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26th Edition 

September 2013

In This Issue
Identifying Construction Waste
Construction Waste & Morale
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Lean Training Schedule



Lean Project Scheduling Session
in Partnership with
South Suburban College

Public One-Day Training Session
Pull Planning Simulation

Date: September 12, 2013
Location: South Suburban College
                Oak Forest, IL Campus

Course Objectives: 

To help each participant develop a basic understanding of Lean Project Scheduling as a Lean Tool and an advanced Project Management/Leadership approach that:

  • Utilizes Lean to maximize owner/customer value and satisfaction through the elimination of the 8 types of construction waste on the jobsite 
  • Changes the paradigm of the current GC and subcontractor relationship
  • Uses high levels of 2-way communication, planning, and teamwork in its execution
  • Sees a project as a collaborative team activity between the GC/CM and the subcontractors
  • Maximizes the involvement, participation, commitment and ownership of all project team members
  • Uses Lean Construction continuous improvement (CI) activities as the method to improve the process for the organization and the next project  

For full session information, class agenda, and registration information, please click here.


Identifying Construction Waste


By Larry Rubrich


"Eliminating waste is not the problem, identifying it is."


Taiichi Ohno, one of the developers

                      of the Toyota Production System (TPS)


To begin identifying waste, we start by defining how construction owners/customers define value added activities. To be value added, an activity must meet all three of the following criteria: 


1)  The activity must change the "shape" or "form" of the project item. For example, developing a project scope, a project schedule, creating a drawing, pouring concrete, bending or welding metal, installing it, servicing it.


2)  The owner must care about the activity and be willing to pay for it.

3)  The activity must be done right the first time. Owners are unwilling to pay for rework or repair.


Having defined value added, we can now define the eight general types of construction waste as: 


1)  Scrap/Rework/Defects/Reconciliations

  • Punch lists
  • Misunderstanding requirements
  • Fabrication defects
  • Info/data/material incomplete, wrong
  • Incorrect installation


2)  Transportation/Material or Information Handling

  • Jobsite material movement
  • Uncoordinated trucking deliveries
  • Lack of identification/resorting
  • Poor site layout can result in long transportation distances

 3)  Motion

  • Searching for tools, materials, equipment, office supplies, information on a computer, drawings-anything!
  • Not completing work while in one area
  • Going to pick up forgotten material
  • Poor jobsite organization

4)  Waiting/Delays

  • Non-value-added time such as waiting for RFI's, tools, instructions, materials
  • Waiting for other work to be completed

5)  Inventory

  • Not pre-planning what parts are needed
  • Fabrication on job too early
  • Over-purchasing "just in case"
  • Not returning excess material to suppliers

6)  Overproduction

  • Working out of sequence to try to get ahead
  • Creating extra anything (i.e. paper copies) that ends up in the trash!
  • Anything at the jobsite that ends up in the dumpster! (estimated at typically 9% by weight)

7)  Overprocessing

  • Doing anything the owner/customer does not care about and would be willing to pay for
  • Selling Chevy, installing Cadillac

8)  Underutilized Human Resources

  • Not utilizing the brains and talents of the entire workforce and organization. Every trades person comes with a brain that has knowledge, experience, and improvement ideas.
  • Team decision = best decision.

Office Waste


Start your waste identification activities in the office with yourself and your own crew/colleagues. Only when you are able to successfully identify your own wasteful activities will you be in a position to help others.


Begin with a personal waste log. The purpose of this log is to give yourself a few minutes four times per day, to review your own activities from a value added/waste standpoint. A simple typical waste log looks like this:





Value Added


8 am

1 hour Business Development meeting - no goal, no plan, and no activities - wow! What a waste!



