What is Lean Construction & Why Should You Care?

Everyone has heard the expression “Time is Money.” The concept of efficiency in business has long been a characteristic of manufacturing. Among the best known examples are Henry Ford’s automated mass production and Toyota Production Systems, both geared toward providing high-quality, low-cost automobiles.

Today, building contractors, architects and engineers are applying these same concepts to the construction field, using the Lean Construction (LC) philosophy. The purpose of Lean Construction is to create efficient production processes that increase value while reducing waste of time, money and effort.

lean constructionStrategic planning and open communication are two of the most important principles a business needs in order to successfully implement the Lean Construction method. All parties involved in the building process – the client, management, suppliers and those who actually perform the work on the job site – must understand the vision for the completed product, and all are welcome to contribute their ideas to enhance a positive outcome. An article published by Constructing Excellence defines five principles of Lean Construction:

  1. Identifying value from the point of view of the customer.
  2. Understanding the value streams by which value is delivered.
  3. Achieving flow within work processes as waste is removed.
  4. Achieving pull so that nothing is made/delivered until it is needed.
  5. Recognizing that improvement needs to be constantly sought.

Why does it matter?

Lean Construction enhances efficiency by providing standards to the industry worldwide, with a major emphasis on reducing waste and increasing value. Creating a comprehensive strategic plan prior to starting a project is an essential element to achieve the goal of bringing the project in on time, under budget, and resulting in a quality product.

lean2Contractors who utilize the LC philosophy develop a detailed plan, from the conceptual design stage through completion of the project, and use a teamwork approach to ensure that everyone involved is aware of their role and responsibilities. They know the type, quantity and cost of materials, and collaborate with suppliers to reduce waste of materials and money. They plan the flow of processes required for each step of the building process, using standard procedures that have been developed based on experience and input from stakeholders (including the workers in the field). Information is shared throughout the process and adjustments made as necessary, to ensure reduction in downtime and miscommunication.

Why should we care about Lean Construction?

In addition to the obvious benefits of saving time and money for the client and the contractor, the Lean Construction focus on reducing material waste contributes to protecting the environment. By including workers’ contributions in planning and implementing processes, safety is enhanced and new workers are attracted to the field. And the client reaps the most benefit, as the goal is to specifically create value for the customer.

How is Lean Construction affecting the world?


Diagram Courtesy of MicroSource

As the construction industry develops and formulates LC practices that produce the best results, this knowledge can be shared, thus reducing costly mistakes and maximizing value throughout the process. The International Group for Lean Construction boasts members from all over the world, bringing together professionals from architecture, engineering and construction to research and evaluate best practices and to share ideas to meet the challenges of the future. LC is connected to global environmental issues, such as the need for the raw materials and energy sources required to manufacture finished products for the construction industry.

Recognized by the EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the advantages of the Lean Construction philosophy. The agency offers a “Lean, Energy & Climate Toolkit” on their website which outlines cost savings, greenhouse gas management, and competitive advantage as benefits resulting from using LC strategies. As energy companies and other professions seek ways to control costs and improve services, they are also implementing the tools provided by the Lean philosophy.

The following video provides the basics of Lean Construction in three minutes:


Lean Construction shows great promise in helping the industry with the economic and financial challenges facing them. The willingness of the community to share and standardize processes will benefit both the contractors’ bottom lines and the end result for consumers.

Jessica Kane writes for Federal Steel Supply, Inc., a leading supplier of carbon, alloy and stainless steel pipe, tubes, fittings and flanges.



Constructing Excellence

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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