Article Date: 09/06/2013

What Is the State of Lean Construction?

By Steve Rizer


What is the current state of the crusade to promote more widespread incorporation of lean principles into construction projects? Is lean construction a passing fad for which the "sell by" date already has come and gone, or is it a trend that is growing across the industry? In search of an answer, ConstructionPro Week (CPW) asked Lean Construction Institute (LCI) Executive Director Dan Heinemeier whether the share of lean projects within the construction industry has been rising or declining in recent years and what the primary reason is behind the increase or decrease. Here is his response:


“We are confident that lean usage in design and construction is very much on the rise. Several factors contribute to this. Owners and contractors resort to lean on projects that have slipped so badly in cost and schedule that a significantly different delivery approach was required to salvage the project. When they realize the benefits, they obviously become proponents on future work. Others see it as a competitive advantage and a structured way to meet and exceed owner conditions of satisfaction and pave the way for future business.”


Heinemeier further commented that his organization envisions “many more people participating in our training and education programs across the country, both in our local communities of practice and in company-sponsored training programs. The fully committed firms have established their own internal lean champions for training and support after initially using consulting help to get themselves up to speed.”


In a separate interview with CPW, Afshan Barshan, Skender Construction project executive and co-founder of the LCI Chicago Community of Practice (CCoP), also said he believes there is an increase in lean construction’s popularity. He reported that attendance at LCI CCoP’s quarterly meetings has grown from approximately 60 people when the organization was founded in late 2011 to, most recently, about 150 people.


In addition, Barshan observed that owners “are more astute [about lean construction] now. They want to know what’s happening. They are demanding transparency. So, I think lean is going to be used more and more, and it’s going to [become] commonplace, not really soon, but it’s not too far [in the future] either, not like centuries away.”


Barshan noted that California has become “pretty advanced when it comes to implementation of IPDs [integrated project delivery] and the contractual obligations that lean has. It’s a no-brainer for them. They don’t question whether it’s going to work or not because it is going to work.”


LCI considers lean construction to be “a new and transformational way to design and build capital facilities. Lean theory, principles, and techniques, taken together, provide the foundation for a new form of project management. From roots in production management, lean construction produces significant improvements, particularly on complex, uncertain, and quick projects.”


With lean construction, project delivery involves the simultaneous design of a facility and its production process, according to LCI. “This is concurrent engineering. Current practice, even with constructability reviews, is a sequential process unable to prevent wasteful iterations.”


Also in lean construction, value to a customer is defined, created, and delivered throughout the life of a project, LCI stated. In other forms of project management, “the owner is expected to completely define requirements at the outset for delivery at the end despite changing markets, technology, and business practices.”


Furthermore, in lean construction there is decentralized decision-making through transparency and empowerment, LCI said. “This means providing project participants with information on the state of the production systems and empowering them to take action. In summary, lean construction is a production management-based project-delivery system emphasizing the reliable and speedy delivery of value. It challenges the generally accepted belief that there are always trade-offs between time, cost, and quality.”


The ConstructionPro Network member version of this article includes additional comments from Heinemeier, the details of two recent lean projects that Skender recently completed, and some advice that Barshan offered for incorporating lean principles. To sign up for a membership, click here.



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