Lean Principles in Construction Industry


For the identified process system conduct a critical evaluation of the process with the particular emphasis of lean principles and prepare a report for senior management that addresses the following issues:
i. Critical evaluation of the current process
ii. Rehearsal of the lean principles
iii. Development of a target process/system based on consideration of alternative approaches
iv. Implementation plans
v. Proposals for instituting continous improvement along with performance measurement



Construction Industry can be regarded as one of the most booming industries across the world. It involves heavy civil engineering. Construction comprises of a wide range of hazardous activities like alteration, construction or repair of buildings, structures and other property of real nature. It is evident since the last three decades that the Middle East Construction industry has seen a decline both in its annual productivity growth rate and its share of the gross national product. The quality of production has also degraded during this period. To its contrast, the manufacturing industries have progressed significantly in increasing its productivity and the quality of the goods and services along with lowering the product lead time. The transition from an average class to a world class can be seen in the manufacturing industry. The improvements in the manufacturing industry are characterized by the reduction in human effort, space, inventories that are required by the company and by the increase in the quality of the product and flexibility in manufacturing operations. All these prosperity are the result of the implementation of the ‘lean production' principles. The geographic and economic constraints are included in these lean principles right from the top management to the lower management. Before we start discussing the details of the construction industry, it is very important to know about the various processes that are present in this industry.

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The construction process in the Middle East has various phases or distinct stages such as Concept, Contract & Bid Documents, Bidding, Construction, Construction Payment and Completion. The Concept section includes the planning and design of the project. It is also known as ‘.' Architecture is responsible for designing the building or the project, and he controls the entire designs, finished materials like (carpet, wall, brick, paint, wall covering, etc.), the specification of the project and various other architectural features of the project or construction. The architect also supervises the engineers who are involved with the mechanical, structural, electrical, plumbing and the lighting designs of the project. The concept section is further sub-divided into two parts i.e. planning & architectural programming and the schematic plans; the former one includes the meetings of the architect along with the chief engineers and the client so that the objective and purpose of the construction could be ascertained whereas the later one is the basic or fundamental plans showing a rough sketch of the plan on which the parties can ponder about and share their views in case the plan needs some changes or additions etc. The schematic plans which is also known as preliminary plans provide a graphical representation of the plan exhibiting the relationships between the activities and the spaces.  The second process in the construction industry is the Contract & Bid Documents which is related to the making of plans for the proposed construction including the specifications of the projects by the builder/construction company. Numerous construction drawings are made by the architect showing the structural, mechanical, and the architectural plans. In this process, the specification of the entire contract, the bidding requirements, the technical specifications, the contract form and the contracts conditions are shared between the client and the construction company. The third process is the Bidding process, here, the owner solicits the bids/proposals from the general contractors or specific contractors after making sure that the project is feasible, and there is the availability of a construction company. The traditional methods of advertising in the newspapers and trade publications are used by the owners to invite the contractors to give their bids on the construction. A series of sequences occur in preparing a contract bid viz. the copy of the construction plan is given to the contractors by the owner so that they can prepare a rough estimate of the project cost, the contractors after receiving the copy of the construction plan review them in order to ascertain how the project should start considering the limitations which the owner requires for the construction, the contractor analyzes all the direct & indirect costs, various estimates and the ultimate profit solicits the bids from the sub-contractors; the bidding amount includes all the estimated costs, and the profit of the contractors, the owner after receiving all the bids from the contractors reviews them and give the contract to the contractor which he thinks to be good and the final contract document is made covering each and every detail of the complete construction process. The fourth process of construction is the Construction (Field Work). This is the real construction of the project in which the field work is further sub-divided into subcontractors, building permit, scheduling subcontractors, project submissions, shop drawings and the change order. The fifth stage of the construction is the Construction Payments in which the contractor is paid for the completed work. The entire construction is divided into various sub-constructions, and the constructing company completes these small projects one by one. The moment sub construction gets completed, the owner pays the contractor. The sixth or the final phase of construction is the Completion of the project which readies the building or the project for occupancy. Under this phase, a plan is made by the contractor and the architect who represents exactly how the entire construction was done; it also inculcates the changes that were done in the main construction plan. This plan is known as ‘Built plans.' This plan helps in ascertaining and reviewing the actual construction of the project. The whole construction process sounds very easy, but it becomes very complex and sophisticated as soon as the construction process starts. The involvement of series of planning, profusion workers, construction managers, the designs and sudden alterations in it, the deadlines of the project, various hazards works and expected accidents, etc. make it very complex.
In this paper, we have four major sections namely, Lean principles in which have discussed in detail about the lean principles of the construction industry along with various other approaches that are helpful to the construction industry in completing their project in an efficient manner, Developments of target process/Systems based on consideration of alternative approaches which illustrates the various methods of developments of the process that has been targeted, Implementation plans in which various ideas and methodologies have been discussed and delineated in order to implement the particular plans that need to be included and further implemented in the construction industry and Various proposals for including the developmental approaches along with performance measurements which gives detail information and rationale behind including the developmental approaches as well as the performance measurements of the related workers and employees in the entire construction process.

