All About Lean Construction From the Founders of Lean

Lean Construction

An Introduction to Lean Construction

Construction labor efficiency/productivity has decreased while all other non-farming labor efficiency has doubled or more since the 1960s. Currently, 70% of projects are over budget and delivered late. The industry still sees about 800 deaths and thousands of injuries per year.

The silos created around architects, engineers, general contractors, trade contractors and specialty providers have introduced significant waste into the delivery system. A lack of trust has created systems of checks, double-checks and over specification to cover legal ramifications both real and perceived. These are the problems that Lean construction seeks to solve. Evidence from three LCI-funded research sources show that projects that implement Lean building tools and techniques have much better outcomes across a variety of benchmarks.

What is Lean Construction?

Lean construction is a project delivery process that uses Lean methods of maximizing stakeholder value while reducing waste by emphasizing collaboration between teams on a project. The goal of Lean construction is to increase productivity, profits, and innovation in the industry.

Lean Construction In Practice

The vast majority of construction projects utilize design-bid-build or design-build contracts, which separate the various parties of a project into smaller, separate projects agreeing to separate contracts.

This leads to tunnel vision among the individual parties in which each group is only interested in the success of their part of the process. If an issue arises, fingers point in every direction and nobody actually attempts to solve the problem at hand. These project delivery methods suffocate innovation because nobody has financial incentive to improve outcomes.

Utilizing Integration

Lean construction practices use an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) system to align the owner, design team, and construction team (as well as any additional contractors) onto a single contract. Financial targets are agreed to when the contract is signed and parties split profits (and savings), giving everyone skin in the game when it comes to improving outcomes.

By aligning the various parties onto one single agreement, every party becomes contractually involved in each step of the design and construction process. The building team will be in the room during the design stage and the designers will remain involved throughout the project’s construction.

Utilizing Innovation

Trust and collaboration are necessary ingredients to create an environment where innovation can thrive, and a team that is working together towards a common goal is more likely to seek new ways to solve problems. In the end, that generates more value for the stakeholders.

The History of Lean Construction

Henry Ford is often thought of as the grandfather of the Lean methodology with his creation of the assembly line for the Model T in the early 1900s. But the use of Lean in design and construction actually begins with the erecting of the Empire State Building, even if they didn’t know it at the time.

The 1930s - 1990s

Design on the Empire State Building began in late 1929. Construction started in early 1930, and the construction process was completed just a year later. Today, it seems remarkable that the tallest structure of the early 20th century was built not only ahead of schedule, but under-budget too. At their most productive, Empire State Building workers were building a floor a day.

The term “Lean Construction” wasn’t officially coined until 1993, just four years before the Lean Construction Institute was founded. Since then, construction projects around the world have benefited from Lean construction practices.


In 2011, the T-30 Hotel in China was built using Lean production tools and methods. The 30-story building was put together in just 15 days and included a number of innovative features including five times the standard earthquake resistance for the area. Impressively, zero people suffered work-related injuries during the building’s construction.

This is the standard that Lean construction production management seeks to set. Through a mindset of making continuous improvements to practices and methods, Lean construction aims to maximize value for stakeholders while minimizing waste and improving efficiencies across the board.

Lean Construction in the Long Haul

The construction industry is wasting time, money and resources at an alarming rate. Lean streamlines logistics, creates a culture of collaboration, eliminates waste and overages and ultimately leads to more value for stakeholders.


When construction projects adopt the collaboration-based systems of Lean building, processes are immediately improved within the present project. However improvement is seen even more over time with subsequent projects as each team member begins to master Lean tools and techniques.

Collective Knowledge

By harvesting the collective knowledge of the world’s designers and builders, the Lean Construction Institute believes that we can solve any problem in our industry. By adopting a mindset of continuous improvement, we can even prepare for future challenges.

Learning Lean Construction Principles

The Lean Construction Institute is committed to transforming the design and construction industry by providing Lean educational resources, conducting research, and facilitating local and national Lean events. It is only through the power of the LCI Corporate Members that LCI is able to offer the supplementary resources below.

Lean Assessments

How strong is your Lean knowledge? Take a Lean assessment to determine your current state so you have a baseline for improvement. Lean assessments are available for individuals, teams, and organizations alike. Whether you’re new to Lean or are an experienced Lean practitioner, Lean assessments are a great way to get started at LCI!


Lean Construction Resources

Lean Construction Defined
Lean Construction is a respect and relationship-oriented production management based approach to project delivery. Download to learn more.
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Implementing Lean Construction
Implementing Lean in construction then becomes a matter of developing and acting on knowledge. Gain this knowledge and implementation advice by downloading this free resource.
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Lean Construction: 2000 to 2006
This paper reviews the conference proceedings for the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC) from 2000 to 2006.
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Project Definition
Project definition is the first phase in project delivery and consists of three modules: Determining purposes (stakeholder needs and values), translating those purposes into criteria for both product and process design, and generating design concepts against which purposes and criteria can be tested and developed.
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New Production Philosophy in Construction
Download this report for a detailed understanding of Lean Construction basic concepts.
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eLearning Courses
Introduction to Lean Project Delivery
Gain insight to Lean Project Delivery (LPD) by understanding how the Lean System connects People, Principles, and Practices to optimize results by shifting both mindset and behaviors. The key achievable goal of this course is to prepare and enable team members with a foundational understanding of Lean approaches for daily use within a project environment.
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Introduction to the Last Planner System®
This course will allow you to gain in-depth insight to the practical application of the Last Planner® System (LPS) through multimedia, hands-on interactions, diagrams, worksheets, and more. The key achievable goal of this course is to learn how to engage at all five levels of LPS effectively on a day-to-day basis with a team implementing the system.
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Effective Big Room
Gain a foundational understanding of the concept of a Big Room by learning the benefits, purpose, and implementation considerations. Understanding how to improve collaboration and drive transparency within your team. Identifying venue types, set up, and activities that work best for your projects. Learning how to effectively advance work and learning to support the success of future projects.
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Lean In The Design Phase
Gain insight to Lean approaches and tools relative to the design phase of project delivery to optimize team communication, collaboration and results. Understand how a Lean strategy can drive innovative solutions by connecting People, Principles and Practices. The key achievable goal of this course is to prepare and enable team members with a foundational understanding of Lean approaches for daily use within the design phase of a project.
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Last Planner System® In Design
Gain a foundational understanding of implementing Last Planner System® (LPS®) during the design (pre-construction) phases of a project. Identify the essential foundational principles of the five conversations of LPS, gain practical application insight for each, and access key action guidelines.
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Target Value Delivery
Gain an understanding of Target Value Delivery (TVD) by identifying the different phases and components that make up the delivery approach. Discover how the Lean components interact together to improve the process and outcome of the project.
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LCI Publications
Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change

William R. (Bill) Seed, Executive Editor

A diverse set of practitioners collaborated to create the Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change book based on the transformative projects and experiences of their Lean practices. The papers, presented in short chapter format, are intended to encourage discussion, learning and experimentation individually or with a team. Read the first and most popular book in LCI’s Transforming Design and Construction series to gain a high-level understanding of various Lean principles, strategies and methods.
Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation

Executive Editors: Kristin Hill, Katherine Copeland and Christian Pikel

Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation was collaboratively written by a team of more than 20 Target Value Delivery (TVD) practitioners to provide current state practical guidance to implementing TVD with a project team. This guidebook portrays TVD as an umbrella over Target Value Production for construction and Target Value Design by taking a broader approach rather than focusing only on the design phase. Read LCI’s second book in the Transforming Design and Construction series to gain practical insight to current practices for implementing Target Value Delivery on any project.