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What Does “Lean Construction” Really Mean?

Aug 26, 2016 12:30PM ● By MED Magazine
By Austin Funk 


We are well into our Lean journey at Beckenhauer Construction. Anyone who has been involved with any lean initiatives will have heard it described as a journey and not a destination.  At the heart of Lean is the concept of continuous improvement. We have recognized that “going lean” is as much about changing the culture as it is using many of the processes. Every Lean initiative has to address adding value and eliminating waste, if it is not going to provide greater value to customers, eliminate waste (reduce costs) and improve everyone’s experience, the initiative will not be pursued.

At Beckenhauer Construction we utilize a number of tools the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) recommends. Many are tools, processes and concepts that are used in other industries, such as the 5 S’s, 5 Whys, A7’s, Kanban (visual triggers), Kaizen (take apart and make better), and Muda (the seven wastes identified by Toyota manufacturing plus one added – people!). There is really too much involved in a full lean implementation to cover in an article such as this, but hopefully you will at least have enough information to investigate further.

One of our first steps when we committed to Lean was to establish a Lean committee with team members from a cross section of our business – from field to office. This group is working to master various concepts of Lean which allows them to serve as “Lean Champions” in our organization and help coach our other team members with implementation of the practices and Lean thinking. Several waste reduction implementations have come from this team working through process mapping exercises to identify how to eliminate waste.

The LCI (Lean Construction Institute) created “Last Planner System” and “Pull Planning” concepts are one of the strongest tools for managing construction project workflow. When implemented on a project, they greatly enhance communication on the project between the various trades, leading to more in-depth conversations and better planning by the various trades.

The traditional approach on projects is to “Push” plan.  In this scenario, someone in an office puts together the overall schedule and tells everyone downstream to follow the plan. The biggest differentiator in pull planning is that the “Last Planner” (the trade foremen), who are most intimately familiar with what really needs to be done, work together to plan backwards from milestones. Determining what needs to be done prior to the last activity to meet the milestone, each trade indicates a commitment to complete every activity and identify what needs to be done before they can begin.

Activities are broken down into smaller areas (durations of 3 to 5 days) in a micro planning process that creates more numerous hand-off opportunities.  This allows smaller segments of work to progress to the next trade to assure a more continuous flow of work between the trades. This creates very interactive weekly foremen/pull planning meetings and helps assure the requirements for each activity to proceed are identified and in place. A constraint board is updated during pull planning sessions to define any barriers to completing tasks (this is basically a list of information needed, material stocked in the way, etc. that could constrain or stop an activity from proceeding).  This also identifies who is responsible to resolve the issue so things can proceed as planned. This entire process can help to prevent “fires” so the team does not have to fight “fires” later!

When we are involved early on projects either as a CM/GC or as a Design Builder we enjoy having an opportunity to work through design with an eye towards constructability to help facilitate improved flow of the work. We often will bring in major subcontractors early in the process to leverage their expertise in their specialties as well.  This is more than a typical value engineering approach and really results more in an added value process, which is what Lean construction is all about!

All of this leads to creating more reliable workflow, reducing waste for everyone on the project and improves schedule performance, resulting in the Owners we work with getting into their finished facility sooner.

Austin Funk is the general manager for Beckenhauer Construction Inc.and has been there for
  4 years. He has been in the construction industry for a total of 36 years. He relocated to Northeast Nebraska from Colorado where his career in management working for a general contractor also allowed him to serve on both the local and national school to career committees for the Associated Builders and Contractors, serve as a board member for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, teach the first year carpenter apprentice class at Red Rocks Community College and spend several years as a board member for the Construction Industry Training Council.