By Steve Rizer
Although it has yet to be widely implemented, lean construction is gaining momentum, according to a white paper that Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) recently released. In the report, entitled “Status of Lean in the U.S. Construction Industry,” the company stated the following: “Is lean construction a fad? While the industry has been slow to accept and adopt lean construction, indicators show that the trend is shifting.” As evidence, RLB pointed to the following developments as proof that lean construction is gaining traction:
- Within the last year, the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) and Associated of General Contractors of America (AGC) announced the development of a lean curriculum for its members (Construction Advisor Today, Sept. 30, 2011, “AGC, LCI Form Partnership to Promote Lean Construction”). As part of the agreement, AGC has the ability to incorporate the research, analysis, and source materials compiled by LCI into the AGC Lean Construction Education Program. The program ultimately is expected to include 16 separate courses and three levels of credentials and be delivered in a combination of settings.
- More requests for proposals are including lean requirements on projects.
- This year, the third annual CURT (Construction Users Roundtable) Lean Summit will be presented jointly by CURT, AGC, LCI, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), marking the first time that AGC and AIA have served as co-presenters.
- Lean construction is included in the curricula at the following universities in their construction-related programs: Arizona State University; Bowling Green University; Colorado State University; Louisiana State University; Michigan State University; North Carolina State University; Purdue University; San Diego State University; Texas A&M University; University of California Berkley; University of Colorado Boulder; University of Texas-Austin; Virginia Polytechnic Institute; and Washington State University. “The subject is taught either as a stand-alone course or as a module within a core course. In most cases, lean construction is covered in graduate-level courses; it is shifting to the undergrad curriculum in many universities.”
- Broader application of building information modeling and IFOAs facilitate the implementation of lean construction on projects throughout the design-build process.
- There has been an increase in the number of LCI chapters in the United States and abroad.
- “Conversation about lean construction is still very active.”
- Regionally, California, Texas, and some areas of the Midwest are leading implementation.
- Organizations that are on the leading-edge of implementation on projects are now expanding implementation to their internal organizations and business processes.
Despite indications suggesting an upswing in lean construction activity, RLB President and report co-author Julian Anderson predicted during an interview with CPW, “It will not get a chance to take-off until the industry emerges from the current long, deep recession. Until that happens, the alignment of interests isn’t there (many owners are focused on grabbing the price advantage of low bid.” He noted that the hospital sector “definitely seems to be embracing lean quicker than most others.”
Lean construction can grow much more rapidly if the following two hurdles are overcome, Anderson said: there is a change in attitude among the key players; and there is more education about what lean construction is. He acknowledged that a change in attitude will be “hard to do because of the lack of aligned interests.”
Anderson said his organization is hopeful that the white paper will be read by architects, engineers, attorneys, contractors, and sub-contractors. “We would also expect some interest from large institutional building owners, or at least those who are interested in improving their building-procurement outcomes.”
The white paper can be accessed at http://rlb.com/rlb.com/pdf/news/Status_of_Lean_in_The_US_Construction_Industry.pdf.