Respect for People and Emotional Intelligence - The Missing Pillar of Lean

Lean Project Delivery and Last Planner System are big buzz phrases in the construction industry. Lean uses a collaborative approach to projects that eliminate waste, focus on adding value, and continuously improve. The two pillars of lean are continual improvement and respect for people. As an industry, and as technical people, we tend to focus on the process and the continual improvement part. But we tend to forget the respect for people part. Rich Seiler, my partner in crime for lean, and one of the best pull planners in the country, talks about an inverted triangle where the craft workers are at the top and the executives are at the bottom. The craft people should be the most important people on the project, since they create most of the value, but we don't treat them that way. We always ask groups: Do you respect your trade partners? They all say YES! Then we ask if they would sign the trade partner's contract and we usually get nervous laughter or HELL NO! We must change this if Lean is to be successful.

Lean is getting a lot of attention. There are incredible success stories and stories of unmitigated disasters that have used Last Planner and the Lean model. So what is the secret sauce? What contributes to success as opposed to failure? I believe that the people dimension of this process is a critical factor to its success. Take a look at the typical emotional profile for a large group of folks (over 500) who manage the construction process:

As you can see, the relatively high scores are self-regard, independence, assertiveness, stress tolerance, and reality testing (black/white thinkers). The relatively low scores are impulse control, flexibility, emotional self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility (the ability to work in groups and teams). This is a bell curve distribution, so 100 is the mean. Let's put it this way. This group of construction managers couldn't get any of the interpersonal skills to the mean. That means that all of the interpersonal skills are BELOW AVERAGE!

This does not bode well for collaborative project delivery methods such as Lean. In order for Lean to be successful, we must address these emotional competencies first. Then, we must cultivate the relationships and create trust. Then, and only then, can we properly plan the project. We do a lean boot camp where we not only focus on the process of pull planning and the last planner system, but we work on how to get buy in, how to establish trust and how to create relationships quickly. Without this people part, the process falls apart.

We developed a project based program we call connEx because we found that our leadership programs using emotional intelligence created a lot of trust and close relationships that increased the effectiveness of project teams. You have to build the people before you build the project. If you would like a free white paper on the connEx process and my best selling book, the People Profit Connection, go to

I will be doing a webinar on Emotional Intelligence and how it supports Lean and the Last Planner System on October 31, 2018. Below is a video that describes the webinar in greater detail. Please join me if you can to learn about this important skill that can improve the way your teams can work together.

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