“Lean” management concepts were first applied to the construction industry in the early 1990s and have since proven to reduce waste and increase productivity. Companies that practice lean principles try to ensure that every activity moves the project forward without delays, work stoppages or rework. In other words, lean construction helps keep your team focused on quality and efficiency.
And it totally works. Lean construction teams typically report 20-40 percent higher completion rates for their weekly work commitments. It’s no surprise that many subcontractors consider giving preferential bids — as much as 10 percent lower — to lean construction projects because they know there will be less waste and less rework.
The great news is that your company can start applying lean principles right now through a tool you already have: mobile technology. Here are five specific ways lean construction principles work online to help your business gain a competitive advantage.
1. Do away with paper.
There is nothing efficient about paper in today’s technological workplace – particularly on a residential construction job site. Sticky notes, paper job folders, and whiteboards are limited because the information is located in one, physical place. Many hands make light work, except when you use a whiteboard or one piece of paper. Distributing job and schedule information to the field is a full-time job at most residential new construction companies.
Even though they’re slightly easier to use, computerized options like Excel aren’t much better. “Computerized” doesn’t mean easily distributed and updated; you and all your teams still have the problem of which version of what file is the official and final one, and whose job it is to maintain and continuously redistribute that document.
With mobile online document storage, those whiteboards and papers back at the office are replaced by digital files “in the cloud.” Since digital files are saved in real time as they are updated, work orders, invoices and other important documents can be generated digitally and sent automatically.
2. Develop a single source of truth.
We all know from experience that things change rapidly and frequently on new home construction projects. When you store job information in the cloud, all of your office and field employees gain a single, reliable source for all project data. Just imagine the increase in efficiency when there is only one version of every schedule, every plan, every approval, every list – and everyone can access this single source whenever they need to, from wherever they are. Immediately your entire team is on the same page.
3. Keep everyone informed in real time.
When your team members have fallen out of the loop on the information flow, they simply can’t work until they get updated — or they do something that will have to be reworked later, which is usually worse than doing nothing. However, when there’s only one source for information, with live updates , then keeping each employee informed of their daily work is simple. You can send out punchlists, inspection red tags, work orders and change orders to anyone, anywhere. With a glance at their mobile devices, team members can view documents and plans without having to work from memory, make a phone call, or walk back to the trailer. And when things change, it’s easy to quickly communicate new plans or tasks.
So how much time are we talking about saving, here? It’s been reported that companies using traditional methods spend 13 hours a week on administrative tasks such as updating and distributing the plans, but companies using the cloud and mobile tools spend only four hours a week on the same tasks. That’s the equivalent of an entire workday reclaimed!
Further, supervisors can track how each job is progressing and handle problems immediately. Your superintendent can stop acting as messenger boy and instead focus on managing the job. In other words, having an online, mobile management solution helps reduce waste and ensures reliability and predictability – hallmarks of lean construction principles.
4. Develop job-wide accountability.
When everyone receives consistent information, it’s much easier to develop clear accountability on any job – which includes not just documenting who’s done the work, but generating reports that can be used for crew management, billing and more. Hold everyone on the jobsite accountable with the lean construction best practice of keeping a history of the work done at each phase; mobile document management makes it easy to add photos and videos proving the work you did, and when you did it. Help your crews get into the habit of taking just a few minutes to record every step. Then, if disputes arise, you have the objective documentation to resolve them quickly and get back to productive work.
5. Learn from every job.
Another major principle that makes “lean” management work for any residential construction business is to make continuous improvement processes part of every job. Ideally, once projects start to run more efficiently, you can empower everyone in the company to innovate. Your field crew may see new ways to use fewer materials. Supervisors may have ideas to improve communication. When your company isn’t distracted by the constant chaos of getting the latest information, you can experiment with new proposals and develop your own company best practices.
Access the Strength of the Cloud The strength of cloud and mobile technology for residential construction is to provide a better way to capture, modify, report, distribute and automate information, which makes the necessary processes of collaboration more timely and transparent. Don’t feel that you need to implement sweeping lean construction practices across the board; start with a project or two, and you’ll be so sold on the lean construction process that eventually all your jobs will open and close completely online.
Of course, we also recommend you start with BOLT Software, which has been developed specifically for residential construction management. Our prebuilt templates can be quickly customized with whatever you need to make it easy to get started, and our tools work in both the iOS and Android environments, even on your desktop computer back at the office! BOLT also integrates with builder systems to send work orders automatically and coordinates with other office software like QuickBooks to generate invoices from crew hours and materials lists.
For more information on how BOLT Software can maximize productivity and ease the transition from a paper based system to mobile online document management, contact a member of our knowledgeable team today.