This Construction Firm’s Solution To Serious Weather Delays: The Lean Construction Process
In an era of rising costs for labor and materials, the core principles of lean construction — increasing efficiency, reducing waste and improving continuously — make more sense than ever before.
Construction companies looking to go lean are undertaking exploration periods to determine how to bring lean construction into play for their teams. Branch Builds President Craig Floyd said the Virginia- and North Carolina-based firm has been amazed by the results over five years of experimenting with and adapting the principles of lean construction to projects in its pipeline.
Bisnow sat down with Floyd and his business unit leader, George Nash, at their offices in Herndon, Virginia, to talk about how a new approach helped their team make up 37 lost days on a recent project and still finish on time — as well as how they put their own lean methodology into practice.
Bisnow: How do you define lean construction?
Craig Floyd: Generally, lean construction has four key principles: the team, collaboration, the elimination of waste and the pursuit of continuous improvement. In the simplest sense, I think lean construction is essentially team construction. The foundation of our lean approach here is that we assemble a high-performance team at the outset of each project, and we make sure that all members are in constant communication throughout.
Bisnow: That level of communication seems labor-intensive. How have you found it makes the overall process leaner?
Floyd: In a more traditional approach, potential challenges and issues might not emerge until the project is well underway. At that point, they could end up forcing expensive change orders, throwing a project off its timeline and pushing it over budget.
We’ve seen collaboration among the entire team early in the pre-construction process — including weekly meetings for team members at all levels, from managers to subcontractors — identify potential challenges and issues with plenty of time to address them before the actual construction begins.
Bisnow: What’s a recent project where you’ve seen the strengths of this method really come to the rescue?
George Nash: We worked on the recent expansion of the Manassas Regional Detention Center. That was a particularly interesting challenge because the facility was occupied and fully functional throughout the entire project. We needed to work with the client closely during that time to make sure we were hitting all our targets without being disruptive. That takes an enormous amount of coordination and communication, both internally and between team and client.
Floyd: Also, like so many construction projects over the past year, the Manassas Regional Detention Center was faced with significant weather delays. All the rain last summer made it almost impossible to properly pour and dry the concrete for the facility. In total, 37 workdays were lost to weather issues. Thanks to lean construction, the project team was able to re-sequence the construction of the building, and found a way to keep the project on its initial schedule. After losing 37 days, it’s still set for an on-time delivery.
Nash: We do take weather delays into account, but of course there are situations we can’t plan for. As with the Manassas Regional Detention Center, the Loudoun County Public Firing Range in Leesburg faced serious potential delays last year due to excessive rain.
The ground was so wet, we were unable to install stormwater drainage using the go-to approach. The weekly meetings in the lean construction process created a new solution: Our team pinned down an innovative approach to install the stormwater drainage system that helped us avoid months of delays. Ultimately, the long-term visualization and collaboration encouraged us to stay on track.
Bisnow: How would you advise a firm or a manager who wants to make lean construction part of their operations?
Floyd: Keep in mind that lean construction is more than just planning and scheduling. It’s about being dynamic and nimble, not just as individuals, but as a team. Consistent communication across the team and throughout the life cycle of a project can be a challenge, of course, but it is critical to commit all the way. Even if it feels like it’s taking longer to make group decisions than it would be for one team member to go rogue and make a call on their own, in the end, the time, resources and energy your team has saved will be clear at the finish line.
This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Branch Builds. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.