Leaning Into a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Written by Jack Statham, Continuous Improvement Coordinator, Strategy and Innovation, Chandos Construction

When James Womack and Daniel P. Jones began advocating lean thinking and continuous innovation in the early 1990s, the Internet launched – bringing with it a boom in tech industries.  In addition, corporations had a greater impact on globalization and developing sustainable economies, and protecting the environment became an important issue for international governments.

Key influencers for bringing lean into North America, Womack and Jones knew the impact the practise would have on the rapidly changing world of business and the new standards of consumers. 

Based on the Toyota Production System (TPS), developed by Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, the basis of lean is to maximize customer value while minimizing resources, processes and waste.  According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, “the ultimate goal [of lean] is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.” ‘ Zero waste’ consists of less materials, less human effort, less space, and less time and cost, all resulting in high quality products and service delivered in a more efficient and optimal manner. 

The implementation of lean helped propel Toyota into becoming the world’s largest car manufacturer, with a culture based on continuous improvement and respect for all employees and stakeholders.

Companies interested in applying lean to their operations, must first implement the right tools and instil the belief of lean principles into their organization’s culture.  Doing so relies on providing training and then empowering employees to improve their own processes.   In order to be truly effective, lean training must be provided to everyone and focus on building a basic understanding of principles, such as:

  • What is lean?
  • Why does our company need it?
  • The 8 Wastes of lean (DOWNTIME – Defect, Over Production, Waiting, No Regard for Knowledge, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing) and how to recognize them.
  • The 5S methodology and how it should be implemented.
  • Pull-planning; one of the most impactful tools for seeing lean in action.  Pull-planning requires collaboration from each stakeholder, encourages them to start with the end in mind, and then works backward toward the start date while taking note of milestones. 

Another tool that is useful in implementing lean into company culture is the concept of ‘Fix what bugs you,’ which comes from the book 2-Second Lean by Paul Akers.  The practise is based on three simple steps: improving any process or activity, by any amount, every day; taking a video that highlights the improvement; and sharing the video with the rest of the organization.  These steps are easy to do, and the process empowers employees to make small, consistent improvements, and then share them with colleagues.  It’s also accessible to all employees regardless of their position.

A lean journey must be championed by top management but implemented from the bottom up because the only people who can improve a process are the ones most familiar with it.  There are many benefits in doing this because they know what’s not working and what they could do to make a process better.  It will also empower employees to take a greater pride in their work and, as a result, improve quality, motivation, and productivity.

However, there are a lot of up-front tasks and analysis involved with implementing lean that will take a considerable amount of time.  As such, leadership is key in maintaining motivation and setting a clear vision for employees.

Implementing lean into a company’s culture ensures that departments are self-sustaining.  Amid changes and turnover, employees can continue following lean methodologies without serious negative impacts.  Lean also incorporates the entire organization, makes people feel valued, and improves knowledge transfer between diverse groups.  Furthermore, lean will demonstrate early improvements that help increase employee motivation.

There are many industry experts available to help new companies with their lean strategy.  Chandos Construction’s path was carved out with the help of a lean contractor in the United States, author Paul Akers, and various lean coaches.  We have also made ourselves available to help other companies start their own journey.  Our Lean 101 training is routinely provided within the company, and all sub-trades are invited to attend.  We engage in multiple training events and have facilitated several seminars with the Lean Construction Institute of Canada (LCI-C).  We are also actively engaged in multiple Lean Community of Practice groups, most notably the Calgary COP.  These groups are operated as part of the LCI-C and Canadian Construction Association, with the purpose of generating and sharing lean construction methodologies.

Implementing lean into your culture and committing to practising it, are vital to its success.  Without a culture of continuous improvement, it is difficult to maintain long-term motivation, efficiency, and business results.

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About Chandos Construction

Chandos is one of North America’s most innovative and collaborative builders.  We are 100 per cent employee owned and are proud to be the first and largest B Corp certified commercial builder on the continent – and the only one in Canada.

We continuously innovate by championing collaborative construction, leading to more efficiency, cost savings, and a much better working experience for everyone.  We specialize in Integrated Project Delivery (IPD); Lean and sustainable construction; construction management; Building Information Modeling (BIM), and are LEED, Net Zero, and WELL certified.  We are also committed to improving our enterprise-wide environmental footprint, support social enterprises, and encourage community benefit agreements.

We have 500 employees in seven offices across Canada and are committed to inclusive hiring – a practise that nurtures diverse talent and attracts women, Indigenous peoples, new Canadians, LGBTQ2S+, and youth to the construction industry.