Article by Andy Monteith, RSM (United Kingdom).
Construction and infrastructure organisations in Singapore are continually looking to deliver improved customer service, realise more challenging efficiency targets and be more outcome focused.
One of the ways in which they are doing this is through utilising ‘lean’. Whilst better known for its success in industries such as manufacturing, automotive and aerospace, ‘lean’ is equally applicable to construction and infrastructure organisations. Lean construction is the term used to define the application of ‘lean’ thinking principles to the construction environment with the aim of maximising value and minimising waste.
It is not about showing people how it is done in other industries and then expecting the magic to be delivered, but about supporting and working with staff across the whole organisation, including back office staff and supply chain, to ensure they not only understand exactly how it applies to their job but how they can take ownership.
Lean construction often requires a cultural shift away from firefighting to greater empowerment, collaboration, problem solving and customer focus (by everyone in the organisation, not just to customer-facing individuals). There needs to be clear leadership and management commitment as well as adequate education and training in the benefits of ‘lean’. It applies to everyone as part of their everyday work, by looking to continually improve how they work, increase value, improving processes, saving money and working safer and delighting customers. However being excessively ‘lean’ also brings about risk, where fundamental practices and basic safeguards are overlooked in the pursuit of strategic and performance goals. Such concerns need to be continually reinforced and echoed by project managers and the Company’s leadership team.
Whether you are undertaking a capital build, delivering repairs and maintenance activities, undertaking a fit out or managing a design project, ‘lean’ can deliver significant benefits as well as being a key tool in supporting the organisation to deliver its strategic objectives.
Benefits of lean construction:
- Improved customer service with greater focus of all staff on the complete requirements of the customer
- Improved profitability
- More sustainable solutions
- Outcomes achieved
- Reduced strategic, operational and process risk
- Improved staff morale and engagement
The underlying principles
Whilst there is much written about some of the principles of ‘lean’, we believe the most fundamental ones for successful lean construction are:
- Focus on the customer (internal and external) across the whole organisation and value chain
- Process measurement and analysis supporting effective benefits management
- Engagement, empowerment and ownership at the enterprise level
- Fact-based data driven decision making
- Getting it right the first time, eliminating all forms of waste
- Effective utilisation of technology to support the processes
- Avoid variation and encourage standardisation of processes
- Promote collaboration and innovation.
Related considerations when implementing lean construction
What is our Customer strategy? Who are our customers, what do they need and how will we meet their requirements? Do all staff understand the impact they have on customers?
- How do we successfully deliver our efficiency targets and plans? How do we measure, report, track and manage our improvement activities? Do we have an appropriate Project Management framework, and skills?
- How do we get the best out of ‘lean’? How will people understand it’s relevance to their job (rather than just shifted from another industry)?
- How do we ensure that it delivers the outcomes we want to achieve? Do we understand how the inputs and outputs deliver outcomes?
- What is the impact on our people, what training will they need, what skills are we lacking? How do our staff own the ideas and solutions?
- What is the impact on our structures and processes? How do we ensure they are fit for purpose and focused on the end to end customer? How does ‘lean’ support our other initiatives such as BIM, Whole life asset management, collaboration, sustainability etc.?
- What are the technology implications and what is our technology strategy? Do we utilise technology in the best way e.g. mobile working, scheduling and planning, project management, business intelligence?
- What are the risks and opportunities (strategic, operational, financial and regulations) and how do we manage these? What are the value and risk (opportunity) options available and how do we manage the trade-offs?
- How do we manage our contracts and associate risks?
- How do we turn ideas in to innovation? Are we maximising the opportunities?
Rethinking Construction: The report of the Construction Task Force
How can RSM help?
Our experience in the construction and real estate segment has led us to construct tailored solutions to meet the specific project goals of each business. We co-design bespoke solutions to address areas such as i) strategic alignment, ii) control design optimisation in the project management environment, iii) gap analysis of ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ procedures, iv) development of project reporting frameworks including key indicators and benchmarks.
We can support you through your lean construction journey including from strategy formulation to the design and implementation of the new processes and systems. This invariably leads to design improvements in your working environment that directly translates to a stronger bottom line.
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