Lean Construction Management helps against increasing complexity


Due to various challenges, the complexity in construction projects is continuously increasing today. 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 requirements for safety and sustainability have increased. As a result of these hurdles, it is becoming increasingly complicated to manage construction projects and achieve goals 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 optimizing all phases of a construction project and organizing them in such a way that your processes become "lean" (from the English: lean and effective).

Lean Construction is a management method derived from the Toyota Production System. Consequently, these methods were adapted for the construction industry. Thereby the basic principles and ideas of Lean Management and adapted or methods developed to apply the principles to the construction industry.


"Lean" was developed by Toyota for the automotive industry. The developer of the production system we know today as TPS was Taichi Ohno. He realized that the process of producing automobiles, from receiving orders, to production, to delivery and invoicing was taking far too long and a lot of non-value added work was being done. The son of the company's founder, Toyoda, had already begun to "streamline" the manufacturing process during wartime in the middle of the century and to cope with the difficult conditions by "just-in-time" delivery.

Taichi Ohno developed these ideas further after the Second World War. He got his inspiration from the USA and Ford's assembly line production. He finally recognized the added value of this type of production, but also saw that the "push" principle used there was not particularly well suited. With these prerequisites and influences in mind, he developed and perfected the TPS over the years, which made Toyota the largest car manufacturer in the world.

Definition: Lean

The actual term "lean" was not coined until the 1990s. The two American economists James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones investigated the superior TPS and worked up the principles scientifically. The term "Lean" and the implementation in practice through "Lean Production" developed as a result of this reappraisal of the TPS.

In the course of the spread of lean production in the automotive industry, other economic sectors have also dealt with the topic and made their processes and workflows "lean". As a result, "lean management" has become an overarching management philosophy that is now applied in all sectors of the economy.

The book "Lean Thinking" by Womack & Jones not only coined the term Lean, but also the 5 principles behind Lean. Although various sources and works have often expanded on the 5 Lean principles, generally only these 5 principles are defined for Lean:

Lean Management Principles

Customer added value

What does the customer really want and what is he really willing to pay money for? You should ask yourself this question again and again in order to always be able to work in a customer-centric and needs-oriented manner that is geared to the needs of the customer.

Process optimization

Once the customer added value has been defined, 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". Process optimization is aimed at maximizing the value-added work, minimizing the necessary activities and eliminating waste.

Flow efficiency

The optimized process should be kept in a continuous flow and ensure a smoothed sequence. Buffers and intermediate storage should be avoided, as well as uneven degrees of utilization.

Pull principle

Production should be demand-driven and on demand! This means that the flow of information runs against the flow of production and the last "station" thus requests the performance of the previous one.


Kaizen is Japanese and means "continuous, never-ending improvement". Because nothing is so good that it can't be improved even further. According to Lean, this principle should be applied to everything. So you should also go through and question the four previous Lean principles again and again.

Here you will find all details about the Five Lean Principles.

What is Lean Construction?

Lean construction is "a way of designing production systems to minimize material, time, and labor inputs in order to generate the greatest possible value" (Koskela et al, 2002).

Lauri Koskela, Gregory Howell and Glenn Ballard are seen as the developers and brains behind Lean Construction. They have applied the above-mentioned lean methods and principles to the construction industry and have thus taken a new, innovative path away from classic project management. Lean Construction has become more and more present in recent years, especially in German-speaking countries. However, the origins of Lean Construction, like Lean Management in general, go back to the 90s. Glenn Ballard found that the international average for weekly commitments is just over 50 %. This means that it often takes twice the time actually planned to complete a project, which also reflected the status quo of the construction industry. Lean Construction was born out of the fact that traditional project management methods were not delivering the value needed to deliver construction projects within budget, on time and to the agreed quality.

To solve this challenge, Lean Construction places collaborative collaboration among project stakeholders at the beginning of every project. Contractors, users, owners and project managers should work together throughout the creation process, working towards the common project goal.

