Devising a comprehensive, revolutionary set of manufacturing methods helped Toyota morph from a small car maker in the 1980s into the world’s largest today. That impressive growth set the stage for their manufacturing methodology (Anglicized to “Lean”) to be emulated around the globe.
One emulator has been the construction industry where Lean tools improve work flow throughout the building process. The Lean emphasis exposes quality issues and boosts productivity. Value is maximized, waste is reduced.
Among Lean practitioners is O&G’s Building Division. At the Platt High School Project in Meriden, Project Manager Dave Cravanzola and Superintendent Steve Baranello have been exploiting Lean to great effect, experiencing what they call “amazing improvements” over conventional methodologies for running a project of this scope (the Platt project is a 268,000SF, four-year addition and renovation job).
Of Lean construction’s many facets, those Cravanzola and his team focus on most are:
- Pre-planning the work: involving all trades in initial planning, continuing through weekly and even daily planning at the foreman level;
- Batching the job: segmenting work into smaller, more readily controlled areas;
- Balancing the work force: keeping work flowing steadily to even out variation in manpower;
- Pulling the work: smoothly handing-off work zones from one contractor to the next one in line to work there,”pulling” them along;
- Managing variation: closely managing to eliminate or reduce the unexpected events that push against a project; and
- Continuing improvement: applying lessons learned to improve the process and tracking everyone’s performance to improve reliability and commitment.
Work at Platt began with a handicap. Four months were consumed re-scoping the project and rebidding to meet client cost objectives with no change to the delivery date. Using Lean methodologies, particularly in the second phase where work stands today, the O&G team has regained all those months, putting the project back on the original schedule with what Cravanzola calls Lean’s more “gentlemanly” approach.
It was a collective effort, led by O&G, that sought the input of every trade to gain consensus on the best way forward for everyone and avoid hidden flaws. All agreed with the sequencing and have been on the same path. Lean management is new to some of the trades, so this initial buy-in to the Lean plan was essential for Cravanzola. “We let them know we’re a team putting together a schedule that works for everyone.”
“It’s tougher to manage work with a 30-day duration and a vast project area when you are just a few days into it,” says Cravanzola. Time appears to be abundant at the outset but that’s a flawed perception that leaves a door open to panic as the end approaches. Shorter batches greatly reduce that likelihood. For instance, with five days allowed to install the ductwork in a specific sequence area, it was easy for Baranello to flag a problem at day two when he saw that all the contractor had done was receive and uncrate materials. Says Baranello, “Using Lean we broke a 24,000SF area into 4,000SF spaces with five-day durations. That made it a lot easier to make sure the trades were working where and when we needed them.”
Old ways don’t change easily. Cravanzola illustrates: “Finishing work is important. By habit trades will go to a space, complete ninety percent of the work and then move on to another step that’s more productive for them. They think, ‘Let’s get the big things taken care of and we’ll go back for the details.’ With Lean you need to finish the work completely because sooner or later that ten percent you left undone is going to prevent someone else from doing what they need to do.”
At times Lean methods can seem counterintuitive. “Sometimes you need to go slower to go faster” is a mantra you hear. Even if you have a greater capacity, Lean dictates you work at a pace only as quick as the next crew coming in behind you can handle. That eliminates backlogs, partially completed work and piles of material cluttering the workspace and needing to be moved multiple times. (Lean sites, not surprisingly, are usually cleaner sites.)
Lean’s proof is in the pudding at Platt. “We’ve been able to shorten the overall time frame here and still allow the trades to have the time they need,” he says. “We shaved at least three-and-a-half weeks off the schedule for the block walls and building systems rough- in alone, just like that,” says Cravanzola.
Applying Lean construction methods, O&G readily manages every piece of the construction process, enhancing quality and maximizing productivity.