Posted by: JC Gatlin | May 16, 2010

Lean secrets from New Orleans

A Construction Professional and I toured a home builder in Louisiana over the weekend. This builder has a reputation for selling $15,000 – $20,000 below their competition, building at a 45-day cycle time, and successfully using the First Time Quality Program (FTQ) to achieve their lean goals. According to our consultant who recommended we visit them, they are a “lean master.” So, we landed in New Orleans armed with a camera and a notebook of questions.

Over two days, we toured several communities and had lunch with the entire construction team. They showed us how they use the FTQ program to eliminate recurring building problems, and some scheduling tips. They use a scheduling software, implement standards and processes, and follow standardized work. Their leadership and construction team read lean books, and highly recommend “The Checklist Manifesto – How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande. They use standards and lean practices to improve their building system, their “trade partner’s” performance, speed and quality, and have parlayed all that into a sales strength that their competition simply cannot duplicate, much less keep up with. By the end of the weekend, I had all my questions answered and then some.  

I also realized I was asking the wrong questions. And have been asking them all along.

I was too concerned with examining all the external things that this builder was doing, while I should’ve been examining how this lean builder thinks. Amid all those processes and standardized work, I found they had a mental continuous improvement process. Their leadership and construction team handle waste elimination and process development in a way that delivers a certain state of belief – a powerful, confident state of mind that is rooted in a drive that knows no obstacle and admits no impediment.  Their entire construction team has a singular drive of eliminating recurring problems, improving their building system and increasing their cycle time. For a true lean builder, this state of mind becomes a matter of habit, something automatic that affects their sales team, their “trade partners,” and their customers.

Why does this lean master do that automatically, while other builders have to make a conscious effort, or don’t think that way at all? Here’s the secret: they’ve downloaded and learned to operate internal mental “software” that consistently delivers that confident state of mind. Their entire team is always looking for opportunities to improve. A truly lean company is focused on what it can accomplish.

This is why asking what this builder “does” was the wrong question. We won’t get the results of this lean home builder simply by copying external activities, such as following their cycle time schedule or their FTQ processes or their waste elimination tips. We have to figure out what this company does internally – how this lean master thinks.

Now let me ask a question, the right question…

How do we downloaded and learn to operate this internal mental “software” that consistently delivers that confident state of mind? How do we take all our tools (Standardized Work Instruction Sheets. Process Maps. Value Stream Maps. PDCA. Kaizen.) and focus on what we can accomplish? What does it take for us to create that sales strength and competitive advantage that our competitors simply cannot duplicate, much less keep up with?

© May 2010 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo



  1. […] story behind them: The 2 Day House and The Checklist Manifesto were recommended and given to me by a fellow builder in Louisiana. I purchased Chasing the Rabbit after meeting the author, Steven Spear, in a Lean group on […]

  2. […] on direction from a fellow home building company and the advice of our Lean Consultant, we broke our construction schedule into two halves, allowing […]

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