In many ways, lean construction is about ensuring the right people receive the right information at the right time. Cloud and mobile technologies can greatly facilitate these goals. By storing information in the cloud, a construction team gains a single source that connects all the project data; from the master schedule to the weekly work plan; from real-time project inspections and insights to the most up-to-date BIM.
Mobile tools, such as smartphones and tablets, make information accessible to the team regardless of location and reduce latency in communication. With a glance at their mobile devices, team members can view important documents without having to walk back to the trailer or work from memory.
Furthermore, they can instantly make point-of-work decisions on what they should do and how they should do it. As things change rapidly and frequently on construction projects, team members can be easily out of the information loop. This can result in either not working on what they should be working on or doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, which will need to be reworked later. Cloud and mobile can push updates out to the team as soon as any changes are made, almost entirely reducing communication latencies helping prevent potentially wasteful situations.
Desktop technologies such as Excel seem like a great idea because it’s perceived as “free,” and it’s something that people already know how to use. However, Excel is not an enterprise-level system. People can make changes to documents from their desktop that nobody knows about, resulting in errors that can affect the integrity of the information. Additionally, Excel users must take time each week to publish and distribute their spreadsheets.
A recent case study authored by DPR Construction and Sundt Construction (Berg, P. et al. 2014) helps put a finer point on some of these concepts. The case study examined a project team that did a conventional Last Planner System rollout for the first phase of a project, and then a technology-driven rollout for the second phase.
The findings? As you can see from Figure 1, The company spent 13 hours a week on areas such as creating, processing, distributing, updating and reporting the plan when using conventional methods and only four hours a week using cloud and mobile tools. That’s an entire workday of time reclaimed and a pretty compelling reason to go with cloud and mobile tools when implementing lean construction. In addition to time savings, the impact of lean construction is keenly felt at a human level by the people who work on the projects, week in and week out. Consider these traditional versus cloud-based scenarios for a typical project manager or superintendent.
The overall result is that everyone knows what each person is doing. The superintendent can spend his time on what he’s supposed to be doing, which is managing the job, not tracking people down. It’s important to note that cloud and mobile solutions do not completely replace traditional methods of collaboration; they fill in the missing gaps and enhance what we are already doing. The core of any planning process will always involve people working side by side, planning the work, negotiating hand-offs, making commitments, and sequencing work. What cloud and mobile does is augment those types of activities. It provides a better way to capture, modify, report, distribute and automate information in order to make the entire process of collaboration more transparent.
But how do you get started? For companies that have been sitting on the sidelines with lean construction, the best way to get started is simply to pick a project and try it out. Contractors don’t need to implement lean construction company-wide; it can be done on a project-by-project basis.
The benefits for those who “go lean” are well worth it. Subcontractors have been known to give preferential bids to lean construction projects—as much as 10 percent lower—because they know there will be less waste and less rework. Additionally, in a market where there’s a huge labor shortage, if a contractor can provide workers with a higher quality of life, it can retain people longer—and that can have a big impact on the overall business.
Lean construction is quickly becoming a competitive differentiator to customers. If the company is not doing lean, take a look around; it’s likely that direct competitors are. Firms that use cloud and mobile tools to embrace lean construction will ensure their competitive advantage remains intact.
1. Berg, P. et al. (2014). Leveraging Collaborative Tools for Implementing Lean Process, LCI Congress 2014 Presentation