Lean principles

Lean construction comprises of practical developments in project designs & construction and the operational research. The development & application of the lean principles in the manufacturing industry positively affected the cost of the products, quality, inventory, space needs, capital requirements and the cycle time. The construction industry in its processes of designing & constructing facilities faces various wastes that can be minimized if the lean principles of the manufacturing industries are applied in it (Thomas et al. 2010). Despite the differences in the two industries, the construction industry can improve with the help of the lean principles. The construction industry has not experienced positive results which the manufacturing industry has experienced. The opportunities to improvement are in demand. The complex and sophisticated management level in both of these industries strive to produce quality products and services in the shortest possible, feasible time. Both, these industries are goal oriented and work to save money and give tough competitions to their competitors (Salem & Zimmer, 2005). By these similarities, we will try to discuss if the lean principles of manufacturing industry can be applied and implemented in the construction industry and whether these could give the same result as in the manufacturing industry.    
The founder of the lean production principles was The Toyota Motor Company. All these principles result in reducing lead times, helps in the elimination of non-value adding activities and decreasing variability. Various methods that facilitate these principles are simplified operations, pull scheduling and reduction in the buffer stock (Jimmerson et al. 2005). The meaning of lean construction can be stated as ‘meeting all the requirements of the customers by focusing on the whole value system thereby pursuing perfection in the execution process which includes the continuous process of eliminating wastages. By various case studies and theories, it was found that there are five major lean principles that apply to the construction industry, they are:

  • Customer focus.
    It is important to understand the requirements of the customers, and this is the focal point of the lean theory in the construction industry. Customer oriented plans for the construction is the crux of construction because each and every plan about the construction is made by the architect keeping in mind the requirement and need of the customers or clients.

  • Culture and people.
    The creation of such a culture where the employees can work with confidence and strive for regular improvements is very important to the construction industry. Empowering the employees and the organizational commitment for improvement in its processes are significant for the creation of lean culture. Giving proper training to the employees and make them learn and understand the lean principles are necessary (Kirkman & Shapiro, 2001). 

  • Workplace organization and standardization.
    Workplace organization is the key part of this lean principle. The construction companies try to maintain an organized and clean workplace so as to increase the safety standards. The working environment and work culture are critical for the employees. Various hazardous tasks are undertaken in a construction company, so the company makes sure that the workers and staffs do not get hurt or harmed while doing their work at the construction sites (Torner, 2009).

  • Elimination of waste.
    In the entire construction process, and especially during the construction of the projects, various materials, as well as man power, gets wasted which increases the cost of production of the construction company therefore, the company tries to eliminate such wastages to the minimal level so that the construction process can continue smoothly without losing human resource and materials (Osmani et al. 2008).

Continuous improvements and built-in quality.

The construction companies use the advanced technologies and machinery that can help in improving the efficiency and quality of the construction. The construction industry is a highly competitive industry in the Middle East, and this is the reason these companies always strive to grow and develop so that they can be better than their competitors in the industry. The companies follow the best lean principles of the manufacturing industry. 
When we look at the benefits that the lean principles have given to the manufacturing industry, we see the following results:

  • The decrease in the lead times.

  • Increase in the quality & quantity of products.

  • The increase in the varieties of products.

  • Less than half the inventories needed onsite.

  • Decrease in the manufacturing space required by half.

  • Decrease in the engineering hours to develop a new product by half.

  • Increase the flexibility of manufacturing operations.

  • Decrease of human effort required in the organization by half.

 Various other industries have amended and expanded the lead principles according to their need and requirement, and they have been very successful by doing so. The lead philosophies are useful in designing, production and in the procurement functions. The Production Process in the construction industry has been selected for this research study. It is also important to understand the difference between the manufacturing industry and the construction industry.

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Development of targeted process and approaches

The development of lean principles for construction starts with setting up a goal for the organization or the company. The construction company in the initial phase of the implementation of the lean principles set various small goals so that the accomplishments of these small goals may become the base for other targets. The construction companies identify the lean principles for construction that can best suit to their organization and their projects (Koskela, 1997). The five fundamental principles viz. Customer focus, Culture/People, Workplace standardization, Waste elimination and Continuous improvement/built-in-quality are further dived into 16 sub-principles which are depicted in the figure below.

