Lean construction: delivering tangible benefits

Construction and infrastructure organisations in the UK are continually looking to deliver improved customer service, realise ever more challenging efficiency targets and be more outcome focused.

One of the ways in which they are doing this is through utilising ‘lean’. Whilst better known for its success in industries such as manufacturing, automotive and aerospace, ‘lean’ is equally applicable to construction and infrastructure organisations. Lean construction is the term used to define the application of ‘lean’ thinking principles to the construction environment with the aim of maximising value and minimising waste. 

It is not about showing people how it is done in other industries and then expecting the magic to be delivered, but about supporting and working with staff across the whole organisation, including back office staff and supply chain, to ensure they not only understand exactly how it applies to their job but how they can take ownership. 

Lean construction often requires a cultural shift away from fire fighting to greater empowerment, collaboration, problem solving and customer focus (by everyone in the organisation not to customer facing individuals). There needs to be clear leadership and management commitment as well as adequate education and training in the benefits of ‘lean’. It applies to everyone as part of their everyday work, by looking to continually improve how they work, increase value, improving processes, saving money and working safer and delighting customers. 

Whether you are delivering an AMP6 efficiency programme, undertaking a capital build, delivering repairs and maintenance activities, undertaking a fit out or managing a design project, ‘lean’ can deliver significant benefits as well as being a key tool in supporting the organisation to deliver its strategic objectives.

Benefits of lean construction

  • Improved customer service with greater focus of all staff on the complete requirements of the customer.
  • Improved profitability.
  • More sustainable solutions. 
  • Outcomes achieved. 
  • Reduced strategic, operational and process risk. 
  • Improved staff morale and engagement. 

The underlying principles

Whilst there is much written about some of the principles of ‘lean’, we believe the most fundamental ones for successful lean construction are:

  • focus on the customer (internal and external) across the whole organisation and value chain; 
  • process measurement and analysis supporting effective benefits management; 
  • everyone can make a difference through engagement, empowerment and ownership; 
  • fact based data driven decision making; 
  • right first time, eliminating all forms of waste; 
  • effective utilisation of technology to support the processes; 
  • avoid variation and encourage standardisation, aligning the end to end process; and 
  • encourage collaboration and innovation. 

Related considerations when implementing lean construction

  • What is our Customer strategy? Who are our customers, what do they need and how will we meet their requirements? Do all staff understand the impact they have on customers? 
  • How do we successfully deliver our efficiency targets and plans? How do we measure, report, track and manage our improvement activities? Do we have an appropriate Project Management framework, PMO and skills? 
  • How do we get the best out of ‘lean’? How will people understand how it is relevant to their job (rather than just shifted from another industry)? 
  • How do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes we want to achieve? Do we understand how the inputs and outputs deliver outcomes? 
  • What is the impact on our people, what training will they need, what skills are we lacking? How do our staff own the ideas and solutions? 
  • What is the impact on our structures and processes? How do we ensure they are fit for purpose and focused on the end to end customer? How does ‘lean’ support our other initiatives such as BIM, Whole life asset management, collaboration, sustainability etc.? 
  • What are the technology implications and what is our technology strategy? Do we utilise technology in the best way e.g. mobile working, scheduling and planning, project management, business intelligence? 
  • What are the risks and opportunities (strategic, operational, process, contract etc.) and how do we manage these? What are the value and risk (opportunity) options available and how do we manage the trade-offs? 
  • How do we manage our contracts and associate risks? 
  • How do we turn ideas in to innovation? Are we maximising the opportunities faced by R&D tax credits and patent box? 

Client testimonial:

'We recommend that the UK construction industry should adopt lean thinking as a means of sustaining performance improvement.'

Rethinking Construction: The report of the Construction Task Force 

How can RSM help?

We have experience of working with construction, infrastructure and utilities organisations in delivering customer service improvement and tangible efficiency savings up to 25 per cent. 

We can support you through your lean construction journey including from strategy formulation to the design and implementation of the new processes and systems. We can also run your lean/benefits management PMO.