Learning Lean, Building Lean at Laketown Elementary School
Some things can’t be learned in a classroom- Take Lean Construction. After revolutionizing the manufacturing industry with its tenets of maximizing value and minimizing waste, Lean principles are now making their way slowly and steadily into the construction industry, reframing the jobsite with its production management-based approach aimed at improving performance, schedule, quality, safety, productivity, and the worker experience. KA’s project professionals are leaning into the movement, participating in Lean Leadership Groups, informal discussion groups, workshops, and coursework offered by the Lean Construction Institute, AGC and KA University.
Yet, the best way to learn Lean is by doing. KA Project superintendent Randy Haram, a 30-year construction veteran; KA Project Manager Jason Peterson, a 25-year construction professional; and KA Project Engineer Eric Kivisto, a recent construction management graduate; are putting Lean principles into practice on the Waconia Laketown Elementary project team. They recently implemented pull planning at the project, a two-story, 85,000 s.f. new elementary school that opens this fall, part of a $75 million bond referendum that includes improvements around the district.
KA Lean Champion Kyle Woody recently interviewed the project team for their perspectives on taking Lean out of the classroom and into practice.
WOODY: Jason, you tried pull planning a long time ago on one of your projects, how did that go and what inspired you to recently pick it up and try again? What did you learn? What will you do different next time?
PROJECT MANAGER JASON PETERSON: It was about four years ago, and at the time I was skeptical about it. I thought I understood it. We got everyone in a room and tried to plan the whole project in one go. I was frustrated when it didn’t work. After that experience I came to the conclusion that a good three-week look ahead was more effective and required less time/effort than pull planning.
Then I attended Lean training through KAU. From KAU I learned just how little I understood. I learned that the major mistake I made four years ago was, we were biting off too much at once. I learned planning is a conversation that doesn’t end until the project is complete. As it turns out, pull planning is only one component of a planning system, the “last planner system.”
This new awareness gave me the courage to tackle it again. Plus it’s just a fact that to be competitive we have to deliver faster today than we did four years ago. The work force is also changing. The people we’re dealing with are different these days. They want to collaborate, they want to be engaged, they want to be a positive influence on the project.
WOODY: In your most recent pull planning efforts, what happened during the planning that you did not expect?
PETERSON: I was surprised by how many trades have already done it. I was also surprised by their positive attitudes about it, four years ago I didn’t get that reaction. They were happy to join the planning, they were on time, they were prepared, and they were engaged the whole time. I learned the industry is changing faster than I thought. We always hear about things changing in our industry, but sometimes it’s hard to see it, this experience really brought it home for me that we have to start thinking differently. I’m not skeptical anymore. I know moving in this direction has been beneficial to my projects, my team has gotten results and now we’re hungry for more.
WOODY: What is your advice for someone who is considering trying a Lean approach for their work/project?
PETERSON: Don’t delay, start your Lean adventure now. Jump in and engage. Commit yourself to action. Sign up for KAU Lean training. Get that first planning session on the calendar and then you can’t back down. I’ve learned through action more than I ever would have reading or even from KAU. Know that we have a great support system in Kyle and the Lean Leadership Group; and then there’s my team, we want to support other teams! It’s fun sharing what we’ve learned.
WOODY: Randy, what triggered your interest in Lean Construction?
PROJECT SUPERINTENDENT RANDY HARAM: I had heard a few things on Lean Construction. One that kept repeating itself in the conversations was, Lean construction is going to be the future of construction. Well, I have well over a decade left in the field and wanted to jump in with both feet. If this is the future, let’s see what it’s all about. The best way to learn anything is to give it a try.
WOODY: What happened when you tried it that you did not expect?
HARAM: The first pull schedule we did, as we started we learned the majority of the trades were familiar with the process and half of them had been through it before.
WOODY: What did you learn?
HARAM: We have a subcontractor PM that has been “the sky is falling” since we began this project, nothing was going to work and nothing could be done. Once he was asked what he thought, he had all kinds of positive input and ideas on how to complete certain tasks. I learned that when everything is laid out on the table with all parties involved, it can defuse some of the anxiety trades may have once you break it down and walk through the sequence.
HARAM: We need to make sure all trades are involved. We broke it down to small specific milestones. The first was the outlying site work. As the meeting went on, we learned that the sidewalks and walking path along the drive lane will need to be in for the irrigation to go in correctly and to be “done done.” The sidewalks and paved trail were going in with our next milestone of the inner site work, so we thought those trades were part of the next step and did not invite them to the first meeting.
WOODY: Eric, as a PE, what was your role in the pull planning process? What did you learn? What will you do different next time?
PROJECT ENGINEER ERIC KIVISTO: As a project engineer, the objective is to immerse me into the construction industry to learn and gain experience with the goal of growing into a project manager. Being that I am fresh out of college and lack experience, the pull planning process was very beneficial in gaining knowledge in construction processes. My role in these pull planning meetings was to set up a time and invite all involved subcontractors to the specific pull schedule. For example, the first pull planning meeting we did was for exterior site work. When setting up the meeting it was my responsibility to look though the plans and carefully consider who all had work in that area. This forced me to look critically into the plans and think though the process in my head, so I did not forget to invite anyone that was supposed to attend.
During the meeting itself, I was able to sit back and listen while the subcontractors talked though their specific scopes of work. This was productive for my learning experience as well. It gave me the opportunity to walk through a process (in this case exterior site work) and hear the subs walk though there work scopes step by step. I was able to start drawing connections from trade to trade and why certain processes had to come before others. I was also able to start to get an idea of time durations for some of these processes.
WOODY: What happened when you tried it that you did not expect?
KIVISTO: Over all, this pull planning meeting was much different from what I expected to happen. Originally I expected lean meetings to consist of having everyone onsite and pulling the building from the ground up. I expected the meeting to take three to four hours. Actually, we broke down the pull planning meeting to specific areas. For example, the exterior site work pull schedule consisted of five subcontractors and took a total of a hour and a half. What was also interesting was how quickly the subcontractors got involved and started communicating with other trade to make sure they could get their work done.