Derek Drysdale

Lean Construction – the way forward?

Lean construction has been around for some time but what really puzzles me is why it has not been adopted across the whole of the construction industry.

The excellent Government Construction Strategy 2025 initiative has made a great start with a ‘pipeline’ of work, the leadership council and BIM strategy. However, without lean thinking the ambitious targets will, in my opinion, not be achieved.

Although my day job is divisional director lean improvement with the Highways Agency I am also a trustee and director of the Lean Construction Institute – UK which is a registered educational charity the key aim of which is to encourage the adoption of lean thinking across the whole of the UK construction industry. 

Over the last five years in the Highways Agency, where lean has been adopted enthusiastically across all aspects of the business, we have gathered a wealth of hard evidence which shows that lean works brilliantly.  

It not only works for the benefit of the client and, in the case of the Highways Agency, the tax payer, but also supports the profitability of the supply chain.  Today there are many pockets of good practice in lean construction, thanks to the work of some far sighted and gifted individuals such as Professor Lauri Koskela and Glenn Ballard.

Why not get involved in LCI-UK or come along to our summit on the 30th October 2014 at the Birmingham Metropolitan University? for full details of the summit and much more

One of the most common questions I am asked is ‘What is lean construction?’   Well, put simply, it involves firstly understanding the needs of the customer whilst pulling value through the processes but relentlessly removing waste in all its forms. It sounds easy but it requires, like many good things in life, a lot of hard work! 

The methodology is very much based on the Toyota Production system but massively adapted for construction. You don’t even have to call it LEAN. The real danger is that you can lose your way and think that you are lean but in reality you are just touching the edges of waste!

Finally although I tend to shy away from Japanese terminologies there is one important word used in Lean which is Gemba – which means literally ‘the place’. The best way to understand lean construction is to see it in action!  So the LCI-UK Summit would be a great starting point to find out where you can see lean in action!

Derek Drysdale is divisional director – Lean Improvement, Highways Agency & chairman, Lean Construction Institute UK