9 am

1 hour drive to jobsite







10 am

Create Pull Project Schedule for Phase III



11 am

Create Pull Project Schedule for Phase III







1 pm

Create Pull Project Schedule for Phase III



2 pm

Review Phase I Punch List with Superintendent







3 pm

Drive back from jobsite



4 pm

Spent 30 minutes on phone with Architects about RFIs

30 minutes on several "water cooler" discussions 







This log only works if you honestly evaluate the activities from the three value added criterion (email me if you have any questions). A quick double check of your answer is this question: if I line itemed this activity on the invoice, would the owner be willing to pay for it?


Don't be discouraged if you find that 75% of your day is spent on waste (this is the pre-Lean average for office/admin. environments).


If your crew/colleagues are keeping logs also, then after about two weeks your team will be in a position to consolidate the data into a Pareto chart. The purpose of this chart is to prioritize wasteful activities from largest amount of time to smallest. This is important since we cannot eliminate all the wasteful activities at once; therefore we want to start with the big hitters.


Remember - to eliminate some of these wasteful activities we must eliminate their root causes. For example:

  • Eliminating Punch Lists means "quality at the source accountability" is required from each sub at each step of the project
  • Reducing and eliminating RFIs means that the PMs, Forman, and Superintendents must be involved in the design and drawing creation

Jobsite Waste


To discover where the waste is on a jobsite, go to one of your jobsites and just stand back and observe. Value is only being created for the owner when the trades are hanging drywall, stringing electrical cable, assembling plumbing, etc, etc. Waste is created when the flow of value added activities stops for any reason. Example of typical flow stoppages (waste) at the jobsite include:

  • Searching or hunting for tools or materials
  • Motion and transportation to and from the lay down areas (or anywhere on the jobsite)
  • Rework, scrap, defects
  • Missing material, supplies or inventory
  • Lack of material identification
  • Unplanned work, uncoordinated trades activities
  • RFIs
  • Punch lists
  • And on and on

Waste identification is often difficult because waste becomes part of the system--it's how we have always done business. The good news is the more you practice waste identification, the better you get at it!



Waste Identification    

and Morale


By Gary Santorella


Few things are more demotivating for a team than waiting for approvals and signatures, hunting for missing information, or having to complete numerous unnecessary steps in a task. Yet, when motivation flags, the impact of these types of waste is often ignored. Instead, we track to individuals, (i.e., he or she is "lazy", "doesn't care", "content to mediocre", "complacent", "a typical millennium") and thus, over-emphasize the symptoms of waste, while ignoring the root causes. More often than not, when these symptoms emerge, rather than being attributable to individual failings, they can be traced to either bloated processes or a workplace environment that fails to tap into the ideas and intelligence of the people who actually perform the work. As someone with deep roots in behavioral psychology, and as a bit of an outsider to Lean in that I am not an engineer, the most notable impact of waste identification is the positive impact it has on morale and teamwork.


In the course of working with construction teams over the past 17 years, the root causes of what often appear as "personality conflicts" are, in fact, signatures of significantly broken processes. While there have been occasions when workplace discord has been caused by someone suffering from a significant mental illness (sociopathy or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder being the most common), 87% of the time, the discord that exists has been created by such things as an ill-conceived organizational structure ("who the heck is in charge of miscellaneous metals around here?"), role confusion ("I thought you were supposed to follow up on RFI's"), isolation ("I never see the superintendent/engineer except at staff meetings"), and over-fixation on internal processes ("I spend all of my damn time at the computer entering data to complete an internal report, instead of in the field, where I should be"), and the subsequent interpretations by those on the receiving end of a negative outcomes. Over time, these broken process elements lead to failures in what I call "promise delivery", and hardened negative beliefs about what caused them.


