Why Lean?

When the first phase of a Tool Install Project was nearing completion, it was behind schedule, over budget, morale was low, and overall productivity onsite was way below where it needed to be for the project to break even.

The worksite environment had to improve, but especially as the next phase of the project scope was twice as big and had a very aggressive schedule. Change was required on several fronts, and some new thinking was required.

The client also realised that something had to be done as all contractors on the project were in trouble and some wanted out. This would have had a major impact on the next much larger phase.

As the client was a US based semi-conductor manufacturer it already used many Lean tools and methods. They put forward the idea of introducing Lean Thinking to the construction contractors involved in the project and began running training sessions.

Introduction to Lean Tools

The Directors of Jones Engineering, (JE), were fully behind this and decided to bring in external expertise to train personnel in Lean Thinking. They embarked on a program with groups of 12 at a time over an 8-week course. The groups were made up of Project Managers, Construction Managers, Engineers, Supervisors, and foremen. They were introduced to TIMWOODS, Gemba Walks, (Direct Observation), Value Stream Mapping and most importantly, how to work as a team and present their findings at each session over the duration of the course.

Following on from these sessions the JE hierarchy realised they needed someone in a full-time position to run this new development in the company. I became the new Lean Champion for JE and head up Lean Development within the group.

Training and Learning

With the size of JE, which is made up of several companies involved in mechanical & electrical engineering, fire protection and heavy lift division, I knew this was going to be a tough job and we would require more training. The external expert brought in to do the initial training sessions suggested several courses and the course chosen was the Specialist Diploma in Quality Management, Lean Systems. Six members of JE have since completed this course, a first for a construction company in Ireland.

The newly formed Lean Department set up a Waste Walk program. This was based on Gemba Walks / Direct Observations. Every Monday morning groups of two people from the Project Teams were given a specific daily task to observe for an hour and report on the waste identified during that time. Using the prompts from TIMWOODS, (Time, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-production, Over-processing, Defects and Skills), they would record what they observed on a Waste Walk sheet. This program gave the Project Teams “Eyes for Waste,” and helped eliminate lots of the downtime and non-productive time lost during daily tasks.

Snip from a Waste Walk Record Sheet

“If you can’t see the forest for the trees-go for a walk in the forest.” Gail Lynne Goodwin.

By engaging with the Project Teams, it showed the guys in the field that this wasn’t a spying mission but was in place to help them and make their job easier. After every weekly held Labour Meeting a Waste Meeting would be held to discuss the results of the waste walks. If issues couldn’t be resolved on the floor an owner was assigned to take care of the issue until it was closed out. The Lean Department would use Value Stream Mapping on important issues to demonstrate the difference between Value Added and Non-Value Added tasks in order to resolve issues.

VSM Results for a High-Purity Pipe Spool Install. Value Added in Green

A Better Way

Using our own learnings from TIMWOODS we looked at the S, Skills. We soon realised that the real experts in the company were the crews on the floor, the members of the Project Teams that did the actual fabrications and installations. So, a plan was put in place to tap into this expert knowledge. One of the lean leaders came up with an idea that immediately got the backing from the JE Directors. Post boxes were put up around the project with suggestion cards beside them where any member of the team could write a suggestion to make a task easier or simply better. The program was called “A Better Way.”

All submitted cards were reviewed each week by project supervision and if it was agreed that if a suggestion worked, the person who posted the card would receive a €100 gift voucher. To relay the information to the Project Teams of the ideas and suggestions that were being submitted a newsletter was created. This was called LEAN Times. Successful ideas would be published with an explanation of how the company was going to implement the new ideas into procedures and a selection of unsuccessful ideas would be picked randomly with an explanation of why the idea wouldn’t work.

This program gave the Project Teams a respect they never had before and brought a closeness between hierarchy and front lines staff.

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Ray Curley is a time served pipe fitter with 41 years’ experience in the construction industry. Ray also has a masters level degree in Quality Management / Lean Systems from The University of Limerick. His current role is Group Plant Manager for Jones Engineering and is also a lead in the company’s Lean Department. Jones Engineering operates currently in Ireland, UK, and 14 other countries across Europe and the Middle East with over 4500 employees and a turnover of €960 million. Ray was the author of Jones Engineering’s internal training class, “An Introduction to Lean in Construction,” and co-author of Lean Construction Ireland’s, “Lean Pass,” training, which he has presented across all Jones Engineering projects including Europe and the Middle East.