The Importance of the Owner for Lean Project Success

In Germany, there is a tendency that construction companies are the first stakeholders of the whole project process who apply lean principles or at least - lean tools. Working as an owner, I often ask myself, how much leaner can a project/construction site become if the lean principles are only executed inside the processes of the contractor.

Many design companies and project management companies are still reluctant and usually not familiar with the lean approach. One main aspect of lean construction is: “all stakeholders are aware of the importance of collaborative planning”. How can this work if only one of the parties involved tries to work collaboratively? Surely, a contractor can handle all his subcontractors in that way, but if the whole design development process is missing inputs from the contractor working on the site, the design can be very different from what the contractor needs. Most likely, the contractor will need to adjust the former bid and bill of quantities since the owner/designer lacks the will to make decisions for the best of the project, and even more, will have to make changes to the former contract. But how does this work? I would like to receive some feedback from contractors, that have been in this situation. The question resulting from this is: “How can you convince more owners and designers and project managers that lean is beneficial for them as well?” In my experience, the owner needs to follow the project development closely in all different stages, starting from the early design to be able to make the correct and experienced decision for the project. If this is the case, applying lean principles is possible and will lead to successful projects. If only one of the stakeholders applies the methodology, the interfaces between client and contractor cannot be handled well.

There is another question linked to the above problem. How can you make owners aware that they play an important role in a capital project whether it is lean or not? Even in my company, it is hard to explain to many project managers that they have to take an active part in the design and construction phase. If you look at major business clients, especially in private business, there is often no know-how at all on how a project needs to be supported by the client. Usually these companies hire a project management company to do this job. But the interests of a client cannot be replaced by external project management companies. Thus, in order to have a successful lean project with a project management company, the company must have the knowledge about client participation and leadership! They need to educate and convince the client to take an active role. This is my unique question to everyone: “How can this be transferred in order to accelerate the application and the success of lean construction?” One answer can be given by the country's legislative, as we know from several countries in Europe. But the special mind set is not a question of law, but of understanding the principles of collaborative working and learning, which is a lot more difficult to gain.

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