The People Side of Lean

January 14, 2016

Over the years, we’ve learned that having the right mix of people on a construction team is one of the greatest determinants of project success. When a client trusts us with their construction project, they are not buying a building; they are engaging a group of individuals who will deliver a project supported by the resources of their companies.

On projects that utilize a Lean form of the integrated project delivery (IPD) method, we have a unique opportunity to self-select the partners involved, thereby directly influencing the project’s ability to succeed. With this in mind, we’ve found that selecting the right team members for a IPD + Lean project makes a crucial difference.

When selecting the partners for a IPD + Lean project, choosing the cheapest options for the various firms involved—architects, engineers, trades, and the like—isn’t the answer by default. Instead, the key to success lies in hiring the team that can best influence the project design and cost. For instance, when evaluating trade partners, a firm’s ability to self-perform is a key indicator of their capacity to influence cost.

In addition to looking at a firm’s level of influence on cost and design, seek partners whose company values and culture align with those of the team and the client.

While it is important to evaluate potential partner firms at the company level, it is equally important to evaluate the specific team members from those firms. Look for individuals who have not only the skill set, but the ability to work well in a group environment and a thirst for continuous improvement. Experience with IPD + Lean is helpful, but given the relatively new nature of this method, an interest and willingness to learn more about IPD + Lean can suffice.

With such an emphasis on selecting the right people for the team, the interview process is key. To gain insight into how potential partners could impact team chemistry, request that interviewees bring the team members who would actually be on the project and conduct interviews in a roundtable setup that fosters open conversation. Be prepared with thoughtful questions, particularly those that will shed light on an individual’s ability to work within a collaborative setting and their planned level of involvement in the project.

Pull-Plan-Session-Birmingham-1-WEBIn addition to picking the right people, the timing of bringing various partners onto the team is also critical and should be informed by project needs. For instance, when to bring in a specific trade depends on when the team will need answers from that trade in order to move forward.

Once you have the right people on the team, it is critical to manage the team’s health in order to maintain synergy from the design and preconstruction stages into construction. To do so, foster safe conversations in a big room environment and aim to prevent passive consent, ensuring that all partners are engaged in meetings. Mine for conflict to ensure that issues are resolved in a healthy way, but avoid getting stuck in the weeds. Actively monitoring the health of the team and making changes as needed will go a long way toward supporting project success.