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Looking Down on the Empire State Building

I think to myself, “What values constructed the One World Trade Center in New York?” From the observatory I remember looking down on the Empire State Building. I also remember thinking about how this building across from me was constructed. A worker recalled that it was like a parade of trades working their way up the building. What value system must be in place to do things right? What value system and foundational values allowed the One World Trade Center to be constructed?

In my research on the proliferation of Lean in the construction, I have found that it takes people with the right values to get the traction needed to make a difference. I will share an interview with Greg Howell, co-founder of the Lean Construction Institute, shortly, but first I will share what is at the core of Toyota. The right stuff that generated this industry called “Lean.”

In my book with Jeffrey K. Liker, the best-selling author of the Toyota Way, there was a model suggested for the development of lean leadership. This is as good a starting point as any. The model is shown below.

Figure 1 – The Leadership Development Model from the book Developing Lean Leaders at All Levels

This four-stage model caught my attention ten years ago. It contains four stages of development. From developing yourself to developing those around you, it is an endless journey that allows you to hone your skills as a leader. There are many steps within each stage to accomplish this and the numbers have no relevance. You could start with creating a vision and aligning goals, as an example. One thing you don’t see, and not enough time is spent emphasising is at the core. You don’t see the True North Values of a lean leader. It is the glue that makes this work. It is the starting point for all the training that Toyota does and represents a way of being for the organization. These values are something you strive to earn as an employee.

I will only say this about Toyota, “Toyota recognizes that the ideal of everyone, everywhere continually improving their processes and themselves is really a dream”. They call this dream “True North” because it offers an unattainable vision of what should be happening in an ideal world. You are never going to be perfect, but you can strive for perfection.

Fujio Cho described The Toyota Way as “an ideal, a standard, and a guiding beacon for the people of the global Toyota organization.” He talked about one Toyota. What that really means is everyone in Toyota is guided by the same vision of True North. The foundation consists of a set of values that form the center of our leadership development model. We realize that any type of development of people must begin with values and a stated purpose. The purpose of the company might be to satisfy, surprise and delight customers in a continually changing environment and be healthy as a business. There can be no respect for people unless they are being developed to achieve more. Therefore the set of values for Toyota begins with Challenge. Toyota believes that people need to be challenged, or they will not improve to the extent they are capable. In addition, they need the skills and confidence to welcome the next challenge with enthusiasm and energy.

The next value is the development of a Kaizen Mind - you think naturally in terms of improvement. You reveal openly any imperfections –any waste, anything that does not fit the ideal. A related belief within Toyota is that continuous improvement depends on managers Going and Seeing first-hand. You need to go to the gemba to get the facts. That is where the work is being done, where the customers are using their product, and where your suppliers are making your product. You need to build a clear picture of the current situation through systematic observation.

Toyota believes in Teamwork. Toyota has a complex view of teamwork, which includes both individuals who are developing others and individuals who are being developed working together. The team will be stronger than the individuals will, but the team will be stronger as individuals learn. Team development and individual development go hand-in-hand. Finally, Respect has to be present in everything you do and everybody with whom you interact. These five values are at the center of our Lean Leadership model. There are four stages in evolving an organization to develop these values to be the very fabric of the culture.

Figure 2 – The Leadership Development Model from the book Developing Lean Leaders at All Levels

How easy it is to miss becoming a scientific thinker. A process that takes us through many iterations of personal and people development. The PDCA process is central mechanism and acts as a gas pedal does on a vehicle. The shorter the learning cycle the greater the learning for that organization. It does not start with the P meaning Plan, or the D for Do, or the A for Act, it starts with C for Check. The checking is so critical to the start of this process it gives direction to this vehicle. The check is the steering wheel that focuses the nose of our vehicle in the direction that we must go to engage in a better future. The PDCA cycle should have been referred to as a C-PDCA cycle to emphasise the importance of “Check.”

What do you look for when determining who to partner up with? Who are the trade partners in your industry that will provide the value you need for many years to come? What simple questions can you ask to determine whether they have the right stuff?

The Values a General Contractor Should Look for From a Trade Contractor

For the construction industry especially, we need to respect each other as we collaborate as a team. No one person, trade or workgroup has all the answers. We must give and get reliable commitments for one another. We must produce the asset for our stakeholders on time, with the right quality, and for the right price.

Figure 3 – I asked Jeff Liker, “What advice do you have for trade partners?” listen to this Click Here

This following interview with Greg Howell exemplifies how a leader should behave when initiating a project – regardless of the size. It is an excerpt from my latest book, Lean Construction Leaders: A Trade Partner’s Guide to Lean, co-authored with Perry Thompson from Parsons Electric.

