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Preview of Chapter 1. Why Start With Lean Construction Philosophy

Here is how I organize what I learned from Lean Construction. There are four levels of understanding.

1. Philosophy
2. Principles
3. Methods
4. Tools and Implementation

The Lean philosophy is pretty simple: 1) respect for people, 2) maximizing value while minimizing waste, and 3) continuous improvement. The philosophy is what we strive for and should NEVER change. We actively pursue the philosophies but cannot never fully achieve them. They exist as guiding North Stars for every lean organization to make decisions and provide a path towards better lean construction implementation.

Respect for people is the most important and most poorly understood Lean philosophy. When we talk about respect for people, we need to consider the whole person. We can’t respect them at work while making them take months of overtime which deteriorates their personal lives and relationships outside of work. Respect for people extends beyond our organization. It includes suppliers, vendors, owners, architects, etc. The people that we work with on a regular basis as well as the end customer.

How many times have you had the conversation within your team about making the lives of your vendors, suppliers, etc. better? These conversations rarely ever happen. Have you considered that your procurement process is putting unnecessary strain on your supplier? How does your net 30, net 60, or net 90 payment terms affect the small business that is working on your project?

Respect for people also extends to the environment. Thinking about the long term environment, sustainability, and our impact on the planet should be part of respect for people. Our future generations will have to deal with the problems that we leave them. It is important to consider these hidden stakeholders.

These are all vital conversations that we need to have throughout our lean journey. There are many ways to cheat and cut corners when it comes to lean implementation. Without a grounded base to start, you will end up cutting corners when times get difficult.

The second Lean philosophy is “maximizing value while minimizing waste”. We pursue this ideal through the application of lean construction principles, methods, and tools. We understand that the achievement of this philosophy is impossible. All we can do is strive to move closer and closer to perfection each and every day.

The third Lean philosophy is continuous improvement. Although continuous improvement is implied when we take into consideration “respect for people” and “maximizing value while minimizing waste”, we have to be explicit about this philosophy. The main reason is that most companies that implement lean stagnant. They may understand the first two philosophies and apply several Lean Construction methods. But they do not make any measurable improvement over time. Once all the easy wins and visible waste can be eliminated, they become complacent.

All three philosophies are important and they have a synergistic relationship with each other. You can’t respect people if you don’t continuously improve and actively help people get better because you are wasting human potential. You can’t “maximize value while minimizing waste” without continuous improvement. And you can’t continuously improve without taking into consideration your team, customers, suppliers, and the entire value chain.

The principles are concepts that help us achieve the philosophy and can include: continuous flow, single piece flow, pull, small batch size, fast switch over, visual management, etc. There are many Lean principles that we know of and there are many that come up over time. We will talk briefly about the lean principles that we are aware of. These principles exist in nature and are there for us to uncover. We do not and cannot invent any of these principles. Similar to mathematical proofs, they have always existed. It just takes us time and a bit of wisdom to realize them and be able to document them in a way that others can use.

There are several Lean Construction methods that we have developed to formalize the principles. These include the Last Planner System, Takt Time, Choosing By Advantages, Target Value Delivery, Integrated Project Delivery, etc. The methods are important because they create prescriptive processes that allow us to achieve the Lean principles. They are clear enough for us to understand how to apply them but are general enough that they can be adapted to different situations.

Some people ask the question, which came first, the principles or the methods? The answer is it depends. Sometimes you can use the lean principles to find gaps in current practices and use them to create methods. Sometimes, you create methods that just work very effectively. You break them down and try to uncover the principles behind them. Both ways are acceptable and as you can see, by understanding the philosophy and principles, you can enhance the methods that you are currently using. Or even create new ones. It is really that powerful once you grasp this idea.

Finally there are tools such as software, analog (aka stickies), and hybrid implementations that allow us to actually use the methods within our project or organization. Every project will implement Lean slightly differently based on the team’s experience, preferences, and unique project conditions. As long as the implementation is aligned with the method, principles, and philosophy; you will get good results. We will talk more about the three forms of lean implementation in a later chapter. We will cover the relationship between the three. When you should go digital versus analog versus hybrid.

To the beginners, I teach tools and practices.
To the intermediate level students, I teach methods.
To the advanced students, I teach philosophy and principles.

The further you move along your lean construction proficiency, the more you need to focus on first principles, philosophies, and ways of thinking. In the beginning, tools and implementations are important because they can help you move very far with templates and tried and true practices. They give you practical examples and inspiration to get started right away.

But over time, these tools and practices can become too rigid. The only way to get better is to increase your understanding and become more flexible in your thinking and implementation.

Many people approach Lean Construction by simply copying other people’s implementation. If you don’t understand Lean Construction holistically, then there will be a hard ceiling that you will reach with your progress.

The goal of this book is to introduce you to a deeper understanding of Lean Construction. To explore topics and areas that are hidden to most practitioners but once you understand them can have profound implications on your own lean construction implementations. We will focus mostly on the philosophy, principles, and ways of thinking about Lean Construction. There are many excellent books, blogs, and resources available on the Lean methodology and implementation that I recommend you read as a supplement to this book. This is NOT a how to DO book. It is a HOW TO THINK book.

Although the exploration of a philosophy seems theoretical, there is nothing more practical than a good theory. Let’s get started.

Chapter 2 includes:

  • The Difference Between Philosophy, Principles, Methods, Tools and Implementation
  • What is Lean Construction and where did it come from?
  • What is the difference between philosophy and principles?
  • What is the difference between principles and methods?
  • What is the difference between tools and methods?
  • Why do you need to understand the entire stack to be effective with your implementation?

Doanh specializes in Lean Construction with an emphasize on Target Value Delivery (TVD), Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), Choosing By Advantages (CBA), and the Last Planner System (LPS). He helps capital projects (100M to +1B) improve decision-making, productivity, cost, and schedule by 20% to 45% through Lean Construction methods and technology. He has worked with and studied under the founders of Lean Construction in order to develop a holistic understanding of LC methods from both a practical and fundamental theoretical perspective. He is an editor of the Lean Construction Blog, a leading online resource for Lean Construction. We have over 280 articles on LC, over 150,000 unique visitors each year, and over 1M page views. The Lean Construction Blog's mission is to democratize and advance Lean Construction around the world.