Digital Builder Ep 42: How to Maximize Value with Lean: It’s Worth It! 

We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: collaboration between stakeholders is crucial to the success of your construction projects. A strong link between teams (specifically field and office teams) ensures that jobs are completed on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards.

The good news is that construction firms increasingly recognize the importance of collaboration. Our data shows that collaboration activities on project issues increased 2.5x from 2020 to 2022

Taking things a step further, some companies are adopting Lean Construction practices and integrated delivery methods to keep teams in sync and projects running smoothly. 

Our latest podcast guest, Ariana Alvear, knows exactly what it takes to successfully implement Lean principles. 

As Senior Production Manager at The Boldt Company, part of Ariana's job is to be the link between the office and the field. She facilitates communication and implements Lean Construction methodologies, paving the way for the effective and efficient execution of The Boldt Company’s projects. 

We recently caught up with Ariana and had a great discussion on all things Lean Construction—including common myths and misconceptions, the role of technology, and the ideal project delivery method when going Lean. 

Watch the episode now

What is Lean Construction?

To lay the groundwork for our conversation on Lean Construction, Ariana starts by giving her definition. 

Lean Construction, she says, is "a smoother and more reliable system of delivering a project in a way that adds value to the stakeholders."

A significant part of her Senior Production Manager role involves implementing the company's production system. 

The common myths surrounding Lean Construction

Lean Construction deviates from traditional ways of doing things, which is why there are several misconceptions surrounding the methodology. 

A common one, says Ariana, is the notion that it costs too much work and money. "Yes, it is a lot of work, but it's a lot of work upfront that makes the rest of the process easier and more predictable," she explains.

Ariana also mentions that some people believe implementing Lean Construction requires buy-in from just a handful of people. 

"It doesn't work that way," she remarks. "You cannot be in a project where only the owner is Lean, or only the general contractor is Lean. You need to be able to get everybody on board." 

Using Lean methods to eliminate communication barriers

Lean Construction requires clarity and specificity about communicating. When carried out properly, Lean methodologies can reduce or eliminate communication issues so teams are always on the same page. 

According to Ariana, one way they accomplish this at The Boldt Company is to encourage teams to be more intentional and direct with their words and phrases. 

Words like "should," "hopefully," "maybe," and "sure" are often challenged at the company. 

"It's completely different if I hear somebody saying, 'Hopefully, I'll get it done by Wednesday,' versus saying, 'I will get it done by Friday.' I'd much rather have you tell me, "I am 100% committed to being done Friday." But if you say, "Hopefully, by Wednesday," it doesn't mean anything.

Team members are also encouraged to speak up about concerns with timing or unexpected issues. 

“That's the other thing we challenge our team members on. ‘Hey, I committed to doing this, but this happened. Now I have a constraint in the way, and I'm not going to be able to meet that commitment.’ So raise your hand as soon as you know to give the other team members a chance to re-plan for the commitment."

Implementing better approaches to data

Getting people aligned on a project requires you to not only give them the correct data but also to present information in a way that makes sense for everyone. That's why Ariana strives to produce a clear picture of how the team will build the project. 

"I take the master schedule, which is a very high-level Gantt chart type of schedule. We take this to another level because a Gantt chart view doesn't necessarily tell you how you are going to move across the building," Ariana explains. 

"We start with that high level, then break it into construction phases, and then we draw this pretty visual."

The team also maps out the various project activities, enabling them to fully understand the different phases of the job, along with when and where they need to take place.

Embracing automation and eliminating manual processes  

Lean principles are rooted in manufacturing, so the practices are closely aligned with automation and assembly lines. When asked how this applies to the construction world, Ariana says it's all about using technology to be more efficient and access data faster. This is especially the case when dealing with repetitive processes.

"If you know it's something you're going to repeat all the time, then it's worth your time and money to evaluate the process and think, 'Hey, if I'm going to be doing this every month or every week, I might as well just spend eight hours, 20 hours making it simple.'"

Ariana continues, "Part of the Lean practices is continuous improvement. So always be thinking, 'How do I make this process easier for everyone?'"

At The Boldt Company, they've applied these concepts by creating dashboards that filter data to make information and insights easier to find. 

"We sat down with our trade partner and said, 'Okay, give me a list of all your long-lead items because we need to make sure we release this procurement as soon as possible.'"

"Then, we built a report with another tool that extracts the information from the schedule for those specific items… So we have an interactive dashboard where you can click on specific items or companies and see, 'Okay, what do we need to focus on?'"

She continues, "That helped everybody see the big picture and make better decisions."

Diving into Integrated Project Delivery 

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Lean Construction are complementary in that they both seek to improve project outcomes by increasing collaboration among stakeholders. This is why The Boldt Company also applies IPD in its projects.

"IPD goes beyond a contract because it's a type of contract. It's a culture that you get invited to. It's inviting everybody to think about what's better for the project instead of only focusing on your scope of work.” 

Unlike traditional delivery methods where stakeholders assume risks solely for their area of responsibility, IPD encourages parties to share the risks and rewards associated with the project.

And the moment you do this, says Ariana, "you're committing to solving them better, faster, and also speaking up when those issues arrive, as soon as they arrive."

She continues, "It's true collaboration. And because you're constantly collaborating, constantly checking on how you're doing, you can forecast how you're going to finish."

All that being said, IPD doesn't change how structures are built. Certain processes in the design and execution stages remain the same regardless of your delivery method. What does change, is the mindset of stakeholders and the nature of their collaboration. 

Bringing stakeholders on board with IPD

Getting construction pros—especially those used to traditional delivery methods—to adopt IPD can be tricky, but Ariana says that's doable, if the owner is onboard.

"The owner, in my experience, is a very key component. If they're in, that makes a difference. And it's not about only saying, 'I'm going to do IPD, and I'm going to build a Lean project.' You need to actually act on it and behave like it."

She adds, "The owner has to be involved in all these meetings and set the pace. They need to set the example."

In some cases, encouraging owners to adopt IPD can start on the GC or trade partner side.

"Sometimes it's just going to take a GC or even one of the trade partners to have had that experience and inviting them, 'Let's try this. We'll hold your hand and bring you up to speed.' It's not an easy task, but absolutely, it's more difficult if the owner is not on board."

New podcast episode every week

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. New episodes of the Digital Builder podcast go live every two weeks. 

Ariana goes into greater detail on all things Lean Construction and IPD, so listen to the full episode and discover how you can maximize your success with these technologies. 

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.