Past, Present and Future: Continuous Improvement through RPIWs

The 20th LCI Congress event will be held from October 15-19. This annual conference has an overarching goal of transforming the Built Environment through Lean implementation. During the event, owners, designers, trade partners and general contractors will share their Lean successes and challenges and discuss how to advance Lean project design and delivery, improving design and building performance. Skanska is a founding member of the Lean Construction Institute and applies Lean approaches in many construction sectors, focused on helping clients realize their vision. To learn more, click here.

Cultural change takes commitment, endless energy, and buy-in from senior management to be successful. With the construction industry evolving at a rapid pace, about five years ago Skanska realized we must make the cultural shift to a Lean organization. This would lead to a resilient company and create a forward thinking, empowered team culture that could exceed customer expectations.

Many Lean tools have assisted us in this ongoing journey, but the backbone of our success was creating a top down, bottom up approach and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. While education is a key component, we found Rapid Process Improvement Workshops (RPIW) to be better than training alone. They not only educate, but they have the ability to substantiate and create tangible results that lead to team buy-in and organic culture growth. At Skanska, we began RPIW workshops in 2011. Resulting evidence led us to dig deeper within our organization and formalize our efforts across the country.

An RPIW, a specific format for a Kaizen event, is a five-day workshop focused on a particular process in which people who do the work are empowered to eliminate waste and reduce the burden of work. This is accomplished by:

• Defining the process under investigation
• Understanding the current system and processes
• Identifying operational barriers and wastes in the current process
• Applying basic and advanced Lean methodologies to redesign the current process to eliminate or mitigate barriers and wastes
• Rapidly implementing the new process with a robust control strategy to ensure long term sustainability of the improvements
• Continuously improving the process through the use of the Deming cycle, also referred to as the Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle

The RPIW process takes many weeks of preparation and planning prior to the five-day workshop, and it doesn’t stop there. The process extends beyond workshop completion as teams measure results and make necessary process modifications to ensure the goals and targets—which were established prior to the event—are met.

The benefits extend beyond education during the RPIW workshop week and teams reaching their goals. The process empowers people, incorporates team building, creates standard work, and fosters communication and accountability with the result of enhancing existing systems and processes.

To realize such success, management must make a commitment to support the team and remove barriers. The team itself should be a diverse and inclusive group that can bring a wide variety of thought and ideas into the room. The new process must be immediately implemented. Finally, we have realized that additional resources are a beneficial part of the solution at times. The RPIW process is not about reducing resources; it is about removing burdens and waste.

Building upon each other’s success
At Skanska, topics are often suggested by employees and participation is always voluntary. As a result, people hear about results and seek to perform an RPIW themselves. This is how a Lean culture is spreading throughout our company—through ownership and peer-to-peer buy-in. Our teams are naturally building upon each other’s successes as well. There are some cases where offices have learned about the results of an RPIW implemented elsewhere in the country, and they have borrowed the new process and improved it through their own RPIW—naturally building a culture of continuous improvement.

One such case was a project start-up RPIW, which was repeated several times and built upon by different offices. While studying the same topic and learning from each other, our teams realized various goals and results, which have led to improved performance and client deliverables. From this, we can truly see that the Lean culture is spreading.

In 2012, our Seattle, Washington office was the first to review the project start-up process. Many clients required a quicker “readiness to work” time than we were providing. Overall, the process included a significant wait time (one of the seven types of waste in the Lean world). A baseline of 31 days from the day a job number was requested to the day initial subcontracts were executed was targeted for a 90 percent reduction—just three days total. This was a very challenging target to reach, but they should be aggressive and challenging. Goals and targets for improvement should stretch beyond what one might think is reasonable because this challenges teams to make transformational change. If the goals are incremental or not large enough, they may fall into the trap of doing more of the same.

The Seattle team is currently tracking between seven and eight days, which is far less than the original 31. By identifying waste and developing alternate solutions, not only did they achieve an overall time reduction, but costs were reduced as well by implementing automated notifications and eliminating hard copy contract shipping costs.

As part of the project start-up RPIW, our Seattle team wrote each process on a post-it and attached it to a large sheet of paper. The top paper is the current state Value Stream Map. This map is a visual means to depict and improve the flow of material or information through a process. The second, lower sheet of paper is the future state Value Stream Map. With the completion of the Value Stream Maps, their next step was to implement the new plan.

A few years later, a Skanska team in San Antonio, Texas learned about Seattle’s results and was motivated to try a project start-up RPIW themselves. They included the Seattle developed process, but also looked at project mobilization—getting boots on the ground. The team reviewed steps prior to subcontracts being issued and found there was no formal process performing job start-up, which resulted in a significant amount of waste and frustration among project teams. Each operator was reinventing the wheel each time resulting in waste and defects such as incomplete, missing or redundant information, missed steps, time spent training, and potentially a delayed start.

With several new employees and projects in the pipeline, a standard process needed to be established to increase efficiency and eliminate waste. The team’s specific goal was to reduce the overall time from the day we receive a notice to proceed to the day on-site mobilization is complete—a total reduction from 52 to 10 days. Again, these were very aggressive goals, but part of the process was already improved by our Seattle team. San Antonio’s new process added a contract administrator to support project on-site mobilization, appointed a key person to oversee and hold people accountable to following the new process and implemented “stop the line” points within their process. These “stop the line” gates halt the process until specific steps are completed, sufficient information is known or appropriate people are included or present. Currently, the San Antonio team is tracking at five days, and they have revisited the process five times to realize further improvement.

The San Antonio team is pictured here documenting the current state Value Stream Map and identifying waste in the process.

Close to the same time, our Blue Bell, Pennsylvania team also decided to join in the continuous improvement journey and build on Seattle’s improvements. Their scope began even earlier in the project start-up process, beginning with the Request for Proposal (RFP) and leading into sending out the first bid package to trade partners. The team largely focused on preconstruction activities and realized, similar to the San Antonio team, that lack of a standard process had resulted in burdensome work and unclear roles and responsibilities. For their RPIW, the Blue Bell team targeted 100 percent standard work and continue to revisit the process to make improvements and changes as needed.

Skanska’s Blue Bell team is shown documenting opportunities and challenges in the current process.

A naturally evolving Lean culture
A Lean culture of continuous improvement is organically growing and spreading within Skanska. By making the new processes and results available nationally, we naturally encourage offices to look into efforts made by their peers across the country. Since our geographies are very diverse, they can take a process and make it their own—seek out the value in what exists and continue to make it better.

To date, we have held nearly 30 RPIWs and multiple Kaizen events. The topics range from construction to marketing to administrative, and the workshops include all levels of personnel from our organization—top down, bottom up. This empowers our people to work together and always look for a better solution.

Amy Jones

Amy Jones

Amy Jones is the Director of Continuous Improvement and Benchmarking Services for Skanska and Vice-Chair of the National Lean Committee

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