What is Lean construction?

With Lean construction, Learn how to build at a reduced cost, deliver on time and make your team more engaged

What is Lean construction?
Photo by Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa / Unsplash

Most people confuse lean construction for a concrete plan of action with tools and actions instead of philosophy with principles and state of mind.

What is lean construction, and why is it a good practice to elevate performance and have cost-effective construction completed in time?

Below is a detailed guide of lean construction, principles of lean construction, and how to practice it.

What is Lean Construction?

Lean construction is the construction method aimed at minimizing costs, time, materials, and efforts. It is also defined as applying lean thinking to the design and construction process providing improved project delivery to match client's desires and improved efficiency for constructors.

It is essentially a methodology to reduce the bad and maximize the right parts. Using lean construction principles, the expected outcome would be to optimize the project's output and value while reducing wasteful aspects and time delays.

In simple terms, lean construction's essence and goal are to use what is necessary without extra.

It is also worth noting that there is no one universal approach to lean construction. Different tools and techniques, such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), the Last Planner System, Integrated Project Delivery, can be used in collaboration to achieve lean.

Principles of Lean construction

Construction projects have stages that begin with planning and design and end with closeout. All the parties perform their function as assigned by the contract. In this construction methodology, the focus shifts from individual stakeholders focused mainly on their roles to all stakeholders functioning as a unit.

Therefore, when applying these principles, the construction project embraces extra dimensions as parties consider the project's entire life cycle when deciding what and how to build it.

These guiding principles help construction firms to achieve lower costs, more productivity, reduced construction times, and efficient project management.

1. Identify value from a customer's point of view

The traditional construction approaches focus on what the customer wants a construction firm to build, specifications, and whatever is included in the design and plans.

Conversely, lean construction takes a different approach from that. It recognizes that what a customer values are more profound than just the plans and specifications. Lean construction is not just about what a customer wants to be built, rather why.

Understanding the construction project's value truly from the customer's viewpoint requires a different trust level established in the initial project planning stages.

Lean construction unites all parties and stakeholders of the project, including the customer, engineers, architects, main contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers. This team delivers what the customer desires and provides advice, and helps shape expectations throughout the project.

2. Define the value stream

Once you have clearly understood the value from the customer's viewpoint, you can lay out the processes required to deliver the value, preferably known as the value stream. The required labor, info, equipment, and materials are defined for each activity.

3. Focus on the proccess

In traditional construction projects, people majorly focus their energy and resources on transactions and contracts. So relationships remain transactional with the contracts ensuring the project outcomes.

However, in lean construction, everyone is focusing on the process. By being fully involved, they are optimizing everything for the end product. Regardless of your role in the construction process, you have a voice that all parties in the project can hear.

4. Plan more than react

Conventional construction projects with their change orders and rework reflect tendencies to think short term. On the other hand, with lean construction projects, the stakeholders consider the structure's entire life cycle. They consider what will happen to it in midlife and what could happen when it reaches logical conclusions.

The lean construction project participants consider how their interests affect one another to align their long-term and short-term interests to the construction project's benefits.

5. Create stuctures to accomplish goals

In lean construction, a systematic approach is used when preparing to begin an activity. Subsequently, the parties directly involved committing to complete it by the requirements.

As the project is underway, everyone gets involved in the lean construction practices to predict and solve challenges that could potentially threaten project completion. On a lean project, everyone is committed once they sign-in on the project. Fortunately, they are aware that help comes in all directions, meaning they are not alone.

6. Eliminate Waste

Lean construction's primary goal is the elimination or minimization of waste at every available opportunity. It targets a few major types of waste that include;

  1. Defects. These are anything not done the first time correctly, leading to reworks that waste time and resources.
  2. Overproduction. Overproduction occurs when an activity is finished earlier than scheduled or before the next activity in the process can begin.
  3. Waiting. This happens when construction workers are ready, but materials necessary for project completion have not yet been delivered.
  4. Not utilizing skills. Construction workers at any particular project have a broad range of skills and experience. When the right worker is not matched to the correct task, their skills, talent, and knowledge are wasted.
  5. Transport. This happens when construction workers, materials, or equipment are moved to a job site before they are needed to do so. It could also mean unnecessary information transmission.
  6. Inventory. Construction materials that are not immediately needed are excess inventory. They occupy extra space, tie up budgets, and mostly degrade when not used.
  7. Motion. Unnecessary movement, for example, the distance between tools, workers, and materials, creates motion waste.
  8. Over-processing. It happens when features or activities are added with no value to the client.

Use realistic contingencies

Contingencies are like backup plans that you use in the construction process to protect you and the project from unforeseen circumstances. Contingencies range from money, inventory, favor, or goodwill. Unfortunately, contingencies mostly build up in the wrong proportion to the risk.

The flow of proccess (Good communication)

A lean construction project is considered a continuous, reliable, and predictable uninterrupted workflow. In lean construction, a sequence is key.

Also, clear communication between all parties is essential to achieve a good flow. When any part of the project lags, it is crucial to let everyone know. This way, adjustments can be made to prevent waste of excess inventory, waiting, and motion.

Benefits of Lean Construction

Why is Lean construction the perfect methodology to improve performance while sticking to a budget and less time? Below are some of the key benefits of lean benefits.

  1. Having less waste and using fewer materials can significantly reduce costs
  2. Reduced construction time due to the increased planning and strategic vision
  3. Reduced workers and management stress
  4. Improved results owing to improved communication and fewer employees
  5. Increased profits and turnovers
  6. Improved worker accountability
  7. Improved customer and job satisfaction leading to more performance commitment
  8. Reduced accidents and increased safety in job sites due to increased worker focus and understanding.

Read more in the article about why using Lean construction and what is its main benefits.

Adopting Lean Construction: Steps by steps

Switching to lean construction may seem labor-intensive and challenging to pull off. You can begin noticing results from the methodology by following this step-by-step approach in how to practice lean construction;

1. Assemble Your Team

Begin by determining roles and responsibilities for each team member. Ensure they understand what is expected of them. Allow them to seek clarifications and provide the relevant questions related to planning, scheduling, and accessibility.

Help the team members get comfortable with any collaborative technology to be used with onboarding sessions. Establish oversight with the client/owner's oversight and input.

2. Engage Subcontractors

Highlight the individual benefits the team members will gain from lean construction to build transparency. Integrate the members into the planning process as early as possible and keep them updated.

3. Develop your Schedule

Utilize the backward planning in the pull planning method. Subsequently, determine the task sequences through milestones leading to the final deadline. Use last planners for tasking to create coordination schedules.

4. Conduct Check-ins

Take notes of parts that need improvement and design an action plan to address them during check-ins. This is the best time to discuss best practices with all stakeholders while keeping communication open.

5. Standardize

While working on the project and reviewing best practices, develop your operation standards. Communicate them with your fellow stakeholders and set expectations for reporting and benchmarks.

You can also quantify the results and benefits achieved with Lean at this stage to determine if you can increase investment.

Lean construction techniques

To practice lean construction you need to follow some technics of project management that we talk more in details in this article about the 7 main technics to practice lean construction.


Among all innovative construction methodologies, Lean construction has taken the lead. It is aimed at improving efficiency, customer satisfaction, and doing so at reduced costs. As previously mentioned, lean construction is a process that may be hard to implement. With a collaborative platform such as Bricks, project stakeholders visualize all their tasks, track progress and have a transparency on the schedule. This is a first step, but don't forget the key is that the team are involved in the shift and share state of mind.