With a 116-year history, The Boldt Company is no stranger to change. This fourth-generation, family-owned firm has evolved from its roots in general contracting into a diversified organization providing project planning and development, construction management and technical services (design and design/build), in addition to self-performed construction operations. It now has 10 regional offices throughout the country. Its expanded operations have propelled the company to roughly 12% annual growth, with nearly $600 million in work volume anticipated in 2005.
A portion of the company's success can be attributed to a willingness to embrace new concepts. Lean construction is a prime example. This process strives to apply many of the principles used in lean manufacturing to construction operations.
Rather than shy away from what some might consider an"experimental" process, Boldt actually sought out just such a system in an initiative to improve project performance. The result has been as much as a 10% to 20% improvement on projects using lean construction.
The search for a strategic initiative
In 1998, Paul Reiser, corporate vice president, productivity and quality, was given the task of identifying a way to enhance the "point speed of production." The goal was to improve project delivery time and ultimately provide higher value to customers."
"What we were looking for at that time was a way to improve how fast we pour concrete, how fast we erect structural steel - fixing focused areas of work," says Reiser."We realized if we could improve self-performed work by 5%, it would drive a lot to our bottom line."
During his research, Reiser came across information on lean construction through the recently formed Lean Construction Institute. Though skeptical at first, he began to recognize it as a possible solution to streamlining operations and developing a reliable production management system.
"In the fall of 1999, we decided to try it on five projects over 12 months, and see at the end of that time how it works. At the end of the 12 months, 20 projects were applying it. The next year, we had 40 projects on line," says Reiser.
Nearly 300 of the company's projects have incorporated principles of lean construction management. "At any given time, we probably have 40 or 50 projects using some form of lean construction," says Reiser.
Principles of lean
According to studies, on a typical construction project, only 54% of tasks outlined at the start of the week are completed at the end of the week. The objective of lean construction is to ensure reliable planning and execution of work flow in order to get as close to 100% task completion as possible.
Lean construction requires collaborative planning from the earliest stages of a project. "The old model for construction management was centralized command and control. The project manager created the plan and handed that plan to the superintendent, who handed it to his crews," says Reiser.
Lean construction is based on decentralized plan control and production. Those who actually do the work are involved in the planning and manage production."We're trying to give them an opportunity by empowering them to be a part of the planning process," says Reiser.
"The project team identifies major project milestones as part of the"pull planning sessions". For example, if one of the milestones is to place a concrete slab, the team identifies and diagrams everything that must happen before the slab can be poured.
"It's a very rigorous approach to planning management," says Reiser, describing Last Planner, a production management system developed by the Lean Construction Institute."You start with a master schedule. From the master schedule, you pull out things that are going to happen within the next six weeks. Then you go through an intense evaluation - a constraints analysis. You're evaluating all the constraints that threaten the success of the building process."