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In this economic environment, the best way to gain competitive advantages is to be as lean as possible. Consistently winning bids requires maximizing resources and streamlining processes. One of the best places to start is by eliminating, or at least minimizing, the eight most common areas of waste in lean construction.

1. Transportation

Unnecessary movement of materials or equipment is especially counterproductive. Whether it is movement from one jobsite to another, or from a yard to a material laydown area and then again to the actual work area, transportation adds time to the whole construction process and exposes materials to handling damage. While transportation waste cannot be eliminated entirely, it can be minimized through better communication, coordination and daily task management. Keeping everyone from the office to the field on the same page reduces the number of unnecessary trips.  

2. Inventory

In construction, inventory waste occurs when overproduction results in excess material. This includes material being stored onsite or at the fabrication yard, work in progress, and unused tools or parts. While having some inventory on hand is necessary to keep the project moving, these materials should be minimized as much as possible, as they tend to require a fair bit of handling (effort) and storage space. Look for ways to optimize inventory such as reusable guard rail systems rather than using two-by-fours that get tossed at the end of the project. Often a one-time investment will quickly pay for itself. 

3. Motion

Motion waste results from extra steps taken by people to accomplish their work, whether it’s time spent looking for a tool or file; walking extra yards due to a poorly designed work area; or using systems that are unnecessarily labor-intensive when better options exist. With 50% of the time spent on construction in the United States wasted on unproductive activities, it’s important to leverage construction management technology to reduce this number dramatically. 

4. Time

Perhaps intuitively, this waste happens when crews are unproductive because they are waiting for the delivery of material or equipment, or for the completion of a preceding activity. This also applies to anyone on the project waiting for information, such as field personnel waiting for a plan or an RFI, a scheduler waiting for progress updates or payroll waiting for time sheets. Having real-time access to this information in the field—from any device or location—will help crews reduce this type of waste. 

5. Overproduction

This is pretty much the opposite of just-in-time manufacturing and inventorying. Overproduction waste results from fabricating material too soon or ordering extra material because of poor quality, rather than producing and delivering the right amount of material at the time it is needed. There is overlap between overproduction and another type of lean waste: inventory waste. When overproduction and inventory waste happen, contractors must store it on an often overcrowded site; if plans change, contractors will also need to change the materials they’re using. 

6. Overprocessing

This waste refers to unnecessary steps taken in the project value chain, such as transforming or double-handling material. This also relates to coordination and administrative workflows on a construction project that lead to double data entry, such as multiple signatures on forms, redundant daily reports, and forwarding emails with drawings and RFIs. Eliminating paperwork with blueprint software and having one central communications point will ensure jobsite teams are always on the same page and information isn’t lost in various paper files.

7. Defect

Incorrect work that needs to be repaired, replaced or redone costs time, labor and money. In lean construction, defect waste includes damaged material, rework or punch list items. For example, a flooring material not installed per specifications or a finished wall damaged by the electrical contractor would fall under the defects category. Having a historical record of all site issues and one place to track punch list items on the fly will help minimize the prevalence of defects. Defects round out the seven wastes of lean, but there is an eighth waste that is emerging in lean manufacturing and construction. 

8. Skills and underused talent

The eighth waste of lean involves failing to make use of people’s skills, creativity or knowledge on a project. This is not one of the traditional seven wastes (or seven mudas) found in early lean literature, but is now commonly accepted as an additional waste of lean, and turns the common mnemonic for the seven wastes of lean from “TIM WOOD” to “TIM WOODS.” Employees are the greatest asset, so they should be empowered with the tools they need to thrive. Using construction management software enables everyone from the office to the field to communicate and collaborate in real time, ensuring that no idea goes unheard. Construction apps help to ensure everyone’s skills are being used.

A shortcut to achieving a leaner construction business is to collaborate with other lean vendors, suppliers and craftspeople. When everyone involved with a project shares the same goals of minimizing waste and improving efficiencies, contractors will naturally find opportunities to increase profits.  

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