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24th Edition 

July 2013

In This Issue
Breaking the Paradigm: Rethinking the GC and Subcontractor Relationship
Is Lean Culture Measurable

Lean Project Scheduling 


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AGC Webinar:

Management By Values-
The First Step in Developing a Lean Construction Culture

Thursday, August 22, 2013 
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM EDT
Lean Construction provides the maximum benefit to organizations when it is implemented as the "system" by which the company operates its business. In construction, this system is defined from the RFP to the delivery of the project and receipt of payment. Successful and sustainable Lean Construction implementations require that the four components of Lean: 1) Lean Planning 2) Lean Concepts 3) Lean Tools 4) Lean Culture be implemented in parallel throughout the organization. This webinar will discuss and explain Management by Values as the first step in developing a Lean Cultural foundation throughout the organization. Actual company examples will be discussed. This foundation must be in place to support the implementation of the remaining Lean components.

Mark Federle
The McShane Chair in Construction Engineering and Management, Marquette University


Larry Rubrich
President, WCM Associates LLC


George Van Der Linden
Executive Vice President, Faith Technologies


Breaking the Paradigm: Rethinking the GC and Subcontractor Relationship


By Larry Rubrich


Despite our emphasis on using Lean Project Scheduling and Pull planning as collaborative tools, the subtext in many of our discussions with GCs and CMs boils down to this: how can we use these tools to "arm twist" reduced schedules from our subcontractor partners?


It would seem that the traditional "command and control" jobsite environment is still alive and well. Rather than seeing them as a means to generate input and gain buy in, Pull Planning and Lean Project Scheduling are often viewed by many GCs and CMs as tools to enhance their own ends - with little regard to the impact that this may have on the entities that they manage. While we understand the desire to "get it done", it is also important to understand that, expediency, at the expense of collaborative planning, can often lead to inefficient, painful and costly outcomes. And these negative outcomes are virtually guaranteed when we fail to take into account the needs and risks of all parties involved.  


Lean is about communication, common goals and mission, trust, teamwork, and win-win solutions. Lean and a command and control environment are diametrically opposed.


Often we hear; the subs are not qualified! Or; they are not trained in Lean Project Scheduling! Well whose fault is that? Toyota taught American manufacturing that to become a World Class Manufacturing organization we need to develop or find World Class Suppliers. The same applies to developing World Class subs for Lean Construction.


If we are to become Lean Construction organizations, we must use Lean as the system to transform our company, from RFP to project delivery and payment, to maximize owner value. This must include subcontractors as our Lean Partners. In a Lean Construction environment, they are empowered to provide thoughts and ideas that make the project more successful.  Instead of dreading or worrying about dealing with subcontractors, we must value that engaged subcontractors can help us make the project more successful.


Some thoughts on developing subcontractors as Lean Partners:  

  • Require in your bid package that the subs attend Lean Construction training sessions that you will provide prior to the start of the project. This will ensure everyone is on the same page. Topics for these sessions should include:
    • Communication
    • Teamwork
    • Quality (the goal of no punch lists)
    • Project Scheduling and Pull Planning
    • Jobsite 5S 
  • Avoid low bid selection. Lean manufacturers select suppliers based on the lowest "total cost" of using that supplier - not just the piece or bid price. The same thinking should apply to your subcontractor selection. Other considerations in subcontractor selection beyond bid/price that impact the total cost of a project include:
    • Reliability in meeting schedules
    • Quality (goal is no punch list)
    • Project experience
    • Design assist/design innovation
    • Subcontractor's Leadership Team supports Lean and Continuous Improvement
    • Others 

Ultimately, this means creating a numerical subcontractor measurement system. An example "radar chart" for a specific subcontractor is shown below.


Subcontractor and Supplier Measures  Subcontractor and Supplier Measures



This chart should be feedback to the subcontractors after each project to support their Continuous Improvement activities.


Lean subcontractors can be a partner in helping CMs and GCs develop World Class project delivery systems. To accomplish this, CMs and GCs must take a Lean Leadership role in developing their subcontractor and supplier base.

Is Lean Culture Measurable?



By Gary Santorella 


Can you assess the readiness of your organization to adopt, implement and sustain Lean practices? The answer is yes. There are formal surveys and indirect measures that can help you to measure the attitudes and behaviors necessary to establish and maintain a Lean culture and whether or not they are currently in place at your company.


Assessment Via Formal Survey 


Provided your assessment survey is well-constructed, does not attempt to manipulate in favor of desired responses, ensures confidentiality and safety, and is not confounded by including often bogus personality tests, you will be able to obtain baseline measures of key attitudinal and behavioral indices of the functionality of your company culture. While not a guarantee that you will achieve your Lean goals, a functional culture greatly increases the likihood that your Lean efforts will bear fruit.


For instance, in order to fully engage in Policy Deployment and the VSM process, the following key cultural components need to be established. 