The sub-principles of the main principles are:

Customer focus

  • Optimize Value
    The value of the customers should be optimized so that the perfect plan for the construction could be ascertained.  

  • Flexible Resources
    The amount of resources used in the construction process should be of flexible nature so that they can be increased or decreased depending upon the use and demand of the resources (Karna, 2014). 


  • Training
    Proper training of the workers and employees within the construction company is mandatory so that they may learn the importance of the lean principles of construction and understand how to implement & execute them in the organization.

  • People Involvement
    The people involved in the entire construction process should be picked as per their skills and capabilities and given the tasks so that they can complete them with efficiency in the defined time.

  • Organizational Commitment
    Every constructing company should be committed to its main objective and goal to finish the project in a perfect manner with full customer satisfaction. The companies must use some principles that should be mandatorily followed by every employee of the company. 

Workplace Standardization

  • Visual Management
    The tasks undertaken are firstly visualized so that, they can be subdivided into various small tasks. The top level management and the middle-level management play the key role in visualizing the tasks.

  • Defined work Processes
    The project after its in-depth analysis gets divides into small targets, and the processes that are required to meet these targets are ascertained and further defined to the workers and staffs involved in the operations of the construction.

  • Workplace Organization
    The construction company keeps on working to maintain a good and friendly working environment so that, the workers do not feel burdened. This strategy helps the organization to keep the employees motivated thereby getting maximum work and commitment from the employees that are critical to the organizational success (Bresnahan et al. 1999). The construction industry deals with varieties of construction processes in which numerous risks are involved especially the risk of accidents at the workplace; the company makes sure that such accident does not occur by using the tools and techniques that help in eliminating & minimizing the probable accidents.

Waste Elimination

  • Optimize Work Content
    The construction process is optimized in such a way that the maximum works are done in minimum time but not at the cost of the quality of the work. Good quality of the work is the main motive of work content. Skilled workers and employees are given the works of their respective field. The suppliers of the materials, the subcontractors, and various other participating agencies are given the work after proper optimization.

  • Optimize Production system
    As discusses in the above point, optimization of work is mandatory to ensure that the construction project continues in a good manner. The production system of the construction companies are the key players in its success or failure. This is the reason the construction companies always make sure that all the resources of construction are used in the most effective and best way to accomplish the task. Failing in optimizing the production process leads to increase in the wastageand lead times.

  • Supply Chain Management
    Various materials are used in the construction of any building or physical structure like cement, glasses, bricks, electrical fittings, plumbing materials, engineering instruments, heavy machinery, man power, paints and various other things. All these are supplied by various vendors to the construction company at the construction site. These vendors or suppliers make an agreement with the construction company to make available the required amount of materials needed at any time during the entire construction process. This whole network of vendors and the construction company are an integral part of the supply chain management. The supply chain management team of the construction company keeps an eye on the proper functioning of the entire chain management and also ensures that the construction process does not get hindered or stopped due to the unavailability of resources.

  • Optimize Production Schedule
    We have already discussed that one task gets further subdivided into numerous small tasks. After this process, the time limit is set for the accomplishment of these tasks in order finish the entire building or construction process within the prescribed time limit (Hax & Majluf, 1996). The top level management of the construction company gives the production schedules to the middle level management which is later followed by the production managers involved in the construction.

Continuous Improvement/Built-in Quality

  • Response to Defects
    During the process of construction, some defects or difficulties might arise and therefore, the company should always be prepared to cope up with the defects. The construction company must be ready to respond to the defects very faster.  

  • Organizational Learning
    It is also the duty of the construction organization to make its employees learn the various aspects of production, working in a team, how to deal with difficulties and work with full efficiency to achieve the organizational goal. The employees need to learn various other things that can help them while working at the construction sites.

  • Metrics
    This topic deals with the data analysis of the entire production process. The data about the budget of the project, payments to the suppliers & vendors, salaries and wages to the employees and workers and work performance, etc. are mentioned in detail in the metrics. This helps the organization is analyzing its cost and thus the profit.

  • Error Proofing
    Every construction after its completion goes through the error proofing stage. In this stage, the team heads of the construction check whether the construction has been done according to the need and requirements of the customers (mentioned in the construction plan) or not. They check the errors, and if found, the errors are eliminated by working on them. If the entire construction passes through this stage without any error then the construction company can ask the client to take the possession of the building as the construction has been completed and the building is ready to be used.

To be continued......


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