Part V: Lean, Mean and Green – The Series

Get Lean

So with the background behind us, now we get to the heart of the Lean Mean and Green topic – starting with Lean. When I think of lean, I don’t consider shortcuts, ‘value engineering’ or reducing the functionality of the project. Instead, it’s like a body builder. You try to eliminate fat by doing the right exercises and eating good food. As a result, you expose the strength, beauty and efficiency of the human body.

For the built environment that process begins with the end in mind. I think about both the effort and steps it takes to manage the design process, as well as the materials and methods it takes to construct the building. The first step in that process is to extract the vision of the ‘place’ the client has in their mind, and a program (functional requirements) that meets the needs of the client and the building occupants. Establishing the baseline program is an extremely important part of the process – it will be the test of design solutions and what holds the team in balance throughout the design process.

Elimination of wasted steps in the design process might mean having difficult discussion about particular issues before moving on to the next step. We seem to get caught up in saying things like ‘we’ll figure that out in the next phase.’ The reality is that costs more time and money.

Looking at construction sequencing and details WHILE designing takes the knowledge and experience of seeing it done in the field. It takes many years of field observations, discussions with subcontractors, craftsmen and seasoned field superintendents to accumulate the broad knowledge in order to apply critical thinking to the details. This is where the ‘generation gap’ previously described starts to become evident.

Ultimately, if our design process can get to the essence of what’s important, and we work to make details simpler, and allow the materials to do what they were intended, I believe we can get by with LESS drawings and generate more clarity.

On the contracting side, it seems that contractors should be thinking through their material orders, and trying to minimize field work. Ordering pre-cut material, having materials delivered in batches that relate to the sequencing, and placing material onsite where it reduces the number of steps necessary to put it in the right place are all factors to becoming more lean.

One resource I found recently was the Lean Construction Institute. This organization, founded in 1997, is dedicated to developing knowledge about project-based production management for design, engineering and construction.

One thing is for sure. Recessionary times help us ‘lean up’ our organizations. The good news is that when business does pick up again, we’ll know how to operate leaner. The questions is, will we know how to operate BETTER?

Stay tuned.