Lean Construction Management

Lean methods in the planning and on the construction site!

Table of content

Lean Construction Management helps against rising complexity

In construction projects, complexity is constantly increasing due to various challenges. The reasons for this can be, for example, many different project participants, or the increasing cost and time pressure and the high degree of individualization of each construction project. In addition, diversity and safety and sustainability requirements have increased. These hurdles mean that it is becoming increasingly complicated to manage construction projects and achieve targets in terms of quality, costs and deadlines.

Based on these challenges, Lean Construction has developed on the basis of lean management methods. Lean Construction Management means that you optimize all phases of a construction project and organize them so that your processes become «lean».

Lean Construction is a management method and is decompoised from the Toyota Production System. As a result, these methods were adapted for the construction industry. In doing so, the basic principles and ideas were adopted by lean management and thus adapted, respectively.

Where does “Lean” come from

Taiichi Ōno Portrait

“Lean” was developed by Toyota for the automotive industry. The developer of the production system we now know as TPS was Taichi Ohno. He realized that the process of car production, from order intake, to production, to delivery and invoicing, took far too long and a lot of non-value-added work was done. The son of the company founder, Toyoda, had already begun to “streamline” the manufacturing process during the wartime period in the middle of the century and to cope with the difficult conditions through “just-in-time” delivery.

Taichi Ohno further developed these ideas after WW2. He got his inspiration from the United States and Ford’s assembly line production. Eventually, he recognized the added value of this type of production, but also saw that the “push” principle which was used was not particularly well suited. With these prerequisites and influences in his head, he developed and perfected the TPS for years, which made Toyota the largest automobile manufacturer in the world.

What does “Lean” mean?

The actual term “lean” did not emerge until the 90s. For the two American economists James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones examined the superior TPS and worked on the principles scientifically. As a result of this reappraisal of the TPS, the term “lean” and the implementation developed in practice through “lean production.”

As lean production has spread in the automotive industry, other sectors of the economy have also addressed the issue and made their processes and workflows “lean.” Consequently, “lean management” developed an overarching management philosophy, which is now used in all sectors of the economy.

The book “Lean Thinking” by Womack & Jones has coined not only the term lean, but also the 5 principles behind lean. Although different sources and works have often expanded the 5 Lean principles, in general only these 5 principles for lean are defined:

Five Lean Principles

Customer added value

What does the customer really want and what is he really willing to pay for? This question should be asked over and over again in order to be able to work in a customer-centered and on-demand manner with the needs of the customer.

Process optimization

When you define the customer added value, the next step is to analyze and optimize the underlying process. For this purpose, the activities are divided into three categories “value-adding,” “necessary” and “waste.” The aim of process optimization is to maximize value-adding work, minimize the necessary activities, and eliminate waste.

Continuous flow

The optimized process should be kept in a continuous flow and ensure a smoothed flow. In doing so, buffers and interim deposits should be avoided, as well as uneven levels of utilization.

Pull Principle

Production should be based on needs and demand! This means that the flow of information runs contrary to the flow of production and the last “station” thus requests the performance of the previous ones.


Kaizen is Japanese and means “continuous, never-ending improvement”. Because it’s nothing so good that it couldn’t be improved even further. This principle should be applied to everything according to lean. So one should go through and question the four previous lean principles again and again.

Here are all the details surrounding the five lean principles.

What is Lean Construction?

Lean Construction is “a way of designing production systems in such a way that material, time, and workload are minimized to generate the greatest possible value” (Koskela et al, 2002).

Lauri Koskela, Gregory Howell and Glenn Ballard are seen as developers and minds behind Lean Construction. Because they have converted the aforementioned lean methods and principles to the construction industry and thus embarked on a new, innovative path away from the classic project management. Lean Construction has become more and more present. owever, like lean management in general, LC’s origins go back to the 1990s. Glenn Ballard noted that the international cut for weekly commitments is just over 50%. This means that you often need twice the time of what was actually planned for the completion of a project, which also reflected the status quo of the construction industry. Lean Construction is the result of the fact that the classic project management methods do not meet the benefits needed to deliver construction projects within a predetermined budget, at the agreed time and in agreed quality.

In order to solve this challenge, Lean Construction represents the collaborative collaboration of the project participants at the beginning of each project. Construction companies, users, builders and project managers should work together throughout the development process and work towards the common project goal.

Lean Construction Methods

How does the Last Planner System work?