In behavioral psychology, three critical factors have been identified via Attribution Theory research. First, that in a void of information, people fill in that void negatively - not positively, often with gross generalizations, (i.e., "Gary is a typical slimy contractor", not "Gee, some other priorities must have cropped up, otherwise, Gary would have gotten me that updated schedule like he promised"). Second, we give four times more weight to negative personal attributions than we do to positive or neutral attributions. And third, when we formulate negative opinions of others, subconsciously, we scan for confirmatory evidence to support our negative views, and discard behaviors that don't fit our negative perceptions of that person or entity. In other words, we are preprogramed to "go negative and make it personal" when we aren't getting what they need from someone else. And this is especially true when the person (or entity) failed to perform what they "promised" to deliver. These negative cognitive default positions probably served us well when lions and hostile competing tribes were the primary things we had to worry about. Not so well, when we need to collaborate and find mutual solutions to problems.


So, where precisely does the "boost" of energy and morale that we have observed from waste identification come from? First, when we value stream map, we help teams focus on broken processes - not broken or malicious people. By doing so, we are moving away from attributing problems to individuals and instead, helping teams focus on objective root causes that are "fixable" (broken people are not fixable within the workplace environment, broken processes are). When we understand that what we have been reacting to are actually "symptoms", we now have the opportunity to prevent them from occurring in the first place by identifying root causes. Second, we give people the opportunity to challenge their own negative attributions and beliefs about the "true" motivations of others. Focusing on process issues allows for "competing theories" about someone's negative performance to emerge. In other words, we begin to "fill the void" of information with facts, rather than faulty beliefs and biases. Third, as waste is identified, mutually generated ideas begin to emerge for how to fix the process issues that doesn't involve "fixing people". The boost in energy comes from hope - that is, what we thought was previously unfixable, (unless a person or entity is removed), now appears doable. In the course of an hour, we've seen people move from looking flat, unmotivated and holding the belief that "they had nothing good to say about those (b&$#@*%s)," to mutually identifying holes in a process and begin to formulate mutually agreeable solutions. By utilizing brainstorming techniques, we ensure that all members are evenly engaged and that everyone's ideas are included in the process. In combination, the energizing effect on most teams is palpable. And rather than some "feel good" motivational speech that increases morale only in the moment, by addressing "real issues" we create a process that is far more sustaining for team motivation.


For those of you skeptical about such touchy-feely observations, an article was recently published in the Fall, 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review On Point, titled The New Science of Building Great Teams. The author, Alex "Sandy" Pentland and his research team at MIT's Human Dynamic's Lab have drawn an empirical connection between the communication elements commonly tapped into via Lean waste identification methods and high productivity.  By fitting various teams with sociometric badges that record when people are talking (tone, not content), body position (facing each other or not), and body movements (but not facial expressions) they have isolated three key factors that distinguish highly productive teams from those who are underperforming. These key communication factors are Energy, Engagement, and Exploration.


Energy, is measured by how team members contribute to the team as a whole. A leader who monopolizes communication, while his lieutenants reinforce his direction, characterizes poor performing teams. On such teams, those who contribute little believe they have no real input, so they don't even try - and the overall energy of the team is low. The subsequent productivity of the team is marginal since most ideas for improvement are squelched at the outset. Conversely, teams that had the highest levels of contribution by all team members showed elevated productivity rates.


Engagement is measured by the amount of communication between all individuals on the team. Again, when only a few individuals dominate conversations, productivity rates flag. When communication occurs frequently across many individuals, productivity rates increase.


Exploration is determined by the amount of communication between various cross-functional teams. For our purposes, if communication between engineers, superintendents, accountants and purchasing agents are high, the effectiveness and productivity of the team will be higher. If cross-team communication is low, it generally means that teams are operating in silos, and productivity will be low. Though Energy and Engagement rates necessarily lower while team members are Exploring, the author asserts that the interplay between these key elements are critical if teams are to achieve success.


What is interesting to note is that the sociometric cards used do not measure the content of what is discussed - only the quantity and type of exchanges. (They have also found that face to face and phone exchanges are far more effective than email or text exchanges). That these elements can be diagnosed using with a simple and unobtrusive device no bigger than an ID badge is an exciting development and I believe would bode well if pre and post Lean interventions were measured in this manner.




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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