Lean on Me

Construction projects depend on the coordination and execution of multiple parties to ensure success. The manufacturer has to have the right product, the supplier has to get it to the right place at the right time, and the contractor has to install it perfectly. And that’s just the simplest example. With new construction or major renovation projects involving multiple contractors and any number of systems, the degree of difficulty goes up exponentially.

I once briefly served as the general contractor on my own bathroom remodel — after the contractor I hired went bankrupt in the middle of the project. Coordinating the work of the drywall contractor, electrician, plumber, and tile installer was difficult, to say the least. The toughest person to deal with was the painter (your truly), who was particularly hard to pin down.

It’s an experience I don’t want to relive, but it helped me gain even more of an appreciation for the difficult dance of the construction jobsite. It no longer amazes me when things go wrong. What continues to amaze me is how often it all goes right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interviewed a contractor who successfully completed a difficult project who says, “Oh, everything went smoothly.” I will tell you what they had in common: a knack for planning ahead and anticipating potential trouble spots.

In our last issue, Tom Hutchinson wrote an article about the importance of Lean Construction concepts in the roofing arena and how they are even more crucial during the current materials crisis. (See “Lean Roofing,” July/August, page 58). If you haven’t read it yet, you should check it out. In short, Lean Construction takes the key principles of Lean Manufacturing, including planning ahead, continuous improvement and minimizing waste, and applies them to the construction arena.

Before that issue even went to press, I interviewed Mike Ash of Franklin and Son Roofing in Farmington, Arkansas, about his company’s work on the new gymnasium and baseball/softball complex for Rogers High School featured in this issue. Despite a crowded, busy jobsite with multiple trades, he notes the project basically went off without a hitch.

Ash credits the success to the teamwork of everyone involved in the project — and their belief in Lean scheduling. He talked about the architect refining numerous details before the project began. He pointed out how pre-flashing the roof curbs allowed the HVAC units to all be set as soon as they arrived so they did not delay the schedule or disrupt the roofing work. He talked about the importance of daily huddles to identify potential problems and head them off.

Tom Hutchinson would be proud.

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