Construction and Lean – Building a Strong Future Together
“You might be concerned about the constraints of your project: time, ongoing operations, cost, noise, environmental issues and more. Our extensive background in complex projects gives us the knowledge and confidence to address these issues.” This message can be found on Stewart Construction’s home page web site. And after spending time with Don Stewart, President of Stewart Construction, I learned that he believes the success of the business lies in continuously improving its procedures, policies, communication and practical direction of all involved.
Stewart Construction, based in Essex Junction, Vermont, works on commercial, residential, education, government and health care projects throughout New England. Family-owned and operated for over two decades, Stewart Construction employs 30 full-time carpenters, laborers and office support staff as well as uses over 100 subcontractors.
Looking for ideas to improve the business and increase customer value, Don and a few of his employees attended VMEC’s Principles of Lean Manufacturing 101. In this training course that teaches how to identify wastes in the process and improve the flow of value to the customer, VMEC provides several recommended books. One of these is The Goal, a management-oriented novel co-authored by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a business consultant known for his Theory of Constraints. This book can be used for case studies in operations management, with a focus geared towards the Theory of Constraints, bottlenecks and how to alleviate them. So impressed by the book’s concepts, Don immediately embraced the working principles and applies them to operate and improve his company.
Recognizing a need to streamline not only his business model but that of key partners involved with Stewart Construction, Don invited a group of 20 subcontractors to join him in embracing the process improvement method. He looked at this system as a true partnership – to obtain their participation in improving their businesses, with the goal of better scheduling and timing of billable work. VMEC met with Stewart Construction employees and representatives from their subcontractors to introduce Lean thinking in the construction industry. The training session focused on the concepts of waste, non-value added activities, Theory of Constraints and Lean thinking, relating them to the construction site. Ideas from the participants were identified and captured for future improvements.
“We’re after systemic change,” Don Stewart states. “Mining ideas from manufacturing and using those in the construction business as well as utilizing VMEC’s services have been very powerful tools to help our people. We can help deliver better products faster by using these principles.”
The results of this initial session led to vast improvements in their project delivery system, producing excellent results with a major subcontractor. The outcome involved shortening the build schedule with less effort by the employees doing the work. This in turn led to making the work easier for subcontractors who realized better cash flow and more time for project work. Stewart Construction found the effect as a win/win situation for the subcontractors and their business, so much so they asked VMEC to present the same material to a second group of subcontractors.
Continuous improvement, knowledge sharing, goal alignment and open communication – all key factors in what Stewart Construction has learned and adopted in building any successful business relationship.
By Robynn Albert, VMEC Marketing and Training Manager (January 2018)