Last Planner System: Process-driven project management

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 on a daily basis. Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell developed it back in the 1990s. The LPS divides planning of the construction process into five different levels of detail.

One of the most important points in implementing a functioning Last Planner system is that all elements of this system are actually implemented. Not only individual components such as a 6-week preview should be introduced, because the building blocks and the entire system builds on each other in terms of content.

Here you can find all details about the Last Planner System.

Clock planning & clock control

Cycle planning and cycle control is another method for process planning on the construction site. The focus here is on the process flow, which is developed by creating a linked sequence of trades (also called a train of trades). This "flows" through the building in a fixed sequence. The building is divided into different sub-areas suitable for the trade sequence. These sub-areas are called lot, cycle area or equal area.

First, repetitive lots are defined, which can be processed in a fixed sequence of trades.


At the beginning, the overall process is analyzed similar to the Last Planner system. The goal is to identify the takt areas and visualize their process. Using experience or effort values, the lots are divided into work packages of equal size in terms of time. If necessary, several trades are combined in one wagon. In residential or hotel construction, for example, this could be one floor. In road construction & civil engineering, a route to be completed is usually used as a clock.

Following the identification of the synchronous/cycle areas, one plans all workflows, dependencies and interfaces within the process. Finally, the cycle, i.e. the speed of the repetition, is determined. This usually already results from the previous planning. So that a trade begins work in the second area after completing the work in the first takt area.


Your project - Our solution

Target Value Design (TVD)

Target Value Design is a collaborative design process in which designers, builders, suppliers and all other project stakeholders work together to create a design that delivers the greatest value to the owner. In this process, the budget, or target value, is a design criterion. To do this, the team designs the budget together without the traditional process of estimating the cost of the design and then constantly redesigning 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

Work structuring


Independent planning

Collocation/Gathered in one place

5S method

The 5S method is a systematic approach to designing one's own workplace and working environment in such a way that one can optimally concentrate on value-adding activities. In the process, waste is eliminated or reduced.

In the 5S cycle, you go through a total of five individual steps, each of which begins with the letter "S".


Sorting out creates more space for work equipment and materials that are actually needed. The clarity at the workplace and the efficiency in the processing of tasks increases.


The workplace should be systematized to have things that are needed for the completion of his value-added work quickly at hand. The materials should be arranged in such a way that they can be used according to the frequency of use and/or the order of use. In order to have a tidy and clear workplace in the long term, storage locations and the associated materials should be marked.


The work area should be cleaned regularly and kept in order. During cleaning, an inspection of the workplace should take place at the same time.


Work steps that are recurring should be standardized in order 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 non-routine work and tasks.

Steady improvement

Like the 5th Lean Principle, this method requires you to constantly question yourself and consider how you can improve your system. Can your standard process be simplified or accelerated?

Lean - Six Sigma

Six Sigma (6 σ) is a management system for process improvement. Statistical quality targets are described, measured and analyzed. At the same time, Six Sigma is a quality management method with which business processes and their improvement can be monitored and statistically evaluated.

Products and services are the result of preceding processes. These processes have a significant influence on quality. Both Lean and Six Sigma consider customer added value as the overriding objective. In practical implementation, both systems result in the creation of process stability and the establishment of a continuous improvement process. However, the orientation of the methods is different. For Lean, the focus is on, the right things to do, the focus of Six Sigma lies on the Doing things right. Naturally, however, this results in a large intersection.

In Six Sigma, deviations from the ideal state are set in relation to the tolerance range of the relevant characteristic as part of a so-called process capability study. The key figure standard deviation (letter: σ; pronounced: sigma) plays an important role here. It measures the spread of the characteristic. This examination usually focuses on the quality of the product produced.

In Lean, process stability is primarily determined using simpler key figures. The standard indicator is the number of commitments kept, which is given as a simple percentage value. This is based on the planned process and makes a statement about how good the forecasting ability of those involved is for upcoming processes. It is assumed that a stable process has a positive influence on quality due to a good forecasting ability.

