“Did Covid Kill Lean?”

“Did Covid Kill Lean?”

By: Dan Fauchier, CMF, Lean Coach


“Did Covid Kill Lean?” was the question posed to 17 Lean Champions from a cross-section of LCI members: 3 designers, 7 builders, 3 owners and 4 trade partners – volunteers from a pool of 33 to whom we reached out. (NOTE: We called them the “Gang of 16” because one was usually missing, each name is listed below).

In other words, how did your company’s Lean initiatives fare under the imperatives of social distancing, lack of travel, use of virtual meetings and slashed budgets?

  • 59% reported their Lean initiatives increased and flourished during the 2020 pandemic
  • 6% had a neutral impact
  • 35% reported a negative impact to their Lean program.

How did Covid damage your Lean initiative? 

Feedback included:

  • “Covid interrupted our grand plan.”
  • “Training & Implementation have suffered.”
  • “We kept in-person training, but it was challenging to physically distance.”
  • “It gutted our travel and LCI budgets.”

How did Covid accelerate your Lean initiative? 

Feedback included:

  • “Covid pushed lean to the forefront – we put an executive in every training session.”
  • “We’re having to do more with less and Lean can help.”
  • “’Lean’ was getting stagnant. Covid skyrocketed our Lean digitizing initiative.”
  • “Covid let execs really look closely at Lean, see what’s not working, and fix it.”
  • “We measured a very high ROI for our Lean efforts.”
  • “2020 was the best year I could have had; it allowed me to restructure.”

Big lesson from 2020: Executives Matter

We asked our champions what was your big lesson-learned from 2020. The responses were enlightening:

  • “Our executives acknowledged that Lean is the future.”
  • “The importance of having advocates on the projects and having resources to support tools.”
  • “2020 made us focus and believe in the collaborative approach, everything was changing so fast. Lean spread from the field up through our organization.
  • “We relied too much on the physical environment for interaction (LPS, Big Room etc.). In 2020 we had to figure out how to interact virtually and have them be PRODUCTIVE. Boxes of stickies were not used in 2020.”
  • “2020 was all about building Lean capacity. We pivoted well with going virtual. It’s always been just a few lean champions. Now the executive team has seen the light.”
  • “Working virtually was no big deal. No effect on budgets or schedules (we have a good culture). But Lean has still not taken hold in our supply chain – so that’s an ongoing risk for complex projects.”

LCI Members build 29% of US non-housing US construction

Then we pointed out that by dollar volume of non-housing US construction LCI Members build 29%. But the actual percentage of “Lean projects” is much less. WHY? Responses included:

  • “Just because you are LCI member, doesn’t mean you are lean. There is a lot of fake lean (Hollywood lean).”
  • “The person of authority on these projects may not be lean and may not understand it.”
  • “Everyone is making plenty of money not doing it, so why do it? It’s a big lift to change your delivery model. Absent a burning platform and the ability to make much more money, it won’t happen. We are not grounded in reality. We need to change the market people are working in.”
  • “People are lean, companies are not. It comes down to people. There are pockets of lean people in non-lean projects and companies.”
  • “The 29% of lean people don’t always work together on one project. The other 71% are the other part of the equation. If no one (the majority) doesn’t listen, we can’t change. These non-partners can blow it all up. We need to win work as a ‘collective’.”

So what are “5 Key Essentials” for “pulling” Lean throughout companies?

The Gang of 16 collaboratively formulated 5 areas for effective focus in 2021 and beyond. They are explained in the attached White Paper, note there is one version for Builders and one for Designers, to accommodate the differences in language and culture.

White Paper: Essentials for “Pulling” Lean Deeply Into an Organization

The 5 Key Essentials are:

  1. Lean Champions – embedded or outsourced – with an “emotional connection” to executives and employees to train and empower.
  2. A Strategic Plan for implementing the organization’s Business Case for Lean with executive engagement that ties into tactics and employee evaluations.
  3. A Tactical Plan for deepening Lean (see the White Paper for specifics).
  4. Accountability: with absolute clarity and consistent communication.
  5. Educational Tools: seeing the value in non-billable education, Go-See other Lean operations, Study Action Teams and Lean Onboarding.

The “Gang of 16” are these Lean Champions from a cross-section of our industry.  For more information and to offer feedback, contact Dan Fauchier, dan@tryCAnow.com or one of the Lean Champions below, their contact information is on the LCI Members website.