Lean is not “Play Nicely”


The 3M Buckley Innovation Centre played host to the Huddersfield University “Collaborate” one day event. A popular forum where leading Lean ambassadors and practitioners met up to discuss best practice, misconceptions and next steps.

Lean Construction – essentially the act of applying swift manufacturing processes, tools and procedures to the realm of construction is nothing new, although the phrase manifests itself differently depending who you ask. Costain call it “Factory Thinking” Carillion went for “Operational Excellence” and Highways England utilise the “HELMA” toolset yet all honour the same ideals at heart. With BIM being both a tool and a process that lends itself to Lean methodologies and practices wholesale, then the role of BIM “in the bigger picture” can sometimes be lost. So let’s have a look at the bigger picture through the words of the speakers on the day. These were after all the crème de la crème of the Lean in Construction “movement” and their insight remains as invaluable as ever.

Glenn Ballard is a household name in this regard. As Co-Founder and Research Director of the Lean Construction Institute, Glenn provided a thoughtful and entertaining look at the history of Lean Construction before covering IPD, scope creep, Target Value Design and the Nasty 15 (below). Anecdotally referencing the fact that relational contracts should be considered similar to those of a marriage vow – insofar as it’s fine to have a few bumps along the way. He also elaborated that it is important to remember that no tool, approach or methodology stops a problem from happening outright. But it does enable far earlier identification and problem solving regimes to snap into place much sooner. Short of a crystal ball.

The Nasty 15 (ways in which multi-party collaboration falls short):

  1. Imbalance of Overheads and Profit.
  2. Designers have too small profit at risk.
  3. Hard to move scope and cost across boundaries.
  4. Inadequate forecasting of cost to complete.
  5. Untimely payment of profits.
  6. Key players not in the risk pool.
  7. Lack of coordination with players not in the risk pool.
  8. Target cost set on price, not worth.
  9. Owners not pulling their oar.
  10. Owners forcing teams to cut profits.
  11. Inadequate and hidden contingencies.
  12. Owners exploitation of the team to get projects without paying any profits.
  13. Firms using reimburse-ability to carry otherwise idle staff.
  14. Firms withholding the best personnel.
  15. Failure to set target costs at or below market.

Lean collaboration does not mean “play nicely”. In a genuinely collaborative multi-party contract you as a person, and as a company, are there for a reason. Sometimes it is necessary to tell it as it is for the greater good, hold your corner and keep a healthy roster of your reasons and justifications. Conversely, the social skill of resilience then comes into play for when you're on the receiving end. Because at some point you will be. Here was a talk that resonated well with all attendees and a poignant discussion soon followed. “What is next for Lean?” I asked. Glenn considered this and nodded “more development frameworks and much more second and third tier engagement” a comment that concluded Glenn’s substantial presentation.

Derek Drysdale from the Lean Construction Institute (UK) then provided a practical, engaging and forthright presentation of Lean Construction in the UK. A presentation that was full of case studies and practical anecdotes that only a person with 35 years at the top can muster. A time-lapse comparison between a mini being assembled and a house showed the many similarities and the many differences between the two sectors of work - before going on to explore opportunities where these setups can further overlap. The “Lean Support to Highways England” publicly accessible UK database was also mentioned.

Derek then revealed quite tellingly that if Clients don’t necessarily ask for Lean then they don't get it. A discussion soon followed that questioned if contractors were fully committing to Lean at all, even for their own gain? This was surprising and certainly food for thought (and if you're a contractor that can vouch for this then please add a comment below).

It was already apparent from both talks that the selection of the individuals as well as the companies involved was paramount when it came to true collaborative working. Not least because each invested party, certainly those who are part of the “risk pool” have the final say on which companies will be welcomed on board and which will be asked to leave. Hence the “greater good” of the project is always close at heart. For good reason too, the risk is the profit.

Asking Derek of his biggest regrets he responded immediately “giving the supply chain a dressing down for failure.” Adding “it made no difference in the end, in fact it made things worse”. Reflecting “it was a big mistake, although it was peer pressure on myself to some extent” he summarised.

