Posted by: JC Gatlin | January 3, 2010

10 Habits of a Lean Construction Professional

The least that you accept is the best you will get.

When you think about it, that’s the difference between the Lean Construction Professional (CP)and the old school Superintendent. The lean CP is setting the bar a little higher and expecting more from those around him. Meanwhile, the old school superintendent is getting by. He’s continuing to do things as he always has, per the industry norm. No better; no worse.

Since we began implementing lean principles into our culture, I’ve seen a gap develop between the lean CP and the old school superintendent in 10 key areas. As the lean CP improves these habits, the gap is widening.

10. Bases his reputation on meeting his hard target measurements

Both old school superintendents and lean CPs know their hard targets – the numbers they must reach or never exceed in cycle time, budgets, customer satisfaction scores and warranty percentages. If they’re doing their job, they know where they stand.  The difference is that a lean CP continually analyzes his numbers. He looks at his weakest area and asks “why.” He looks at his strongest area and asks “why.” And he bench marks against other lean CPs and looks for ways to improve and surpass. A lean CP is continually setting goals and using Kaizen to achieve those goals.

9. Follows a system to deliver a pleasurable homebuilding experience

Again, both old school superintendents and lean CPs are committed to providing their home buyers with the best homebuilding experience possible. You could even say both breeds want to create Raving Fans and receive positive customer feedback and referrals. However, while the old school superintendent will rely on his instinct to achieve that, the lean CP uses a system.

The lean CP religiously follows the established standards for delivering a pleasurable home buying, building and ownership experience™. This includes walking the community and model home every week with the Sales Professional to ensure both always looks their best. Calling each customer once a week with the Sales Professional to discuss the progress of their home. And following the standardized work instruction sheets for the Pre-Construction, Pre-Drywall and New Home Introduction Meetings. Of course, the lean CP will use past experience to improve standards in the system, but uses a system none the less.    

The old school superintendent will argue that because there is going to be variation in these processes caused by the customer, that it can’t be standardized. The lean CP will counter that because the customer-added variation is already complicating the process, the need to remove his own variation and follow a standard is even more critical.

8. Walks the Gemba

Yeah, okay… even a bad superintendent is more or less “on the jobsite.” An old school superintendent is on the jobsite whenever there’s a question to answer, problem to solve or quality inspection to perform. The lean CP is there too but takes it one step further. He’s on the Gemba – where the action is happening – watching, asking questions, and learning. Even when there is no discernable problem, he’s there observing and analyzing.  He asks questions and is always looking for waste.

7. Never accepts 2nd Time Quality as the Norm

The old school superintendent works in shifts — from job start to inspection to punch list to job complete — and is a master at 2nd Time Quality:  “We’ll fix that during the punch” or “That can wait until QI.” The lean CP requires First Time Quality and 100% job completeness… nothing less. He acts with a sense of urgency. The lean CP never puts off work till a punch when it can be completed today, and never accepts 2nd Time Quality as standard. Rework and return trips are unacceptable. The job isn’t done until its 100%.  And it must be 100% the first time.

6. Involves Building Partners directly in continuous improvement

The lean CP promotes a lean partnership. He actively solicits continuous improvement ideas from his Building Partner Team and works the PDCA process with those closest to the problem. He understands that in order to improve or remove waste from a construction activity, the Building Partners who actually perform the work must be involved. He understands that PDCA must be executed in the field where the deviation from standard is occurring, not in an office or conference room. To an old school superintendent, construction improvements and problem solving is the responsibility of management. Subordinates need not apply.

5. Uses Visual Management

The lean CP understands the relationship between a strong 5S system and job completeness, cleanliness and safety. The lean CP uses visual management (signage, writing on the wall, Hot Spot Sheets) to communicate standards and expectations to his Building Partner team – even when he can’t physically be on the jobsite himself. He understands that set-in-order, sweep daily and standardize will improve the efficiency of his jobsite and will help the sales team show the home sites and community. The old school superintendent doesn’t care to understand a 5S system, much less know what 5S even means.

4. Uses technology to his advantage

The lean CP uses technology (from email to scheduling software) to further meet his waste elimination goals. To the lean CP, scheduling software (such as Build Pro/Supply Pro) isn’t just about updating delivery dates. It’s a network between the jobsite and his team of Building Partners – making schedule notifications, color sheets and other jobsite documents accessible 24/7 and eliminating wasted motion playing phone tag and “can you fax me this…” The lean CP uses the First Time Quality Inspection system to work directly with his Building Partner team to eliminate rework, dry-runs, and return trips for needless punch items. He then translates that eliminated waste into dollars saved. And the lean CP is open to advancements that will purge waste anywhere in the home building system from blue print red lines to data entry. To the old school superintendent, most advancements result in pencil whipping to appease “another corporate initiative.” And, the old school superintendent firmly holds onto the comfortable and familiar.

3. Implements standardized work

The lean CP seeks to eliminate variation from every activity in the construction process. The old school superintendent will argue that because there is always going to be variation caused by Building Partner temperament, the location of the jobsite, or the environment, that specific construction activities can’t be standardized. The lean CP argues instead that, like using a ratchet, he posts Hot Spot Sheets in the Gemba, reviews Standardized Work Instruction Sheets and Scopes of Work with the Building Partners, and implements a 5S system wherever possible to make incremental improvements over time.

2. Focuses on eliminating the 7 wastes

Yeah, there’s 7 of them, and the lean CP knows each one intimately, understands them and is continually looking to expose any one of them on his job site, in his building schedule, in the Building Partner’s construction practices and within the home building system.  The lean CP is passionate about identifying and eliminating waste. This will never occur to the old school superintendent, who is “too busy” implementing work-arounds, putting out fires and problem-solving on the fly. The old school superintendent accepts bad construction habits and recurring headaches as just another part of the job. 

1.  Schedules improvement time in his calendar

This single activity will ultimately separate the lean CP from the old school superintendent, the men from the boys, and the achievers from the posers. It’s that important.

The lean CP physically blocks-out time in his week dedicated to his continuous improvement and problem solving. This is a consistent recurring appointment on a weekly basis (at a minimum) or daily, if he’s serious. The old school superintendent may have every intention of dedicating time to continuous improvement, but will always try to fit it around his schedule. The old school superintendent will get to improvement time when it’s convenient. And despite every good intention, that time will be sacrificed to put-out fires and other urgent, unexpected situations that pop-up.

At the end of the day, the least that you accept is the best that you will get.

Clearly, the old school superintendent has the easier job. He has less work to do – at least on the surface. But he’s a dying breed. The lean CP is continually improving not only himself but the tools he uses and the system he follows. And as the lean Construction Professional improves, the gap between them will widen until the old school Superintendent is – one day — extinct.

© January 2010 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo


  1. “The least that you accept is the best you will get.”

    Now that is a statement applicable across all of life!

    Habits and how we accomplish our jobs are so interrelated. Great Article…it reminds me of an old Spanish proverb:

    “Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.”

  2. I find this very motivating and seeing the depiction painted between the two types of CMs, it is clear which direction modern day success can be found in. Your number one is the number one item that I’ve set for 2010. A very important item that I’ve learned is not scheduling problem solving time around daily activities, but scheduling it AS a daily activity. So far it has opened up more time than I realized I had.

  3. Saw your blog bookmarked on Delicious. I love your site and marketing strategy. My Woodworking Blog –

  4. […] a Lean Construction Professional, you should be hearing,  “I’m having job readiness issues and/or job completion […]

  5. great article.. any updates

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