Matti Kruus: Fancy Words or Not – Common Sense Leads to Lean Construction

Astute builders are starting to learn that early integration is a necessary ingredient of a successful construction project.

Matti Kruus, CEO of Indepro, a project management firm, has seen many construction sites. Not only as a project manager, but also as a jury member of the Construction Site of the Year competition. He recalls a site visit during which the contractor gave a presentation and didn’t once mention lean construction terms. When Kruus asked the contractor if they’d used integration in the wooden multi-story building, the presenter steadfastly denied doing so. It came out later in the discussion that the contractor, structural designer, manufacturer, and installation crew had, in fact, discussed the installation well in advance to avoid any future problems. Integration at its best!

Kruus became interested in lean construction in the process of writing his PhD thesis on design management about 10 years ago. Over the years, the practice of lean construction has steadily gained ground. Last Planner®, for example, has become very popular in Finland.

Planning Together is Essential

“It makes a lot of sense for the main contractor to get all the subcontractors to plan the schedule together,” Kruus says. “The old way of collecting individual schedules and trying to combine them to create a project timeline is obsolete.”

Lean and Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, have almost become synonyms in the industry. In Finland, projects governed by IPDs are usually called “alliance projects.” Kruus does not like this merger of concepts. He thinks that an alliance makes for a great delivery system, but believes that companies can practice lean construction independent of the project model.

Some clients and project managers are open to new delivery models or even require them. Most often, contractors are able to take the initiative. They see an opportunity to start collaboration with the client before the bidding starts and they can win the bid by proving their lean capabilities. Once the project starts, contractors can save time and money by implementing lean methods.

Lean construction can be a cost saver in many ways. When contractors are involved at early stages of the project, they can come up with cost efficient solutions before creating a detailed design.

The modernization project of the headquarters of the Finnish phone operator Elisa serves as a good example. Using early integration, the Last Planner method, Big Room-working methods, hiring key subcontractor early and continuous improvement from phase to phase, the project was both on time and on budget, which is not often the case in a renovation. Good planning allowed the users of the building to stay operational on the premises during construction. That saved them money and increased their customers’ satisfaction.

People Make or Break the Project

Matti Kruus sees employee morale as an essential element of lean. “What I especially like about lean is the idea of a culture of respect,” Kruus says. A fine example of this was Manskun Rasti, an office project built by Skanska. A seasoned master builder showed respect for younger workers, not overemphasizing his title, but was still firmly at the helm.

Systems and tools are necessary, but people make or break a project. “Happier workers are more productive workers,” Kruus suggests.

Kruus thinks that main contractors treating their subcontractors well is an essential element of lean. If the cheapest subcontractor always gets the job, chances of building an efficient project flow are very slim.

Kruus sees prefabrication as a key factor in making construction both lean and productive. Forward-looking Finnish contractors have already shown that prefabrication does not have to mean inflexibility. Good design and efficient production can go hand in hand.