Lean Construction: Trimming the Excess

By: Jason Edsall, CM-LEAN

Lean Construction is a bottom up approach which results in collaborative team commitment, a production planning system, management of workflow, and building reliability. We take a proactive stance to make work happen by removing constraints ahead of time as much as possible. The end result of the production planning system is to achieve a daily detail of the project and resource allocation to complete tasks reliably, efficiently, and effectively. The following compares a Lean approach to traditional project management for project planning:



Baseline Schedule

Lean – GC develops a summary level schedule with key milestones.
Traditional – GC develops a detailed schedule with minimal trade input for use throughout the duration of the job.

Trade Coordination

Lean – All trades work together to develop the sequence of activities working backwards from each milestone. Activities are planned to a detail of one week duration. This is considered a “Pull Plan”.
Traditional – Superintendent dictates when work is to be done based on baseline schedule with minimal regard to work constraints and pre-requisites.

Look Ahead Planning

Lean – All trades collaborate to detail “make ready” plans for activities in the upcoming six weeks, based on the Pull Plan. Constraints and pre-requisites are recorded and tracked for resolution prior to work occurring.
Traditional – Superintendent dictates when work is to be done based on baseline schedule with minimal regard to work constraints and pre-requisites. Any impacts result in recovery schedules.

Weekly Work Plans

Lean – All trades work in conjunction to detail daily activity sequences for an upcoming week with commitments by all to follow the plan.
Traditional – GC issues a two-week snippet from the master schedule which has often been impacted and pushes for recovery.

Daily Huddle

Lean – All trades gather each day for a brief review of activities to occur and state deliveries. Any new-found constraints are identified for action.
Traditional – Daily meetings rarely occur.


Lean – Accuracy of commitments made by trades is reviewed at the weekly work plan meetings. Percentage of planned work which was completed is recorded for each trade.
Traditional – Progress is recorded on a monthly basis during updates of the master schedule.

A Lean Construction approach emphasizes the reduction of waste. The various types of waste in construction are categorized as follows with an example of means to reduce.

Defects/Rework – resources are wasted when corrections need to be made.
Action: Emphasize quality control and coordination to prevent conflicts.

Waiting – Workers waiting for work or work waiting for workers.
Action: Strive for a continuous production system and elimination of bottlenecks.

Transportation of Goods – Continued handling of goods is a waste of resources.
Action: Goods should be received in batches based on the rate of usage. Any large quantity deliveries should be held at a remote area.

Motion – Workers moving excessively or unnecessarily to perform tasks is a waste of resources.
Action: Stage items at the closest proximity to the work as possible or utilize mobile systems to allow items to move with the work.

Inventory – Excess inventory can impede work or cause additional handling. A depleted inventory can cause workers to wait.
Action: Maintain a balance of inventory and institute triggers to identify when replenishment is needed before completely depleted.

Overproduction – An excess amount of work in an unfinished state can increase potential for damage/rework and may not be coordinated and also cause rework.
Action: Maintain a continuous workflow with small batch hand-offs between trades. All work in a sequence progresses at the rate of the slowest producer.

Unnecessary Steps – Efforts which do not contribute to the progression of a system are wasted efforts.
Action: Reduce and eliminate actions which do not add or provide value.

Underutilized Talents – Workers with a high level of skillsets which are assigned to basic tasks are considered a wasted resource.
Action: Understand the potential of all workers and utilize crews with common skillsets appropriate for the work.

By following these practices, the variation in work observed on traditional projects will be reduced and result in a consistent output with continuous coordinated workflow. The superintendent and foreman will interact differently whereas the foreman will assume a higher level of ownership in planning the work and responsibility to honor commitments made. Trades will work together to produce work in a fashion that is predictable and reliable.


An accountable and highly dedicated construction professional, Jason has been an on-site project manager for many high profile projects. AGC CM-LEAN Certified, Jason has worked in the construction industry for more than two decades and brings significant experience and expertise in Lean Construction, scheduling, field engineering, commissioning, and management leadership on projects representing diverse market sectors.