A Look Back as We Move Forward: Interview with Glenn Ballard, LCI Co-founder

A Look Back as We Move Forward: Interview with Glenn Ballard, LCI Co-founder

We were thrilled to speak with Glenn Ballard, cofounder of the Lean Construction Institute, about the roots of LCI. Over the past 35 years, Glenn has served as Research Director of the Project Productions Systems Laboratory at the University of California Berkeley, as well as in other roles at the institution.

Glenn will kick off Congress at 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday with his talk, LCI Congress — Celebrating 25 years! He’ll be sharing his views on the future of global Lean construction then. For now, enjoy a look back at the early years of LCI and Congress.

It began with a travelling road show.

LCI was officially founded in 1997 by Gregory Howell, Glenn Ballard, Iris Tommelein, and Todd Zabelle. In 1999, Howell and Ballard became LCI Executive Director and Research Director, respectively. As the only Lean organization in the U.S. at that time, LCI was at the forefront of it all.

During the early days, the four founders travelled to share introductions to Lean construction with companies across the U.S. They visited Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; the San Francisco Bay area; and more, based on the companies that got on board early. Glenn noted that “the formation meeting where we decided to move forward with LCI was held in Houston, Texas.”

“We didn’t know what would happen. We thought we were going in the right direction and doing the right thing.”

The goal: change the industry, not just a project.

Glenn and Greg came up with the idea of applying Lean principles to construction while they were working as consultants to save a floundering construction project in Venezuela. They used the Last Planner System®, which they’d already been working on for four to five years, to turn it around.

They realized that unless they wanted to spend their careers making money by saving bad projects without changing anything long term, they needed to change how construction was done. They were inspired to be consultants/facilitators who “make your customer not need what you were brought in to provide” — to make things work better rather than put out fires. That was the inspiration for LCI.

The early days of LCI and Congress.

Glenn noted that a relatively stable group of early Lean adherents originally signed up with them. He thought that “it was important not just to focus on bringing in new members but bringing those already there together to share and benefit from each other. We established the annual meeting for that purpose.”

The early adopters were not captive to existing paradigms and actions: “When we first started, we were banging our head against people who didn’t want to listen. We decided not to waste our energy and instead focus on people who wanted to learn, change, and improve. When companies are willing to change and listen, LCI helps them become stronger competitors in the market, which then persuades others to listen. It doesn’t make them change immediately but they have to listen, especially if they start to hear owners, who see Lean projects performing better, say, ‘I want some of that.’”

“There was a project that was a laboratory for Lean. It was Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. Todd Zabelle’s Strategic Project Solutions (SPS) led Lean implementation as consultants to both the British Airports Authority (BAA), the project owner, and Laing-O’Rourke, prime contractor for the Civils Phase. Glenn Ballard was Technical Director for SPS. We had carte blanche to do anything needed to make the project succeed. We saved about $200M and came in 10 percent under cost.”

The IFOA: Sharing Risk and Rewards.

At first, they held specific meetings in different areas of the country. In 2003, they hosted a symposium on international contracting in Atlanta and brought in people from around the world who were doing anything with relational contracting/project alliancing. The relational contracting concept evolved into the idea that LCI should have its own form of a relational contract, which became the IFOA (Integrated Form of Agreement) for all parties to share risks and rewards.

These agreements came to be called Integrated Project Delivery contracts. That concept came out of the North Sea from oil and gas production in offshore marine platforms. There was a BP project that employed project alliancing, and it came in ahead of scheduled at one-third the cost. Glenn shared that “the numbers and results were staggering. They were due to project alliancing — sharing risk and reward. That lit a fire.” Project alliancing took off from there.

Congress kicks off.

When Congress officially launched 25 years ago, it was small compared to today’s annual meeting. It started out as plenary sessions in one large room with dozens of people. Everyone was together for shared, consecutive sessions.

“There was a feeling of excitement. It was rewarding for us and the industry that people were excited, sharing, and open. It was very different from the tendency to be secret and keep things private that might give you a commercial advantage. It was invigorating.”

Congress evolves while staying true to its roots.

As Congress grew, it evolved to include far more attendees while maintaining its original goal: acting as a forum for open sharing. Through targeted tracks, now including Immersion and Open Explorations Tracks; sessions geared towards different mastery levels; Learning Day deep dives; and more, Congress continues to provide connections and community.

“One of the challenges, that has been met well, is how do you maintain that togetherness and original feeling of everyone hearing everything? You can’t do it completely, but with the breakout sessions and alternative parts of Congress — with strong and successful attempts — we still achieve that sharing, openness in conversations, and willingness to connect.”

What’s next?

As we kick off the 25th Annual Congress, Glenn will share his ideas on where we are now and where we are going globally. He’ll speak about the future of Lean construction, and how LCI can help advance Lean transformation of the global construction industry.

Don’t miss your chance to join the conversation — register for Congress today.