Last Planner System

The Last Planner System (LPS) is a method for collaborative planning of processes in which trades and specialist planners (the “last planners”) create the schedule collaboratively. Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell developed it back in the 90s. The LPS divides planning of the construction process into five different levels of detail.

One of the most important things about implementing a working Last Planner System t is not only that individual components such as a 6-week preview should be implemented because the steps and levels of detail follow each other in terms of content.

Here are all the details about the Last Planner system.

Takt Time Planning

Takt Time Planning is another method of process planning on the construction site. The focus is on the flow of processes, which can be developed by creating a related trade sequence. This “flows” through the structure in a fixed order. The building is divided into various parts suitable for the trade sequence. These sub-areas are called zones or takt sections.

First, repetitive zones are set, which can be edited in a fixed order of trades.

Takt time planning

At the beginning, the overall process is analyzed similar to the Last Planner System. The aim is to identify the zones and visualize their process. Through experience, the zones are divided into equally large work packages. If necessary, several trades will be grouped together in one package. In residential or hotel construction, for example, the takt section could be a level. In road & civil engineering, a completed distance is usually used as a takt section.

Following the identification of the takt sections, all workflows, dependencies, and interfaces within the process are planned. Finally, the takt time, that is, the speed of repetition, is set. This is usually already the result of the previous planning. So that a trade begins after completion of the work in the first takt section with the work in the second section.

Target Value Design (TVD)

Target Value Design is a collaborative planning process in which planners, builders, suppliers and all other stakeholders work together to create a design that delivers the greatest added value to the owner. The budget, that is, the target value, is a design criterion. To do this, the team jointly designs the budget without the traditional process, which estimates the cost of the design and then constantly redesigns it to avoid budget overruns. The TVD process uses responsibility-based project planning and relies on lean systems that all team members apply.

In summary, TVD is based on 5 fundamental criteria:

Set the budget for planning

Working structure


Independent planning

Co-location/gathered in one place

5S Method

The 5S method is a systematic way of designing your own workplace and work environment in such a way that you can concentrate optimally on value-adding activities. In this process, waste is eliminated or reduced.

In the 5S cycle, a total of five individual steps are performed, the names of which start with the letter “S.”5 S Method Lean Construction

Sort (Seiri)

Sorting out creates more space for actually work equipment and materials you really need. The clarity in the workplace and the efficiency of job processing are increasing.

Set in order (Seiton)

The workplace should be systematized in such a way as to have things that are needed to do your value-added work quickly. The materials should be arranged in such a way in order to be able to use according to the frequency of use and/or order of use. In order to have a tidy and clear workplace in the long term, storage locations and related materials should be labeled.

Shine (Seiso)

The workspace should be cleaned regularly and kept in order. An inspection of the workplace should take place at the same time during the purge.

Standardize (Seiketsu)

Work steps that are recurring should be standardized in order to be able to be processed as quickly as possible. It helps to develop a routine for such work in order to be able to concentrate better on individual and unexperienced work and tasks.

Sustain/ Self-discipline (Shitsuke)

Like the 5. Lean Principle: Always ask yourself how the system can be improved? Can your default process still get easier or expedited?

Lean – Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a process improvement management system. Statistical quality targets are described, measured and analysed. At the same time, Six Sigma is a method of quality management that monitors business processes and their improvement and can be statistically evaluated.

Products and services are the result of previous processes. These processes have a significant impact on quality. Both Lean and Six Sigma regard customer added value as an overarching objective. In practical implementation, both systems result in the production of process stability and the establishment of a continuous improvement process. However, the orientation of the methods is different. Because with Lean, the focus is on doing the right things, Six Sigma’s focus is on doing things right. Of course, however, there is a large amount of intersection.

Six Sigma is related to the tolerance range of the feature in question as part of a so-called capability study. The standard deviation measure (letter σ: Sigma) plays an important role in this. It measures the spread of the feature. This study usually focuses on the quality of the product produced.

Lean primarily determines process stability through simpler metrics. The default measure is the number of commitments received, which is given as a simple percentage. This focuses on the planned process and makes a statement about how good the forecasting capability of the parties for upcoming processes is. It is assumed that a stable process due to a good forecasting ability has a positive effect on quality.

Thus, it becomes apparent that Lean and Six Sigma have very similar goals, but the methods used differ in part. With an intelligent combination of the two systems, they complement each other excellently and thus create efficiency in the spirit of customer added value.

The added value of Lean Construction Management

Construction projects are getting bigger and more complicated. he trend of project volume is increasing, but so is the number of participants in such projects. From highly specialized planners to sustainability officers and test sites, modern construction and civil engineering projects have achieved an enormously high degree of complexity. Despite the many risks and the high complexity, margins are of approx.

