A job site is a complex organism, where dozens of interconnected jobs happen in isolation, all towards the same goal. In a perfect world, all elements will happen in their turn, without waiting, the order of construction being passed like a baton. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Lean thinking is bringing that elusive goal a little closer by attempting to redefine how stakeholders perceive a project and many companies that have adopted the new approach say it’s working.


You’re building a house, and the plumber has wrapped up. You’re ready to insulate the walls, but the electrician hasn’t shown up for the rough wiring. His last job ran late because the plumber was late, and so on.

Meanwhile, those waiting end up looking for “busy” work while you watch the hours, and your deadlines, tick away. This kind of Waste – a natural extension of what happens when different stakeholders come together, but still only think about themselves – is rampant across the industry.

Instead of just setting a time and place, take the time to designate a specific location and several methods of contact with each other in case one person is late. It’s common courtesy that can save the business money, too.

Phone Tag:

two architects on construction site looking at tablet - waiting waste in constructionIn the midst of construction chaos, meetings need to happen. Frequently. Inspectors meet with construction managers, foremen meet with crews, etc. If there’s not enough lead time to properly coordinate these meetings, thumb twiddling of the worst kind commences. Plan accordingly for all meetings and prevent Waiting Waste before it arises.

Manager’s Role:

If a worker doesn’t clearly understand the expectations, timelines, and procedures, they may hesitate and not get that small sliver of the project done on time. That slight delay has the potential to ripple down an interconnected job site, causing significant Waiting Waste.

The decision not to take 10 minutes to meet with our crew is usually costly. A morning touch point, and another throughout the day, if needed, is vital to keeping people on track and balancing workflow across the site.

It’s also important that the Manager be accessible and making timely decisions. When a crew or subcontractor needs an answer and gets voicemail, they’ll either wait for someone to get back to them or (worse) keep going, not sure of the answer.

Lean Thinking:

One of the key goals of Lean Construction is to change the perception of project stakeholders. Traditionally, everyone is motivated to do their best for their portion of the job, but often have little investment in the project as a whole. Lean asks us to consider the entire value of a project, looking beyond its many separate parts. In doing so, stakeholders will hopefully begin to see themselves as part of a larger process. At that point, their task list becomes a list of their commitments to the project, and they feel more accountable.

Process Improvement strives to add value while, and by, removing waste. Lean Construction puts the value on the customer as paramount, and bases the success of the project by that metric more than hours under deadline or other traditional metrics. The goal is that, if everyone prioritizes adding value, Wastes that arise from a lack of integration with other construction partners, like Waiting, will erode organically.