BIM Voice: Lean and efficiency – Is BIM and Lean what we have been WAITING for?

BIM Voice - Andy Spooner

How long have we been talking about greater efficiency in the Construction industry?

Well, I recently became aware that our industry’s inefficiency was identified and captured in text 80 years ago. Alfred Bossom’s book ‘Reaching for the Skies’ (1934) identified that “the process of UK Construction, instead of being an orderly and consecutive advance down the line, is all too apt to become a scramble and a muddle”…sound familiar?

So, if we have been talking about greater efficiency in our industry for at least 80 years, I would like to ask the reader this question… “Is there any scope left for us to be more efficient in the construction industry?”

I would hope your response is similar to mine, i.e. “Definitely, yes we could be SO much more efficient!” If you are in agreement, then let’s consider how can we become more efficient as an industry? As many of you are aware, there has been a huge amount written over the years in various books, academic papers and industry reports that have identified the need and our client’s desire for our industry to be more efficient in the delivery of our construction outputs. A couple of these are well recognised across the industry and their intended ‘inspirational’ message cannot be disputed. I am sure you have ALL read and took heed of ‘Constructing the team’ (Sir Michael Latham 1994) which highlighted Partnering as a way to enhance our industry’s performance or ‘Rethinking Construction’ (Sir John Egan 1998) which indicated that there was an opportunity for our industry to enhance our Delivery predictability by 20%.

Many of these experts, academics and Government Task Forces have tried to provide our industry with the inspiration and guidance to empower us to ‘grasp the nettle’ and learn from our history. They have tried to inspire us to become more efficient through evolution rather than revolution similar to other industries, including Aerospace and Automotive manufacturing.

I guess at that point many of your hearts sank as soon as I mentioned and had the audacity to make comparisons between construction and these ‘other industries’. I would guess some of you thought “Oh no, here we go again!” I am also sure many of you are shouting out “Does he not realise we don’t build a 1000 ‘widgets’ in a nice clean and stable factory environment like those other industries he mentions. We build one offs, so how can we be as efficient as them.”

Why am I so sure of this you may ask yourself? Well, as a Consultant delivering Lean Construction techniques on behalf of various construction teams for the last 8 years, I have encountered these and similar responses numerous times. When faced with this type of response I always challenge the team to consider “if as an industry, do we deliver very similar processes in different locations with different constraints?” Normally the response I get to this question is “yes” to which my response is “then surely we can utilise Lean principles to enhance our performance”. This is often the epiphany moment that leads to a paradigm shift in the team’s mentality regarding Lean Construction and the opportunity to strive for greater efficiency. We are after all, an industry that is reliant on the effective flow of our processes to deliver the desired outputs in terms of the construction of a built asset but also in delivering the key KPI’s of Quality, Cost, Delivery, H&S and Environmental expectations.

Lean Construction focusses on clearly defining and understanding ‘Customer Value’ and identifying and removing any possible causes of delay and disruption, i.e. the Waste from the process to enable the process outputs to be delivered effectively. During my time delivering Lean Construction interventions it has become very apparent that one of the biggest causes of delay and disruption and therefore Waste’s in construction is Waiting Time. Often a major root cause of this Waiting Time is the lack of robust or late and incomplete information prior to and during the construction phase of our projects. This often leads to delays, mistakes, defects and ultimately rework as the construction team try to progress the construction process with unreliable information due to contractual and time pressures.

With this in mind and in the famous words of Albert Einstein The first sign of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. So, to be more efficient as an industry we must find a better way of producing and managing this information to support a better way of working. Therefore, do we need the technology and collaborative requirements that a BIM enabled project requires to become the ‘game changer’.

I think so and I was elated (or was it relieved) in 2011 when the Government mandated BIM Level 2 on all publicly procured projects of over £5M by June 2016. The reason for my elation (and relief) is that I believe a truly BIM ‘enabled’ by default promotes a Lean culture and team ethos throughout the whole lifecycle of a construction project. Whether that is by ensuring the teams experience and knowledge is utilised effectively due to the engagement and collaboration of the team to improve and optimise the feasibility, design, buildability and value engineering phase of the project through to the construction, operation and maintenance of the built asset.

If the industry can utilise BIM as the ‘game changer’ to provide the opportunity to address one of the most common root causes of delay and disruption in construction, i.e. Waiting Time due to the lack of, late or incomplete information then we have a great opportunity to strive towards greater efficiency. BIM can and should provide robust design information and dare I say it, a Design Freeze prior to construction. Many of you that have progressed from the trades on site will remember the old adage of “measure it twice and cut it once” well, BIM will provide the opportunity for us as an industry to carry this old adage across the construction process.

Often people have the misconception that BIM is all about the draughting and modelling capability that the various software packages provide during the design phase of the process. I believe the biggest benefit will be the industry utilising technology that BIM provides as “the game changer” enhance collaborative relationships, utilising the intrinsic knowledge of our people within the industry to drive greater efficiency through innovation all underpinned by Lean Construction and Continuous Improvement principles. I believe BIM and Lean will be key foundation blocks in enabling the industry to achieve the aspirational targets laid down Construction 2025 (2013) such as 33% Lower costs, 50% Faster delivery, 50% Lower emissions and 50% Improvement in exports.

Remember… BIM and Lean is evolution not revolution and maybe what we have been WAITING for!

Author Profile:

Andy Spooner (follow him on Twitter @_fiveandys) is an Associate Director of Project Five Consulting Ltd.

At Project Five Andy specialises in the delivery of lean and continuous improvement techniques to deliver greater efficiency and bring about collaborative working through cultural and behavioural change. Andy has over 20 years’ experience in delivering lean support, training and development programmes across a range of industry sectors including aerospace, automotive and construction. Andy is also chair of the Lean Construction Institutes (LCI) North West Community of Practice and I am a committee member of Constructing Excellence’s (CE) Liverpool Construction Best Practice Club.