This makes it obvious that Lean and Six Sigma pursue very similar goals, but the methods used differ in part. Through an intelligent combination of the two systems, they complement each other excellently and thus create efficiency in the sense of customer added value.



The added value of Lean Construction Management

Construction projects are getting bigger and more complicated. The trend of project volumes is increasing, but so is the number of people involved in such projects. From highly specialised specialist planners to sustainability officers and inspection bodies, modern building and civil engineering projects have reached an enormously high level of complexity. Despite the many risks and the high level of complexity, margins of around 4 % are the norm in the construction industry.

McKinsey study on margins in various industries

One-off production and productivity problems

Productivity in the construction industry

Another circumstance that makes construction projects so complicated is that Building nothing else than major prototypes are. Because every new project is a Unique and with every project you have to overcome new hurdles. These reasons just mentioned lead to the fact that as a normal when projects are considered to be Break the time and cost budget and the project is not of the quality originally envisaged. What would be considered unacceptable in other sectors of the economy is unfortunately commonplace for the construction industry. If we compare the labour productivity of the manufacturing sector with the construction sector, the huge gap that has opened up between them becomes even more apparent. While the manufacturing sector has experienced an increase of 100% in the last 20 years, the labour productivity of the construction sector has increased only marginally.

Comparison of lean and classic project management

Focus on contracts vs. focus on production system

In traditional project management, a lot of time and effort is put into the preparation of contracts in order to be as "protected" as possible in the event of delays and defects. Lean Construction shifts this focus to an efficient and functioning production system in order to ideally prevent such problems from arising or to eliminate them as quickly as possible and with foresight.

Achievement of objectives vs. added value

Lean is implemented according to the first Lean principle of added value. In classic project management, the added value often takes a back seat and inefficient goal striving with tunnel vision is the result.

Silo thinking vs. transparent, collaborative cooperation

The normal state of affairs on German construction sites and in planning offices is the classic silo thinking. Because everyone involved only has their own tasks in mind, consultation with other trades and planners only takes place selectively. This is where Lean Construction comes in and promotes transparent and collaborative cooperation, with a healthy error culture (errors are unavoidable and should not be concealed). Buffer planning is just as transparent with Lean. Finally, buffers are no longer planned for one's own work without consultation and completely exaggerated.

Infrequent improvement vs. continuous improvement and learning during the project

A learning effect and improvements are not promoted in classic project management. This is because project participants learn slowly through experience across projects, but an exchange rarely takes place in the project. If lean is applied, precise key figures are developed, processes are recorded and constantly evaluated. This leads to an improvement from week to week in areas such as the personal assessment and the cooperation of the participants.

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 rents, there has been an increased focus on lean construction, particularly in Germany. As a result, considerable improvements have been achieved in this country as well. In accordance with the lean principle of continuous improvement (kaizen) and in the course of digitalization, there have been several approaches and ideas in the recent past, Digital mapping of lean systems.

Digital mapping is in many ways an improvement over the previous analog system. This is because non-value-added travel time to lean meetings, which take place at regular intervals, can be eliminated in order to maximize the amount of value-added work. However, the greatest potential of a digital lean system lies in its ability to collect and analyze data. While working with data and information in the course of digitalization plays a significant role in other industries, there is still no qualitative and extensive data evaluation for process optimization in the traditionally characterized and innovation-poor construction industry. This means that mistakes made in 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


The future of Lean Construction lies in process-based data evaluation on a large scale and the consolidation of information and resources on one platform. The research and development of such innovative and promising software has been increasingly supported with venture capital in recent years. The objective of this development is artificial intelligence (AI), which supports the planning process and thus enables symbiotic cooperation between trades/planners and machines. With a digital solution, an increase in efficiency that is still foreseeable today is possible in the future, which will sustainably strengthen the construction industry.

That's why we have a Lean Construction Software developed. Experience Yolean - digital, data-based process optimization!