? How?

Even companies that have some Lean/IPD experience may have senior leaders who give only lip service at best. If the owner and/or CEO and Chief Operations leaders are not bought in, unwillingness to properly staff your project, train staff, engage in co-location and support collaborative planning activities can rob you of the potential value of Lean/IPD. If the top leadership cannot give you a convincing rationale for their commitment to Lean, be wary.

3. How has the company put the intention to "go lean" in practice?

Look for actions, not just words. Have they joined the Lean Construction Institute (LCI), the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) or other lean forums? Have they created a "Lean Champion" position or lean transformation steering team? Have they developed any standard lean practices and associated training? Do they support staff to access outside resources such as blogs, training, etc? Do they adequately staff ILPD projects? Does the staff they assign to your project have any Lean experience?

4. What Lean tools do they use/recommend, and why?

Like all tools, Lean tools are only as good as the users who deploy them. That said, there are tools on the market with significantly different levels of sophistication. As of October 2016, as I am writing this, there are many new tools that can be purchased to support the “Last Planner System®”, but only a couple of them are designed to support real Pull Planning task linking and embedded Production Management analytics. Many are just electronic post-it scheduling systems - useful, but not up to the demands of full LPS implementation. If your prospective provider uses tools that do not support rigorous production system analytics, they are probably still in the early stages of their own journey.

5. What results have they achieved?

The obvious results areas are budget and schedule savings or targets met or exceeded. Other key results areas, such as lessons learned and skills developed, are harder to identify. Ask about quality and safety examples. Look for stories about how a subcontractor or design consultant came up with a value-creating idea. Such stories give evidence of real collaboration and creativity through effective stakeholder involvement.

If the folks you hire don't have the experience to answer these questions, they are at the early stages of their journey. This is fine, but you will need to jointly address development needs and test for commitment. Get commitments from all your vendors to engage in learning and development activities, hire an experienced coach, and develop a method of in-process evaluation and continuous improvement to drive your early experience with Lean/IPD implementation.

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