Lean principles create a culture of continuous improvement and respect for people, and an increase in comprehension and practice is producing multiple benefits.
Black & Veatch practices these principles to empower craft workers to improve their working environments. In fact, many of the ideas for improvements at construction sites originate from these skilled professionals, said John Chacon, Continuous Improvement Advisor and Lean director for Black & Veatch.
“Whether it is improving safety, quality or productivity, there is no one that is closer to the work than our craft," he said. "When our management coaches and empowers them to shift their mindset to “Lean Thinking,” we see significant improvements across the board, including in morale.”
Chacon said Lean environments often begin with simply observing value chains, sometimes videotaping the work, then taking the time to watch the video and asking for input. His team then solicits feedback from the front-line professionals to make the process safer and easier by eliminating hazards and/or steps.
“We circle up with the craft workers, talk about what everyone collectively saw, and go over what value is to the customer and what impedes the flow of that value. We then use the acronym of DOWNTIME, or eight forms of waste to characterize those impediments,” Chacon said. “We’ll ask craft experts what they saw then engage them for ideas on how we can minimize, if not eliminate, the waste.”
From experience, Chacon has learned the first step in the process is earning the trust of employees.
“Most the time it’s about listening,” he said. “It’s about the fact that we are working together to educate and develop each other. We’re there to help each other, and when we walk away, it’s going to be everyone’s success. It’s about empowering everyone involved to improve the process.”
Key Components to Practicing Lean
Setting the expectation for continuous improvement – Helping everyone on site understand that their job is to improve the work rather than just perform the work tasks.
Establishing Leader Routines – This involves leaders engaging their professionals with challenges and developing a common purpose for the team to strive for.
Create an environment – Allow teams the time and a place to collaborate. Daily improvement is key to shift the culture and mindset.
Improve and Develop – Once the pattern is established, improve quickly and develop often. As we teach the team to see through a Lean mentality they will continue to find opportunities to improve the process and develop the capabilities of the professionals
Lean is Simple but Not Easy
Lean is often confused with sets of tools or things to do. There is no finish line and it cannot be delegated. Like Safety and Quality, “Lean” is how you see and approach the work that is to be done