November 8, 2019

Lean Construction continues to deliver benefits on a project-by-project basis, but how can these ever-advancing techniques stick on and off the construction site, changing the way business is done? DPR Construction and its partners gave three presentations at the 21st annual LCI Congress, the flagship event of the Lean Construction Institute (LCI), in Fort Worth, TX that aimed to push toward that goal.

This year's LCI Congress featured discussion of "essential-ism." Stemming from Greg McKeown, writer of "Essential-ism: The Discipline Pursuit of Less," the concept asks: How can the construction industry narrow its focus to improve on key scopes? Among the essential things DPR is aiming to excel at – in order to support the goals of its employees in the field and the customers it builds for – is creating alignment on project norms and goals to maximize efficiency.

The commitment to integrating customers is changing. Creating a Lean company and project culture means educating people to better focus Lean systems on job sites, in customer meetings, and in preconstruction. Throughout the industry, a key priority is finding ways for contractors to better align with customer expectations and leverage up-and-coming technology in new ways.

Aligning expectations toward defined success

During the presentation, DPR project manager Leigh Heller asked attendees to imagine building a swing with your friends. Each friend would probably bring a different design, technologies and mindset and that may not always equal the creation of one perfect swing.

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DPR’s Leigh Heller noted how DFOW gives project teams the knowledge to better understand what the customer’s expectations are.

Construction is no different than the swing analogy and the challenge is to create a realistic commitment to the customer while aligning with the intended vision and value.

Still, there is a tendency to wait until the end of the project to debrief and share everything that could have gone differently. DPR’s team suggested having this conversation at the outset. Setting expectations should be a priority for all members of the project teams. By setting priorities, every customer will come to the table with their own measurement for success. It is in the best interest of Lean project teams to implement steps to agree to and achieve this standard.

To create a unified assessment of success, DPR’s presenters shared the organization’s commitment to quality control known as Distinguished Features of Work (DFOW). DPR’s Leigh Heller noted how DFOW gives project teams the knowledge to better understand what the customer’s expectations are and, as a result, focus on them to reduce the chance of any rework.

DFOW/Quality/Aligning Expectations IS Lean, and we need to do a better job of sharing the documentation of our planning and learning with the field and with other projects,” Leigh Heller, DPR superintendent.

Lean Leaders Build Lean Cultures

Project teams also must establish a baseline of appropriate team behavior and workflow from the inception of a project to better align expectations on and off the jobsite. Successful Lean integration starts with an aligned and standardized workflow that enables the team to visualize and anticipate roadblocks.

“We must provide the highest quality service to our customers at the lowest possible cost while maintaining a respect for people. We all can influence that effort and help improve it,” said Heller.

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Cory Hackler and Jack Poindexter presenting about the UCSF project.

For example, remodeling projects will always have unknowns that could affect budget and schedule. DPR’s recently-completed shopping center makeover sparked conversation at LCI Congress about the many different team conversations that build trust and respect across project teams that will translate to a more efficient project. Through candid conversations and planned actions, the outcomes should result in a clear work process structured to help maximize the value and minimize any waste at delivery level. It’s a win for the project team and a win for the customer.

In doing so, the project can serve as a replicable model for recruits, new hires, and team members to understand what a Lean project is and ways to duplicate positive operational behaviors.

Building a Lean Culture: Engaging the Value Stream

Presenters also shared were examples of different activities that different project teams performed to map value streams. In each case, this helped establish unique site cultures while also identifying all possibilities of unneeded waste.

DPR Lean manager Cory Hackler noted in his presentation that the company’s method of personnel alignment stems from the development and use of Lean Leadership training across the company.

“Having 600 people go through DPR’s Lean Leadership class, we are getting aligned on a common language to enforce Lean thoughts throughout projects,” said Cory Hackler.

The “Big Room” environment is one of many tactics sowing value to any team, enabling better collaboration.