Looking Back & Ahead on Lean with Dean Reed

DPR Construction’s Dean Reed knows a thing or two about Lean construction and integrated project delivery (IPD). You might even say he wrote the book on the topic! Co-authoring that book and bringing meaningful data to the fore to show the benefits of IPD, though, took years of practical experience in the field applying Lean methods in collaboration with industry organizations such as the Lean Construction Institute (LCI).

Now, LCI has awarded Reed with its Pioneer Award, which recognizes individuals who have moved the design and construction industry forward in embracing and implementing Lean principles and methods. Specifically, Reed was recognized for the award because of his commitment to advancing Lean thinking as a teacher, mentor and colleague.

Reed shared some thoughts about the award and where he sees the industry going next.

Dean Reed works on his laptop on the hood of a truck from a job site in 2006.
In 2006, on the site of the Camino Mountain View project (today, the PAMF Mountain View Center), Reed prepared to work with foremen to help them with the implementation of Last Planner system in the field. Courtesy of DPR Construction

Let’s talk about the award. What does it mean to you?

The award means a lot to me because, in my mind, I think of it as the Greg Howell/Glenn Ballard Award, as they were the real pioneers of Lean construction in the U.S. and the world. To be named a “Pioneer” is to be recognized in line with those two trail blazers. It’s even more meaningful as it came as a surprise; I didn’t know I was nominated. I am humbled by it, especially knowing there are other equally deserving people in the industry.

You’ve connected Lean with DPR’s Ever Forward core value. How do they align?

I left a well-established builder after nearly nine years to join DPR, which, at the time I made the change, was much smaller. I made the switch all because of DPR’s core values and particularly Ever Forward. At that time, DPR was the only contractor I knew of talking that way, about the opportunity to be better and how the company, the industry and individuals like me could be as good as we could be.

By that time, I had already discovered Lean Construction and virtual design and construction (VDC). Like the saying goes, you don’t get to choose your parents, but when you get good ones it’s quite an advantage. I was in an environment where I was able to have access to those concepts and just beginning to understand them, and DPR was a place where I could try to integrate them into my work as a project planner and scheduler. I don’t think I could have done that any other place.

My approach has always been to collaborate with others and I have had many terrific partners as I’ve worked throughout DPR. I have learned an immense amount from those people, like (DPR Management Committee member) Atul Khanzode, who co-authored Integrating Project Delivery and (current DPR board member) Eric Lamb who really taught me what delivering value required in such a fragmented industry. DPR was really committed to providing best value to customers from day one and still is. We must do that first and also earn enough in return to prosper and continue to get better. That means a commitment to Ever Forward and that path leads to Lean.

Dean Reed in a construction trailer with his project team leading a meeting about the 5S process.
In 2005, Reed leads a DPR project team meeting on the 5S process, a Lean method for making information and tools visual. Courtesy of DPR Construction

How far has the industry has come with Lean over your career?

It has become part of the language of construction. When that happens, it influences thinking. I see people throughout DPR as a matter of course trying

to create psychologically safe project cultures to identify and solve problems so information and field work can flow. There is such a baked-in focus on providing exactly what is needed at just the right time to avoid rework and wasting time and effort. I see that throughout the industry, too, and LCI has definitely made a big contribution to spreading Lean thinking.

What do you think is coming next?

I do not believe in being Lean for Lean’s sake or doing VDC just to say we did. DPR continues to be focused on being one of the most admired companies by 2030. I know we’re making a tremendous effort now to reach that goal, and I see Lean within that context. It has become part of our thinking and the way we operate. Lean supports our mission and vision. Lean is all about creating an organizational culture to solve problems to improve performance. I think we will see more and more people at DPR and in the industry go from where I was in 1996, barely understanding Lean, to the point where they help others incorporate Lean thinking and methods into everyday work. Once people internalize Lean and VDC to work together effectively as one integrated team, it will shift the entire industry and the way they see their roles within it.