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Lean warrior talks collaboration in LCI-C keynote

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by Don Wall

A self-described lean warrior with tremendous credentials in lean construction south of the border going back years, was well-chosen to address the topic of lean construction: past, present and future at the Lean Construction Institute — Canada (LCI-C) conference held in Toronto recently.
Lean warrior talks collaboration in LCI-C keynote

Lawyer, professor and construction consultant Dick Bayer is not only a former executive director of the U.S.-based Lean Construction Institute and veteran of dozens of U.S. lean or integrated project delivery (IPD) builds, he is currently integrally involved in an important job north of the border, living and working in Ottawa as the IPD/lean design and construction advisor for the 12-year Centre Block Rehabilitation Project on Parliament Hill.

Bayer made a convincing case to delegates attending the May 5 mid-day keynote lecture that constructors resisting the lean movement are dinosaurs.

"There is a great line by Colin Powell that says, 'if it ain't broke don't fix it is the mantra of lunatics, lazy people and cowards,' " said Bayer.

"Everything is broke in a way, everything can be continually improved. One of the gateway beliefs to getting into the lean world is you have to believe that the system is at least underperforming."

Bayer used humour and anecdotes to get his points across, as when he was making a case for the importance of building trust and working collaboratively with project partners early in the planning of a project.

"Every time I go out and talk to somebody about stuff, they say, 'I've been doing that for years,' " he said, adopting an old-timer's country accent. " 'I am a collaborator and scheduler from way back.' "

But the hick's theory about understanding the need for collaboration quickly breaks down, said Bayer, still using the comic voice: "Why would the electrician talk to the plumber?"

Explained Bayer, "Collaboration is shoulder to shoulder, co-creation of stuff in real time. People get to sit together, that is where, in that collaboration, there is lots of talk about trust."

Bayer first built a case that there was egregious failure in project delivery throughout most of the construction sector and then set about identifying steps that should be followed along the lean path.

"Most of our projects are over budget and behind schedule," he said. "And you wonder, why is that? We must be the only industry in the world that celebrates just coming in on time and on budget. We don't develop real budgets or real schedules. We develop contractual negotiations around time and money that have nothing to do with the work that needs to be done and how long it is going to take to do it."

Bayer ran through a list of projects that were famously over budget and late, including the Sydney Opera House, 1,357 per cent over budget and 10 years behind schedule in 1973, and the Scottish Parliament Buildings, finished in 2004, three years past the target date at a final cost at least 10 times more than the original estimate.

It's a worldwide problem, said Bayer, Canada included. But lean principles applied from project conception have been proven to produce much better results. Lean thinking, essentially, is creating value then eliminating waste, said Bayer. The why and the how have to be addressed by project partners right from the beginning, he said, mentioning the Big Room concept where hard work is required as partners collaborate and strive for continuous improvement.

In general, best-performing projects have much more frequent use of co-location in a Big Room, used Target Value Design, involve prefab construction or modularization, engage in continuous estimating and use BIM design, A3 thinking and the Last Planner system, Bayer said.

One project he worked on in California used pull planning — another lean principle defined at leanconstruction.org as working from a target completion date or "milestone" backward — to produce great results.

Using the technique, construction of the California Prison Healthcare Facility in Stockton increased work in place from $1 million to $3 million per day, and so the $535-million, 54-building, 1.4-million-square-foot facility went from design to construction in 23 months.

The U.S. is the leader in lean and is showing the way forward, Bayer said.

"The traction has set in in the States and if you went to this year's congress in Chicago we had over 1,000 people and they were fired up about the possibilities of doing things differently in the industry."

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