While lean management principles have long been employed by the manufacturing industry to shore up efficiency and eliminate waste, the methodology also promises to bring major benefits to construction projects, particularly when used in tandem with modern software platforms and smart devices.

Angelo Wolfram, enterprise sales manager, Newforma, points to the strong applicability of lean’s planning processes to modern construction projects.

“Lean can add value to the construction sector by having processes in place to ensure there’s a clear, stage-based approach to projects,” said Wolfram. “The right plan on what needs to be acted on, what you’re planning for the following week, and how that impacts the individuals with whom you’re collaborating.”

The application of lean management to the construction sector reaps benefits for projects across numerous areas, chief amongst them the reduction of needless waste, avoiding redundant systems, and increasing respect amongst contractors and employees.

“Lean eliminates waste by removing errors that can arise, while ensuring the right information is available on site,” said Wolfram. “One example would be if you’re pouring concrete on site, you can be assured that the latest drawing and information is available, so you’re not going out and performing rework, all of which has a dollar cost.”

The waste reduction made possible by lean also improves work culture and respectfulness for personnel, by ensuring their shifts are accurately scheduled and everyone’s time is utilised effectively.

“One of the definitions of waste is not just being too late for a job, but also being too early, and that’s where it comes down to respecting people and their time,” said Wolfram. “Respectfulness is an advantage in and of itself. In the construction industry, it means ensuring everyone’s tasks are identified, when they need to commence and when they need to be completed.

“When you’ve got people working on different stages of a particular project, if you’re too far ahead of schedule, it could impact the person starting his current job role. You may have an electrician who’s on level two, but the concrete hasn’t been poured on the ground level.”

The efficiency and waste reduction benefits of lean management employed by the manufacturing sector for many decades now can be further enhanced via the use of software platforms and mobile communications technology to replace unwieldy and error-prone manual entry processes.

“Lean was traditionally performed manually, by having everyone write tasks on post-it notes in different colours, highlighting what needed to be done and when, before sticking them on boards either vertically or horizontally,” said Wolfram. “As the project progressed, you would manually pull off the post-it notes and move them along from a holding position, to a start position, to a complete position, to a sign-off position.

“When tasks are performed manually, there is a human element to it, which means there is the potential for human error to arise if information is mis-written, misplaced or illegible.”

The use of software platforms to run lean protocols reduces the potential for human error during the process of entering, as well as altering and manipulating information.

“That’s where software comes into play. The creation of a digital environment captures and records information, as well as displays it visually in a clear manner, allowing everyone to fully understand the stages of the project and the roles they play,” said Wolfram. “It eliminates a great deal of human error. Information is captured digitally in a complete log so that the major components of the history are available when something is changed.”

The use of a software platform to run lean processes can be further enhanced when mobile smart devices are brought into play, as they expedite collaboration between multiple parties by enabling each to contribute data to a project irrespective of location.

“The whole AEC sector is moving towards the use of mobile devices and having all the information you need at your fingertips,” said Wolfram. “…software tools give everyone the ability to access the same process remotely by means of a mobile device, whether it be a phone or tablet, enabling a greater number of people to participate in coordination and collaboration.

“It’s no longer the traditional process where you need to get everyone in a single room and dictate to them in a top-down fashion what their tasks are. Instead, collaboration becomes a group discussion that best optimises what you need to do because everyone’s participating.

“You’ve essentially got a complete collaborative tool.”

Another key advantage of lean software platforms is the use of powerful analytics to conduct forecasting, further building upon the planning benefits that the original methodology brings to complex projects.

“Our software has an analytics component to it, allowing forecasting to be run based on the information entered in relation to specific disciplines or stages,” said Wolfram. “You can access and view the forecasting and speed for the week, month or the full course of the project, ensuring completion is on track and eliminating any unnecessary delays.”