The Right Thinking That Started the Lean Construction Industry

Figure 4 – Picture of Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell, co-founders of the Lean Construction Institute (LCI)

I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Howell just prior to his death this past year. He was so generous with his time, and anyone could feel his love for educating the construction industry. Here is an example that exemplifies how he lived his life and the passion he had for Lean. Gregory A. Howell, was a forceful advocate since the 1990s of transformed project delivery along Lean principles focused on cutting waste and adding predictability, died on June 15 in Ketchum, Idaho. He was seventy-seven. In his own words:

I joined Mobile Construction Battalion 11 as the junior officer just before it deployed to Vietnam. It was lovely and quiet, if hot when we landed just south of the DMZ. I was saved from a shot in the stomach on the first day near Gio Linh. After a stint as security company commander, I became Bravo Company commander about the same time our battalion commanding officer was replaced by Commander Keith Hartell. After a few days, he called a meeting of a group of officers to plan a detachment. We were all surprised as the recently departed CO made plans for us in his bunker and was rarely seen above ground.

After Captain Hartell completed a round of introductions, he took off his insignia and placed them in a small alabaster bowl. Then he asked all of those present to put their insignia in the same bowl. Later we understood he did this so rank did not get in the way of planning. Of course, we knew who the captain was, and his openness for inviting us into the planning conversation was at first difficult. I recall one surprising moment after the invitation had been extended to enlisted men when their input helped us shape our plans. Equipment operator Leland Peterson was involved in a complicated plan to improve the road to Khe Sanh. He knew the territory better than anyone else and made important contributions to coordinating with the Marines.

I do not recall Captain Hartell ever giving an order. At the end of the meetings, he asked if we all understood what we were expected to do, and how and where we needed to coordinate with others. Then he slid the bowl back out on the table and closed the meeting every time with the same joke: “This is not an opportunity for promotion. Take your own insignia.” I successfully used the practice when I was an officer in charge of a twelve-man unit in Northern Thailand. Later, as a practicing civil engineer, I used the same practice and a similar bowl.

Figure 5 – Picture of insignia in a bowl; provided by Greg Howell from the book

The One Value that Stands Out in Lean Construction – The Three Musketeers Value

Things will change dramatically in construction over the next twenty years. You need partners that can see the future differently and are not scared to advance in areas no one else has. So next time ask your potential trade partner, “What is your vision as an organization?” Then listen for a new and exciting world they want to fabricate for themselves. Listen for the seemingly impossible.

The most common value spouted is one of collaboration. Every construction company familiar with Lean construction wants collaboration. The next is a value of giving and receiving reliable commitments. However, the one that really stands out for me is the Three Musketeers Value, “It’s all for one, and one for all.” This is more than collaboration this is ownership. Creating an intentional Lean culture such as an IPD project – or one with an integrated form of agreement – can be a daunting task. Respect will always be a must in this kind of intentionally created environment. It requires a teamwork among trade partners, general contractor, and suppliers alike that is a challenge in any industry. Construction has the added complexity of forming a temporary team of trade partners and getting to alignment as quickly as possible so results can be claimed by all.

Figure 6 – You should always start with the end in mind and work backwards, Click Here.

Values don’t just happen, they are intentional. They start with the same pattern used in workflow management- working backwards and experimenting forwards towards achieving your goal. This is what I consider powerful enough to make the difference for an organization. Start with a goal that challenges everyone to improve, but improvement cannot happen without a standard, and it must be done in a structured way. Experimenting scientifically is that structured way. Making a prediction about what they can accomplish, trying to accomplish it, and learning from the failure. I said it correctly, failure. If they are not failing, they are not learning.

Values are what determine outcomes. One value yet to pop its head is the value of using of a coach. Recently the world has made this so easy to do. Even a short fifteen-minute meeting each day makes all the difference between success and failure. Improving the work is good, improving the people is better, finally reinforcing the values everyone should use in judging their actions is the best way to achieve the unachievable.

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George Trachilis, P.Eng. lives in Canada and consults throughout the world. He started his career at Motor Coach Industries in 1994 where he received Lean coaching by the best consultants in ERP systems, Just-in-Time manufacturing, and Total Quality Management. Having lead change for over 10 years, he decided to start his own consulting firm in 2003. It grew to become one of Canada’s Fastest Growth Companies by 2006. George is a Shingo-research Award-winning Author and Coach. He co-author of Lean Construction Leaders: A Trade Partner’s Guide to Lean.