For years, contractors have been urged to explore and adapt “lean” practices originally pioneered in the manufacturing sector. The challenge and benefits of doing so remain. Today’s construction companies need to maximize resources and streamline processes to stay competitive. Here are eight ways to run leaner:
1. Transport for maximum efficiency. The unnecessary transport of equipment, materials and workers before they’re needed results in a misuse of time and effort. You can reduce inefficient transportation by using fleet management software and identifying other ways to better coordinate on-site workers and complete job tasks.
2. Improve your inventory system. Although having some inventory on hand may help keep jobs moving, lean practices favor just-in-time delivery as opposed to just-in-case inventory. For example, instead of allocating cash and storage space for a stockpile of extra tools and materials, consider investing in reusable items such as guard rail systems or concrete formwork instead of two-by-fours that get tossed at the end of a project.
3. Prevent overproduction. In construction, overproduction occurs when a task is completed faster than scheduled or before the next sequential task is ready to start. It may seem like a good thing, but these scenarios can result in downtime or wasted materials. Plus, the jobsite can become needlessly congested, which may raise safety risks.
4. Monitor motion. Under a lean approach, “motion waste” refers to unnecessary movement or unproductive activities. Examples include making multiple trips across the jobsite to obtain materials or using unnecessarily labor-intensive processes when a better option is available. Extra movement and exertion increase the likelihood of accidents and may put workers at risk of fatigue or injury — especially in extreme or inclement weather conditions.
5. Track and avert defects. Costly rework arises from anything done incorrectly the first time. For instance, elements may be installed against specifications or building codes. Although you probably can’t eliminate all errors, you can capture and monitor data related to defective work and engage in a continuous effort to reduce them.
6. Reduce excess processing. Also known as “overprocessing,” excess processing refers to redundant steps that don’t add value, such as altering or double-handing supplies or materials. It also refers to inefficient administrative workflows, such as double data entry, multiple signatures on forms, redundant daily reports, and the unnecessary forwarding or copying of emails.
7. Shorten or eliminate long waits. When workers must wait for materials or equipment to be delivered, or for preceding work to be completed, workflow is disrupted. Productivity also drops when project team members must wait for plans, information requests, job progress updates or approvals. Digital solutions, such as construction management software and mobile apps, enable project teams to share information in real time from anywhere.
8. Maximize talent and skills. This may be the most difficult lean measure to take given the ongoing skilled labor shortage in construction. Nonetheless, make sure you’re fully aware of the skill sets and potential of everyone on staff.
Conduct regular performance evaluations and provide training and upskilling as budget and time constraints allow. Employees are your greatest asset — use their talents, creativity and knowledge to make your construction business as lean and profitable as possible.
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