Two weeks ago, LCA Managing Partner Jon Davies conducted a lean construction training session as part of an all female Constructionarium project to build a replica of the Story Bridge. By the end of the morning the enthusiastic cohort had a better appreciation of lean construction and the trainer had a renewed sense of optimism for the future of the industry.
Constructionarium is a not for profit industry initiative that provides a safe environment for new engineers and other construction professionals to develop team working skills, problem solving capabilities and hands on experience building a replica of a larger structure.
As this particular build coincided with International Women in Engineering Day, it was decided that the participants would all be women (a Constructionarium first) and they would construct a replica of Brisbane’s famous Story Bridge.
Planning for the build was already well under way when Jon visited the team to discuss Lean Construction along with LCA Consultant Michelle Norton and Maria Chiozzi from Queensland University of Technology.
Against a backdrop of a widening gap in productivity growth between construction and other industries, Jon discussed how improvements could be made through simple and inexpensive changes to the way construction projects are managed. A number of Lean Construction tools and processes were discussed:
Value Stream Mapping
Value stream mapping is a method of examining current ways of managing information, people and materials involved in delivering a product for a Client (internal and external). This is done in order to identify those parts of the process that don’t provide value to the Client (waste) and can be removed to save time and money.
5S is a series of Japanese words that roughly translate into Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain. Together they describe a process for improving the layout of worksites and workplaces to make them safer and more efficient.
To better understand the importance of this theory and how it works, the team played the 5S numbers game that required them, over a series of rounds, to find numbers on a sheet of paper starting from a complete jumble across the page. Team performance dramatically improved as the layout of numbers on the page became progressively more ordered following the 5S principles.
Maria then explained how the Big Room concept and visual management can improve productivity and reduce waste. this is becauses humans find it easier to process visual information than the written word.
To demonstrate the concept, the group was divided up into teams in order to draw a standard pig.
With very few instructions in the first round it was not surprising that there was a great variety in type of pigs drawn including the group favourite – Party Pig.
In subsequent rounds more information was provided to help the team draw their pigs, including in the final round, a visual guide. This resulted in much greater standardisation of pig – even if everyone still preferred the party pig!
The final lean tool to be discussed is the only lean tool to have been specifically developed for the construction industry. The Last Planner System is a system of collaborative planning that involves the people directly responsible for supervising the works (The Last Planners) undertaking the detailed planning of the works.
The Last Planners work together to develop plans for different phases of work using a technique called Pull Planning. Working backwards from the completion milestone (the brain has a tendency to skip over tasks when working from start to finish) the Last Planners agree to the sequence and duration of activities necessary to reach the milestone and any constraints to completion. The process involves sticking different coloured sticky notes (different colour for each trade) on a wall to signify the activities required to be undertaken.
Armed with this knowledge, the team divided into the trades required to undertake their own build and prepared a pull plan to construct the Story Bridge.
The process flushed out many smaller activities that had not been considered, interfaces that needed to be addressed and a number of constraints that had to be removed before work could progress.
Importance of Collaboration
Through the course of the morning and the undertaking of the hands-on exercises, the team came to appreciate just how important people and a collaborative culture are for lean construction and successful project delivery.
Their willingness to collaboratively work together and embrace new ideas provides hope that our industry can and will change for the better!