Have you ever been on a construction site, and just stopped and watched? On first glance, you may see trucks moving materials, laydown yards full of valves ad vessels, and people in safety gear performing tasks like pouring concrete, welding pipes, and pulling cables. Taking a closer look at the movement of a truck, you might notice pipes being moved to a location for the third time. Or a person walking across the site to retrieve welding rods or a tool.
The very essence of lean thinking is to observe these “wastes” very closely with the intent to measure it and understand it. Waste does not add value to the final product, and by gaining an understanding of these wastes, one can uncover an opportunity to eliminate them. One of the fundamentals of lean is that those who do the work each day – the people who actually touch the tools – must be the people who stop, see, and identify these wastes. Those who experience it day-to-day are the people who can truly see it.
However, eliminating waste items one at a time is not an efficient means of doing so. Fortunately, lean provides a wide range of counter-intuitive methods, adapted to our industry that can be applied to eradicate multiple forms of waste within a work area.
What is Lean?
If you have heard of lean before, you will know that it is about working more efficiently, however you may not know that lean thinking and management has been applied successfully with amazing results in many industries – health care, manufacturing, automotive, ship design & construction, and retail to name a few. Lean is a business growth strategy, that enables businesses to identify waste, understand why it’s there, and make improvements that benefit both the customer and the business itself. Lean management not only delivers a powerful set of methods to enable this improvement, but also provides a framework for an open and transparent company culture that is focused on continuous improvement.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
On a recent project at Fluor, construction management identified a particularly difficult situation where hydrotests were not being performed at the rate expected to maintain the project schedule. Management pulled together a team of people consisting of the hydrotest crew, inspection, client representatives and project field engineering among others. In-house Fluor lean coaches were brought in to help this team measure and observe the wastes, understand root causes, and gain a very clear picture of what could be improved.
The team learned a lean method of following a demand cadence – having all operations of hydrotesting (release, setup, testing, blowing, drying, and capping) all work in a “continuous flow” manner. This allowed a number of wastes to be eliminated leading to the hydrotesting backlog being cleared speedily – in fact, the project went from 10 to 50 hydrotests per day. This was a different and more efficient way of addressing the problem where a traditional solution might have been to add more crews to meet production targets.
Is there an opportunity in the office too?
It may be harder to see, but lean thinking and management also recognizes that wastes that surface in places such as a construction site can also manifest in design, engineering, procurement, commissioning and qualification processes.
In one such case on a project at Fluor, an engineering manager recognized a challenge in, obtaining vendor information to feed into various discipline milestones due to an aggressive schedule. The manager put together a team of discipline engineers, designers, and supply chain personnel, and asked that the procurement process for equipment be improved, bringing in Fluor’s in-house lean coaches to help.
Analysis of the waste, facts of the process, and learning about the lean methods of design cells and Kanban boards*, allowed the team to put a new process in place, resulting in a significant reduction in engineering hours to construct a purchase order and to reduce the purchasing duration by several weeks.
How can we take advantage of Lean Thinking and Management in the Industrial Construction Industry?
Fluor recognizes that lean thinking and management can help improve our industry as a whole – recognizing and seeing wastes and collaborating to efficiently deliver the best value to our clients.
In the last 30 years, the construction industry has made big strides in adapting to lean product development and manufacturing practices. The Construction Industry Institute (CII) Final Report 341 on Integrated Industrial Project Delivery provides fresh motivation to consider applying lean for the purpose of achieving superior project outcomes. This report outlines the current state of hundreds of industrial capital projects, and the need to improve project outcomes and achieve the business case objectives of an industrial project by using lean principles and lean collaboration and integration methods.
Fluor’s intention is to exceed the benchmark set by the commercial and infrastructure construction industries in the quest to add value to owners. Fluor views Final Report 341 from CII as a good benchmark, but one that can be exceeded through commitment of project leadership. Fluor has developed an approach to holistically execute lean, where lean methods are gradually introduced at the right time in the project lifecycle.
Fluor works closely with Clients, project partners, and suppliers to apply lean thinking and management in an effort to assess project execution from a different perspective, to empower our collective employees, and help them to solve problems in their day-to-day work life.
*Kanban: a way of getting material to move to a point of consumption at a construction site, just-in-time to be consumed. In an office context, Kanban can also be used to move information just-in-time to be consumed by others.
About the Authors:
Anand Nicodemus is a Lean Sensei (teacher) in Fluor. Teaching lean became his life’s mission after he successfully led a lean deployment as the General Manager of a Technology Company in 1994. With Lean, Anand was able to double the revenue in a market that was shrinking by half year-on-year. Since then, he has taught lean in over 80 organizations, across multiple industries in 12 countries and helped them improve strategy and operational performance.
Jayne Nichols first used lean as a Department Manager within Fluor and quickly became aware of the transformative power of lean. She decided to dedicate her time to propagating lean, and since then has coached dozens of teams in Fluor in implementing lean methods in their design and construction.