Lean Construction – what’s that all about? Can we learn from this in Spain?

Lean Production is a philosophy that came out of Japan after the Second World War. It means maximum efficiency. At every stage you focus only on the customer’s needs, adding maximum value, and reducing waste to a minimum. In other words you are as efficient, and as competitive, as possible.

Lean Construction applies this philosophy to the construction business. There exists the Lean Construction Institute in America, formed in 19997, that is a non-profit organisation that champions “lean” principles. It acts as a catalyst to spread these principals across the industry: architects, builders, engineers, designers, and suppliers.

The construction industry in the UK has been widely criticised as being adversarial, wasteful, and in need of a big dose of lean thinking.

Lean Construction means better safety, greater client satisfaction, higher quality builds, shorter construction periods, greater productivity and better risk management.

However there are many problems in implementing the strategy. There can be resistance to change which can range from difficulty changing habits (“we have always done it this way”) to fear of lower wages, less work, and fewer staff. There can also be additional training costs, new systems to apply, and consultancy fees to pay.

Overcoming these problems involves educating staff as to the advantages of lean construction, rewarding them for being smart and efficient, reducing fear, involving them in decisions, supporting change, and using clear planning and communication strategies.

Can we learn from this philosophy in Spain? Certainly we can. The attitude “we have always done it this way” is widely prevalent. The fact that bids from contractors for exactly the same projects can vary enormously, by 40% or more, suggests wide differences in efficiency.

However, there is a new generation of young dynamic professionals coming through that shrug off old methods and embrace change. Lean construction is a philosophy we should be adopting and it’s practical effect is that we should always be looking for efficiencies and better cooperation. Above all, I believe we should be focussing on the client’s needs at every stage.

In my opinion there will be no sudden changes but a gradually improvement in the construction industry in Spain in which I am proud to play my part. In fact I especially challenge the industry to make all designs comfortable and energy efficient. I believe we are winning.

Author: John Wolfendale
Bio: John is a founder of Eco Vida Homes and is passionate about bringing modern design and construction practices to Spain. He believes a home which is warm in winter and cool in summer is largely a matter of design and selective use of materials. He is British and a Chartered Surveyor with over 24 years experience living and working in Spain.