Is Lean Construction missing something

sweat equity

What is the point of Lean Construction? Ask any number of continuous improvement freak in the construction industry and you will get as many answers. If you ask me, my answer has changed several times since I was introduced to Lean Construction back in 2000. Today it is 100% about making work better for the people doing the work while building problem solving capabilities.  

Your eyes may be rolling, mine too, cuz easier said than done. 

But it turns out that it can be as simple as I allow it to be. My awakening happened as I was presenting my analysis to the electrician I was studying. I had a chart up on the wall that depicted the 30 steps of his work that I had observed. I had a check mark indicating if the step was value add, incidental, or waste and there was new classification that my coach instructed me to include. And thank goodness for that column, the new column was "HARD WORK".

Anyhow, as I explained to this Master Electrician that most of his steps were "Waste" I was excited to teach him all about the 8 wastes. But he wasnt having it. About a millisecond after I basically said "most of your work is waste" he lashed out and said well "most of that Bull &h!t is crap yall make us do". Which was embarrassingly true. 

It was important to me that I connected with him as we would be studying his work over the next few weeks. Then the magic happened I looked back at the chart on the wall and the "HARDWORK" column was screaming for attention. So I quickly said "and all of these steps looked like they suck, as in they are hard on your body" He agreed and at this point I earned back his trust. From that point forward my entire focus shifted from removing waste to removing the Hard work first. I hadnt proven it yet but my assumption was if I target & eliminate the hard work I would get that slippery thing that was hard to achieve "Buy In" But this was only 1/3 of the equation. 


The 2nd part of the recipe is the element of socializing improvement ideas this was different than coming up with a to do list and instructing the operators on what to do. Since the improvement strategy was now driven by eliminating the hard work and I wasnt the one doing the hard work. I had to verify that the improvement ideas would make the work easier, like for real for real. And guess who are the only folks that can answer that question? you got it, its the people doing that are actually doing the work. 

And it was super fun, we brain stormed on ways to make the work better then we presented our ideas to the crew. We knew immediately which ideas would stick cuz we got nodding heads & thumbs up, we also know which ideas to ommit cuz they plainly said "I aint gonna do that, thats stupid because..." And several times they pointed out ways to enhance the idea we presented. It was interesting cuz it felt like we were working on it together, like buddies working on a strange but familiar science project. But we werent done.

The rubber meets the road by the investment of Sweat Equity. This means we, as in the group of learners, were going to put in some sweat to make these improvement efforts come to life, this is the 3rd ingredient that seals the deal. And it was significant for me because it helped me understand why so many of my previous Lean ideas fell apart. 

Historically I would give the crews a list of things they should to do be more efficient, then piss and moan because they werent doing it. I ignored the fact that I did nothing to create the bandwidth for them to slow down and experiment, I did nothing to advocate in acquiring the tools, materials or equipment my ideas needed. And worst of all each of the improvement ideas only accounted for my pain, not theirs. 

But the new recipe required me to leverage my influence in getting the stuff the improvement idea called for. It required me to play a part in assembling / deploying the improvement idea along side the installer so they could maintain their production goals. This also helped me see in real time the impact of the improvement. By impact Im talking specifically about the human cost. I witnessed the operator work comfortably, faster and smile every now and then. 

I witnessed the value of Sweat Equity Improvement not just from a production perspective but from the human side. It has made me a better practitioner and equipped me with a system to demonstrate "Respect for People" not just talk about it. 

You may be thinking, "OK, so I see how you made the work better for others but what about developing problem solving capability"

Well I walked away with a wicked sharp improvement in my own problem solving capabilities. And Ive been fortunate in witnessing the same for others in the Virtual SQI sessions. As we are making the work better for others we are also sharpening our problem solving skills and discovering a whole new zoom level to do it in.

Facilitation for Connection

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