  1. All employees need to feel that they can express their ideas freely, absent the fear that what they say will be used against them.
  2. All employees need to feel that they can engage in passionate debate about means and methods of achieving company goals without having to "filter" their responses. In other words, they are able to freely tell you what you need to hear vs. figuring out what they think you "want" to hear.
  3. All employees need to feel that what they are asked to do adds value - i.e., that the tools that they are expected to utilize (including processes and procedures) contribute to the effective running of their department or project and contribute to the well-being of their company and their clients.
  4. When problems are revealed, all employees need to know that they can point these out freely, without fear of blame or retribution.
  5. All employees need to have confidence in, and an understanding of, the direction, decisions and methods that the leaders have established to drive the company forward - and a mechanism to communicate if they do not. 

Therefore, assessment questions should target these specific areas of cultural functionality. Survey clusters, should therefore center on questions in the areas of: interpersonal trust, willingness to engage in healthy conflict, clear delineation of company goals, roles, and expectations, effectiveness of current policies and procedures, physical tools to do the job, whether or not standard work measures exist, teamwork, and leadership effectiveness. Some of the keys questions to utilize, (measured against a ten-point scale), are:


Are you able to be open and honest when communicating your mistakes, weaknesses, shortcomings, what you don't understand, what you don't know how to do, or what you can't decide - without fear of ridicule or that what you say will be held against you in the future?


If an individual or group drops the ball, are attempts made to find out "why" (root cause) without assigning blame - while still reinforcing the importance of accountability?


Do our policies and procedures "make sense" and add value for our customers?


Has "standard work" been established: In other words, is there a measure I can use each day that tells me whether I've done a good job (or not)?


Does workflow in your area (how you process the work) run smoothly, (vs. disjointedly), logically, is performed with minimal handoffs, and with sufficient time allocated to complete assigned tasks? 


When conflicts arise internally, are they effectively resolved with input from all pertinent parties, in a timely fashion, and for the good of the projects, the company and our customers?


One of our favorite questions to ask is:


Are company goals and milestones (including how to get there) well-defined, communicated effectively, and embraced with a high degree of buy-in?  
followed by the open-ended query, What are the company goals?


The open-ended query following each question allows you to glean information that goes "beyond the numbers". For example, in the example above, asking people to state what the company's goals are allows you to assess whether you have been successful in articulating your goals in a doable and measurable manner. When this is not the case, you will usually see what Larry calls "a laundry list of personal opinions", which may or may not contribute to the company and the customer's greater good. For instance, recently, employees at a financial center for a general contractor clearly struggled to answer this question when it was posed to them. The most common response, by an overwhelming margin, was "Produce accurate and timely information." While this is important, and doing the opposite can certainly negatively impact the folks on the operations side of the house, in reality, timeliness and accuracy are performance measures, not goals. After a little discussion, the leadership team began to articulate what they saw as the true one-year goals for the division: System stabilization, process improvement, and creating a reliable organizational/communication structure to improve internal and external customer interfaces. What was exciting to see was how little effort it took to energize the entire team around these goals, once they were articulated in a forum where everyone on the team was present.


Because the behavior and attitudes of the leaders are so critical, we usually also build in a mini-360 into our survey that individually assesses the effectiveness of the leadership practice of each leader.


Indirect Measures


Indirect measures regarding the viability a company's culture swirl around us at a constant clip, yet because of the daily grind, this data often goes unnoticed.


Here are some measures to pay attention to:


  1. When given the opportunity, do people speak up (either one-on-one or in staff meetings) - or do they instead choose silence?  
  2. Similarly, how often do people offer a dissenting opinion to yours?
  3. Do people speak freely around some leaders, but clam up around others?
  4. How often do people express frustration about the tools (including policies and procedures) that they are given to build/track/manage the job?
  5. What percent of RFI's are properly tracked and followed up on?
  6. What percent of the time are team members unaware that a PCO has been issued?
  7. Do your customers frequently scrutinize and question your plans, schedule, means and methods?

Managers can easily establish baselines for all of the above behaviors, against which future cultural improvements can be measured. For instance, one leader received data that he was regarded as 'unapproachable' - and when compared to data from the rest of the survey, posed a considerable threat to successful Lean implementation. When we broke this down further, two indirect measures emerged: people rarely came to his office to ask questions, and when they did, they never physically entered his office. Instead, they hovered around the door as if they were trying to keep an escape route free. This particular leader fully grasped the implications, and worked hard to reverse this trend. He cleared seats free of debris, put a coffee pot in his office, and actually invited people to sit down and chat. On a six-month survey recheck, not only did his approachability numbers improve, but the people under him reported that they found him to be far more helpfully engaged in the project, and much more willing to listen to their input and ideas. And he went from being skeptical about his team's abilities, to being surprised about how many smart and capable people he had under him.  

This Lean newsletter is the result of the collaboration of three organizations:
Grunau Company
Ted Angelo, Executive Vice President

Interactive Consulting
Gary Santorella, Owner
WCM Associates LLC
Larry Rubrich, President


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  WCM Associates LLC, 2013. All rights reserved.
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