It's estimated that up to 70 percent of the activities performed in the design and construction industry actually don't add value to the delivery of projects. But what if it were possible to identify this waste and eliminate it before a project begins?

That's the goal of integrating lean management principles, an approach that combines lean management principles with a collaborative, aligned team and contract structure to improve the outcomes of construction projects. By proactively identifying and eliminating the sources of waste in project delivery, owners can benefit from reduced costs and shorter timetables.

The purpose of the lean management approach has two central components: a fully integrated team approach to design and delivery from the early stages of a project; and the incorporation of lean principles, processes and tools to attack the sources of waste.

Together these two concepts can translate to big advantages for an owner. First, a central aspect of the approach is placing a greater focus on the owner’s needs and determining the conditions of satisfaction that are unique to each owner. These conditions of satisfaction are then used as a gauge throughout the project, guiding project decisions and uniting the team around one common goal.

While more traditional delivery methods often focus on the “what” of a project, lean management principles approach project design and delivery differently, placing greater emphasis on “how” a project will be designed, constructed and ultimately delivered for the owner.

This means from the early stages of a project, the key members of a project team — including engineering, construction, trades, vendors and designers — work together to bring their own experience and ideas to the table. With all these voices coming together, the team is able to identify more effective, efficient and innovative ways to deliver a project while still honoring the owner's conditions of satisfaction.

Focusing on the “how” rather than the “what” also adds opportunities for the team to identify waste — whether it's unnecessary motion, ineffective timing of supply deliveries or overproducing materials that aren’t needed — and create strategies that would reduce or eliminate the waste. This flips the more traditional “value engineering” approach that seeks to eliminate scope (“what”) to reduce cost, to a more “outcomes-based” focus on eliminating waste from the overall delivery process (“how”) and ultimately delivering greater value to the owner.

By targeting waste, the team significantly reduces project costs and often shortens the project's schedule, all while delivering a product that more directly speaks to a client's needs.

The lean management strategy has been used in other industries for years (residential and healthcare projects) but is gaining momentum in the delivery of industrial projects. By offering owners a new “outcomes-based” approach to construction projects, waste can be eliminated, and the focus can be shifted to the elements that add value.


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Mike Glenn has more than 35 years of experience in the consulting, engineering and construction industries. In his role at Burns & McDonnell, he works to help clients find new ways to approach projects, saving them both time and money.