McKinsey Study on Margins in Different Industries

Unique manufacturing and productivity problems

Development of productivity in the construction industry

Another fact that makes construction projects so complicated is that buildings are nothing more than large prototypes. Every new project is unique and with every project you have to overcome new hurdles. These aforementioned reasons mean that it is considered normal when projects blow the time and cost budget and the project does not have the originally envisaged quality. What would be considered unacceptable in other sectors of the economy is unfortunately commonplace for the construction industry. Comparing the labor productivity of manufacturing with the construction industry, the large gap between these has emerged becomes even clearer. While manufacturing has experienced a 100% increase over the past 20 years, the labor productivity of the construction industry has increased only marginally.

Increase in productivity through lean construction

As mentioned above, Lean Construction has emerged as a management method as a result of dissatisfaction with these circumstances. But since the establishment of Lean Construction as a common project management method, there have been a number of major international projects that have been brought to a successful project conclusion by Lean Construction despite their size and complexity. One of the examples to illustrate what is possible with Lean are the London Olympics. The 2012 Games were the first to meet the planned costs and schedule. In addition, the venues were completed in a significantly higher quality, as was the case in the past Olympic Games. The reason for this is the significantly higher communication on and below the various construction sites. This allowed processes and workflows to be harmonized and stabilized. Consequently, this led to the avoidance of many disabilities and disturbances, as risks could be identified and avoided at an early stage. In terms of figures, Lean Construction promises an acceleration of construction processes of up to 30%, with a lower accident rate and significantly improved schedule compliance.

Comparison Lean and Classical Project Management

Focus on contracts vs. focus on production system

In traditional project management, a lot of time and effort is put into the drafting of contracts in order to be as well “secured” as possible in the event of delays and defects. Lean Construction shifts this focus towards an efficient and functioning production system so as not to ideally eliminate such problems or to eliminate them as quickly as possible and ahead.

Goal achievement vs. added value

Lean is implemented in accordance with the first lean principle, value-oriented. In traditional project management, the added value often takes a back seat and inefficient aiming with tunnel vision is the result.

Silo thinking vs. transperent, collaborative collaboration

The normal condition on German construction sites and in planning offices is the classic silo thinking. Because each participant has only his or her tasks in mind, an agreement with other trades and planners takes place only on a point-by-point basis. Lean Construction starts with this and promotes transparent and collaborative cooperation, with a healthy culture of error (errors are unavoidable and should not be concealed). The planning of buffers is also transparent at Lean. After all, no longer without agreement and completely overwrought buffers are planned for one’s own work.

Rare improvement vs. Continuous improvement and learning during project

A learning effect and improvements are not encouraged in traditional project management. Project participants learn slowly through experience across projects, but an exchange rarely takes place in the project. When lean is applied, precise metrics are developed, processes are taken up and they are constantly evaluated. This will improve from week to week in areas such as personal assessment and stakeholder cooperation.

The future of Lean Construction Management:
Data-based digital process planning

As already mentioned rising construction costs and the resulting low margins are a familiar picture in the construction industry. In order to counteract the resulting rising rental prices, there was an increased emphasis on lean construction. As a result, significant improvements have been made over here as well. According to the Lean Principle of Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) and in the course of digitization, there are some approaches and ideas in the recent past to digitally map lean systems.

A digital image is in many ways an improvement to the previous analogue system. This is because non-value-added arrival times at the lean meetings held at regular intervals can be eliminated in order to maximize the share of value-added work. However, the greatest potential of a digital lean system lies in the ability to collect and analyse data. While working with data and information plays a significant role in the course of digitization in other cases, there is still no qualitative and comprehensive data analysis in the traditionally shaped and low-innovation construction industry. As a result, mistakes of past projects are often repeated in similar projects. Even if the individual participants have a small learning effect, the merging of the information of all project participants on one platform does not take place.

Digital Lean Construction

Process management software for the construction industry

Lean Construction’s future lies in large-scale process-based data analysis and the pooling of information and resources on one platform. The research and development of such innovative and promising software has been increasingly supported by venture capital in recent years. The aim of this development is an artificial intelligence (AI), which supports the planning process and thus enables a symbiotic cooperation between trade union planner and machine. With a digital solution, an increase in efficiency that can still be seen today will be possible in the future, which will strengthen the construction industry in the long term.

That’s why we developed a lean construction software. Experience Yolean – digital, data-based process optimization!

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