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Doing More with Less

AS AGC SIGNS OFF ON THE 1,000TH CM-LEAN CERTIFICATE, THE PROGRAM’S PRINCIPLES HAVE REACHED A TIPPING POINT. THE INDUSTRY IS PRIMED TO BENEFIT.

BY AMY DREW THOMPSON

A Lean Unit 2 course was held in the AGC of Colorado Training Center on March 28, 2019, led by instructor Susan Reinhardt, associate principal, Lean Project.

Lean, mean, fighting machine.

The origins of the phrase are subject to debate — most people suspect its beginnings are rooted in the military — but its definition is universal. To be lean is to be efficient. And with the certification of Turner Construction Project Manager Natasha Kay, the AGC is officially 1,000 times more efficient than it used to be.

Unlike the catchy and familiar phrase above, Lean construction’s origins are eminently traceable; its roots lie firmly in the methodology Toyota developed to streamline its manufacturing process into something those who have observed it have described as a ballet.

AGC’s Lean Construction Education Program has taken these principles and applied them with specificity, tailoring the methods to the industry. For contractors who are looking to get projects done faster and at a lower cost (read: all of them), learning how best to collaborate, to maximize value along the way from planning to delivery, is a no-lose prospect. Owners, more than ever, are looking for companies who can deliver in a lean, mean manner.

LEANING UP

It was the keen interest of one of AGC’s more active members that sparked the association’s initial exploration into Lean, says AGC of America’s Vice President, Knowledge Programs and Building Markets Michael Stark, but the idea was still in its infancy.

“The Lean Construction Institute already existed, but it did not have as a part of its programming a clear curriculum, in particular one designed for contractors. As the idea of Lean became more popular, our discussions increased and that led to the decision to fill this void in the industry and develop a clear education program, for contractors, by contractors.”

The subsequent prospectus — and the CM-Lean credential — are both endorsed by the LCI. A double-tap for those who earn the credential.

And who should?

“It works for anybody in the industry,” says Meredith Woods, AGC of America’s senior director for education advancement and credentialing, “and that’s kind of the idea. Lean is supposed to change a company’s culture in the way they think and act as a team.”

And companies are sending out staffers to rack up the knowledge and fly it back to the hive to disseminate.

“Many of our biggest adopters of the program — Linbeck, for example — they’ve had quite a few people go through the program, then do a lot of training internally.”

AGC of Colorado has been offering CM-Lean since 2016.

“In the beginning, this was especially driven by healthcare owners and developers and was pushed down to GCs, then specialties and subcontractors,” says Stephanie Godwin, event & education, AGC of Colorado. “A few larger member GCs began utilizing Lean on jobsites, and there was a need for subcontractors to become proficient in Lean in order to be on these projects.”

Based on the “Last Planner” system, Lean, says Warren Kiesel, AGC of America’s director of curriculum development, is designed to pull planning into the construction process and improve performance on projects as a result — it’s just a way to be more efficient with your resources in general. It’s about maximizing that efficiency.”

And it is definitely catching on.

RISING INTEREST RATES

In this case, a good thing.

Rivers Kelley, project superintendent for W.M. Jordan Company, an AGC of Virginia and Carolinas AGC member, says he’s seen a notable uptick in Lean interest and awareness in the past several years. He first learned of its principles while studying construction management at Virginia Tech.

“Only a few of the major, west coast/national contractors seemed to be utilizing Lean practices then, and I don’t believe many architects or owners were really onboard yet.”

At press time, Kelley was a fresh grad out of AGC’s Lean Construction Education Program in Richmond; he’s among the pioneers at his firm, which he says is starting its Lean journey. He plans to implement all he’s learned immediately on his current project — and to pursue his credential “to assist in elevating our company’s credentials when pursuing Lean projects or projects with owners who are open to new ideas.”

He found the class beneficial, a foundation on which to build.

“While the contracts [on my current project] are not set up for a high intensity Lean atmosphere, there are certainly some practices that can be utilized, such as increased levels of communication and collaboration, problem solving through more creative and critical thinking, more detailed planning through the Last Planner system and leading with an extremely high level of respect for every member of the team, from project executives, to the laborers sweeping the floors.”

WHAT TO EXPECT

He’s not alone in his enthusiasm. More than a few CM-Lean grads go on to teach the course, which begins with Lean 101 — an online program that members can take to make sure they understand the concepts.

Then it’s time to head to class.

“The seven units that make up the Lean education program are all in seat,” Woods explains, “so they are held in our chapters around the U.S.”

Members can find the closest course offering on the calendar on the AGC’s website. If a company has a large group to train, they can also bring the course in-house. They can simply find an instructor — the approved list is online, “or they can seek the approval of a local instructor who can teach the course internally. We have instructor guides and participant manuals available through our AGC store, and there are discounts for members, as well.”

Thirty-seven testing centers are dotted around the states, with an additional five in Canada.

“The AGC’s Lean Construction Education Program,” says David Stueckler, president and CEO, Linbeck,  a member of multiple AGC chapters, “has been vital to institutionalizing our Lean operating system as it provides competence and confidence by teaching both the ‘why’ and the ‘how,’ as written and taught by true Lean practitioners.”

As a woman in leadership, Natasha Kay, the 1,000th AGC credential holder, feels she is in a position to celebrate by demonstrating to other minority populations that success is possible.

“Turner recognizes the importance of innovation and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. As an advocate for continuing education, I decided to take the class to ensure that I have Lean skills to be able to impact the projects that I’m involved with in the best way possible.”

A 21-year industry veteran, five with Turner in San Antonio, Kay most enjoyed engaging with her industry peers in a classroom setting, outside the typical jobsite insanity. Above all, however, leaning up is her primary goal.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to Lean construction,” Kay says. “The classes enforced that there are multiple tools at hand to help with the project team’s communication with all shareholders in order to achieve Lean.”

It’s a fundamental shift in how professionals approach the entire construction process, says Kelley. “It is true collaboration and respect at all levels. It is everyone putting the team and project first. It is always learning and improving. It is a better way to build.”

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