Book Review: The Lean Builder

I recently completed reading the book The Lean Builder. The book is a very light and informative book. It uses a narrative style similar to Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade, which makes it very approachable to anyone, including those out in the field on the tools.

The book should be read in it’s entirety before implementing the principles outlined in it. I don’t agree with the order of implementation that they used in the book, but it might work for some people. I do agree that a phased roll out of the Last Planner System is a good approach as to not overwhelm people with too many new things to have to do at once.

It has the following chapters in it:

Chapter 1 – Daily Huddles
Chapter 2 – Visual Communication
Chapter 3 – 8 Wastes
Chapter 4 – Managing Constraints
Chapter 5 – Pull Planning
Chapter 6 – The Last Planner System

In Chapter 1 they did a great job at capturing the essence of a trade meeting and I have been in many just like that. They did highlight the importance of committing to each other, but not very directly. One of the Five Big Ideas is that a project is a network of commitments. As it was early in the book and they do not discuss the Last Planner System until the last chapter they didn’t discuss how their daily work connected to the bigger picture of if fit within the milestone and phase that they were working in. It is really easy to get lost in the weeds when planning the work for the week to not consider how this ties back into the bigger plan. This is why I recommend that there are two people on the General Contractor side working on the plan. One to coordinate the plan and the other to be checking to see if that fits in the bigger picture.

Visual Communication is a foundational piece to Lean. It allows everyone to see where everyone is at. As well, it keeps people aligned to the same goals. When we are showing metrics we should ask ourselves is the best way to show this metric? Are we getting the results we thought out of this metric? Does it still matter? A metric might be good initially but when we move to a different phase it may have less impact. So we use our metrics and any counter measure to solve a challenge and help us improve. If it is no longer useful, stop doing it. We only want to do value adding work.

Another visual communication tool that I use is the personal kanban board. It allows me to see where I am with the various tasks that I have. The challenge is to stay strict to a WIP limit, as we all know that multi-tasking is inefficient and will make all the tasks take longer than if we just stayed focused on the task at hand.

There are many ways and acronyms to describe the 8 wastes. They used the DOWNTIME example and I prefer the TIM WOODS. I actually came across a great graphic the other day that put them in order with the worst wastes first. Which was an eye opener to me as I had never considered which waste was worse.

Ohno’s 7 Wastes

  1. Defects
  2. Waiting
  3. Over-processing
  4. Overproduction
  5. Travel/Transport
  6. Inventory
  7. Motion

When you think about it, the first 3 are fairly intuitive that they are worse than the following 4. Defects are building the wrong thing or the thing that doesn’t meet the parameters. Labor is typically expensive in the Western world so a waiting is highly expensive to the process and Over-processing is creating something to a higher tolerance than is required by the subsequent step in the process and in the specifications. Though we also know many engineers that specify tolerances too high for what is required.

Constraint Management is the heart of the Last Planner System in my opinion and they had some great insights there. It is important to have it visual and that each team member owns their own constraints.

Pull planning is where everyone likes to put their time in. It gets the most training and there are a bunch of software solutions that are hitting the market that enable it to happen virtually. The handoffs are the key part of the conversation here, and that it is important to give everyone a voice. This usually takes some practice to facilitate and I usually recommend that there is a co-facilitator there to make sure that you stay connected to the Master and Phase plans. Some people recommend that you pre-populate the sticky notes before I hand, that is not usually how I operate as you are making assumptions on what people are going to request or pull from you to do.

Pull planning is just one tool as part of the Last Planner System (LPS) and is usually done in the Phase Planning portion of the system. It is called the Last Planner System because the Last Planner is the last person making the assignments to the workers and most intimately knows what is required to get the task done. It is a construction made tool that helps make the planning more reliable and predictable. If reliable and predictable scheduling is not your issue than use a different lean tool first. Just like Lean is not used in every automaker let alone every manufacturing company I doubt we will see industry wide adoption of this tool. When a company chooses to use the LPS system they are engaging in a new culture of doing work. It is not about command and control but about collaboratively working together to bring value all along the supply chain directly to the client.

As I mentioned above, it is a great introductory book to the principles of Lean in construction. I would recommend it to anyone, especially those in the field, our last planners and our superintendent. Just with any learning, it is a first step in your lean journey and can help you further develop your knowledge in this exciting corner of the construction industry.

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