He also acknowledged that “the danger of BIM is that it's seen as a ‘winner’ for construction” which surprised the room a little. “It’s a powerful technique that’s brilliant in many ways, allowing us to model and predict and analyse like never before, but it's people that run it” before adding “and lean is the motivator of these interactions - and the real accelerator here.” Which was a valid point and well recieved.

Paul Greenwood then took the floor in a dedicated and methodical look at the role of Constructing Excellence as applied to the UK and the Lean arena. A wealth of case studies and significant metrics and statistics were provided that documented many project successes with regard to the Lean approach. As part of the debate, many construction traits were also identified and ridiculed for what they were. Consider a snagging list for example (or a punch list to those of you in the USA). The fact that this even exists demonstrates that a series of problems have been left utterly unsolved along the way. Compare this to the notion of a snagging list on a car at the end of the manufacturing process. It would never happen. Indeed it can't be allowed to happen as the processes necessary are so widely dispersed (and otherwise engaged) that it soon becomes too difficult to implement. Yet we really do seem to accept sub-standard items and practices in construction. A fact that is entirely our fault.

With Professor Lauri Koskela from Huddersfield University providing a stark and clinical look at the philosophical approaches to Lean, this provided a necessary counterpoint to the practical talks of the day. Delving into the idea of dysfunctional views of collaboration, Lauri postulated the notion that collaboration is too complex to be compatible with simple taxonomies. Expanding further he then considered why individual work is often regarded as “the norm” in the first place. A critical look at the mind-set and approach of engineering versus other disciplines then followed; considering the idea that “engineering” isn’t intended at heart to be for the benefit of the customer, rather it is about commanding (and pushing) mother nature’s natural phenomena to achieve a certain aim.

The final presentation was by the University of South West England’s Trina Ratcliffe-Pacheco, the BIM Manager who oversaw the delivery of the As-Built models of the construction projects. This was a wonderful anecdotal tale of BIM implementation and collaborative working from the client side. Using a targeted gateway approach (RIBA) Trina then compared design management of old with design management anew. Using a telling image of a conductor pointing at different sections of the orchestra versus the multi limbed prowess of an all-seeing all-knowing octopus. A wry look at how times have changed.

Trina also explained that a full COBIE dataset was always required. Her in house team then extracts the subsequent data as needed. This cuts out unnecessary overheads and fees from supply chain members trying to deliver an “FM ready data package” even though they’re contractually bound to deliver this information anyway. She also gave anecdotal evidence of the use of an as-built BIM model putting an end to ridiculously wasteful maintenance routines as follows.

Example: Consider a 7m high room with a single bulb that needs replacing at the top. Given that nobody ever consults O&M manuals (where did we put them?) the sequence went like this:

  • Maintenance team contacted.
  • Cherry-picker hired.
  • Bulb unscrewed to check the type.
  • Bulb ordered from supplier.
  • Bulb received (four days later).
  • Cherry-picker hired again.
  • Bulb replaced.

The above, versus clicking on the as-built model ordering the bulb and then fixing in one go sounds ridiculous on the face of it, but we all know organisations that operate like this (and many still do).

In closing, a full panel Q&A then followed and all attendees remained to ask questions and to learn further. The event was then wrapped up by Huddersfield University chair Professor Mike Kagioglou with the day’s proceedings expertly held together by Professor Patricia Tzortzopoulos, the University's head of Architecture & 3D Design.

As The BIM Hub welcomes the cross pollination of modern practices and the synergy that BIM has within them, it is hoped that you will explore Lean methodologies and practices going forward. Indeed, we look forward to capturing even more Lean case studies and championing Lean events and the like much further, in the spirit of the wider BIM movement.

So for now it's onwards and upwards (tender and Lean).

Thanks for reading!

Please enjoy a limited number of articles over the next 30 days.

For total access log in to your The BIM Hub account. Or register now, it's free.

Register Sign in