What is Lean Construction?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 December 2019
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Lean construction is an approach to the construction effort that places emphasis on the efficient management of resources in order to complete the project at or below budget. The idea is to select materials, structure tasks, and evaluate performance all through the construction project to make sure that all resources are being used to best effect, and that waste is kept to a minimum. As part of the lean construction process, the ongoing evaluation makes it possible to adapt the scheduling of tasks to accommodate new circumstances should they arise, and still keep the project on schedule.

The actual process of lean construction begins with the design phase of the project. Here, the selection of materials, both in terms of quality and cost, are evaluated carefully. Tasks are scheduled to comply with any local codes or needs for inspections during the building process. Assignments are made to subcontractors, allowing for the orderly progression of tasks without any concerns of interference with other ongoing tasks. Once the design is in place, materials are ordered to coincide with the strategic scheduling of specific tasks within the project. This provides the opportunity to always ensure the right materials are on hand as each new phase begins, a move that helps to eliminate downtime.


Along with the time management aspect of lean construction, the process also calls for monitoring the use of raw materials so that the incidence of waste is kept to a minimum. This actually begins when materials are ordered but also includes on-site monitoring once the supplies are delivered. In some cases, strategies to make use of the resulting waste in some other aspect of the project may be incorporated, an approach that effectively converts what would otherwise be material fragments and odd pieces into something that adds value to the whole. By making the most efficient use of those materials, it is easier to keep the construction project on schedule and within the budget, something that is to the benefit of both the contractor and the client.

While lean construction often minimizes the potential for delays and waste, unforeseen circumstances can make it necessary to adapt the process from time to time. Issue such as inclement weather may call for delaying the delivery of certain materials, rescheduling work as a means of minimizing labor costs, and generally restructuring the plan in order to offset the impact of those unanticipated situations. When used to best advantage, lean construction results in a completed project that is acceptable to all parties concerned, is within budget, and is completed on time.



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