Reducing Waste with Lean Delivery in Facility Design and Construction

Applying a lean delivery approach to the design and construction of new facilities can reduce waste, lower costs and improve speed to market.

Lean Delivery in the Context of Facility Design and Construction

Lean thinking is centered on the successful reduction or complete elimination of waste throughout multiple aspects of a business. Applied to capital projects, lean delivery entails removing redundant or wasteful activities that add time or cost to projects. By applying a lean mindset and fully integrating the delivery team, it is possible to achieve huge savings in schedule, reduced risk and improved cost certainty.

Traditional capital project delivery breaks an overall project into individual scopes of work and fragments the overall project team. Originally built out of a need to implement “checks and balances” on a project, traditional project delivery in its worst applications can devolve into contract-driven, adversarial relationships manifested out of distrust. Priorities are set by individual entities, often in conflict with overall project success, and risk is compartmentalized and fully felt by individual team members.

Implementing a lean mindset in project delivery helps counter some of the unfortunate trends that have grown out of the traditional model. An immediately apparent difference is that risk is more broadly shared in a lean model. Shifting away from a model predicated on rigidly defined terms and expectations ultimately helps reduce conflict that can lead to multiple change orders and consequentially higher costs, among other problems. With an integrated, lean approach to project delivery, everyone involved in the project shares risk — and thus responsibility. This simple distinction can result in a significant cultural shift where all parties are focused entirely on successful delivery with a clear understanding that project success will naturally lead to individual success. 

Another important distinction of lean delivery is the simultaneous implementation of work, rather than approaching it sequentially. Parts of a project are not pursued by individuals independently and passed on to the next person or group. Rather, as much work as possible is completed simultaneously, with the elimination of unnecessary steps where possible and a communal end goal. 

Lean thinking is centered on the successful reduction or complete elimination of waste throughout multiple aspects of a business

Lean capital projects are implemented in two main phases: the planning/scoping and execution phases. Both require early involvement of all major players to truly harness the power of this delivery model. In the planning/scoping phase, the team develops the scope and goals of the project, cost and schedule targets, as well as a construction strategy that maximizes parallel efforts, and a partnering strategy with the equipment supplier and subcontractor community. More importantly, the entire team comes together to build the culture for the project and agree on how to best leverage each other’s talents to ensure success. The overall schedule is confirmed and commitments are made around scope, cost and delivery.

In the execution phase, the team uses lean tools to help drive the project based on the plan. Lean tools facilitate planning and integrated work and are designed to bring team members together and enable the delivery of the project on time and at the targeted cost. Examples include the use of core teams, colocation of staff, the establishment of measurable goals at the start of the project, performance benchmarking, risk-sharing propositions, pull planning and continuous improvement. These various tools are applied to the project to drive results. 

Multiple design “mini-releases” allow fabrication of as many components as possible in parallel with construction of the building structure, such as equipment, piping and modular structures. The releases are aligned to the build strategy to allow just-in-time delivery to the site, where organized assembly takes place.

Implementing a lean mindset in project delivery helps counter some of the unfortunate trends that have grown out of the traditional model.

Team Building is Fundamental

Establishing the right team to implement a lean delivery project is essential. The team members must be committed to the lean delivery approach, or they will often default to protecting their own interests and operating in a more traditional, parochial manner. All team members must also understand the value of lean delivery tools and how to use them. 

The main tenet of lean delivery is that every team member is aware of what needs to be accomplished daily, in order to release work for others who are downstream of their activities. With lean delivery projects, results are required every day and every week, and there is an expectation that each person on the team will constantly deliver. 

Fundamental to the lean delivery concept is the notion that everyone on the project team has a common goal and a piece of ownership in the project. Because each team member’s individual success is dependent on the performance of every other team member, a significant level of trust and accountability is essential  — not only among the design and construction experts, but also suppliers, subcontractors and owners. 

One of the most effective ways to achieve this goal is to define the vision, culture statement and charter for each project, which helps team members understand the goals of the project and the importance of each person’s role in bringing it to fruition. Prequalification of external partners can also help build a level of trust. In some cases, the use of outside consultants to facilitate initial project meetings with new partners can be valuable for building bonds and breaking down barriers.

In many cases, team members find they enjoy working on lean projects because everyone on the team is aligned from the start of the project and there is collective ownership. Conflicts are minimized, and a solution-oriented mentality that transforms challenges into opportunities to problem-solve is universally adopted. Issues become transformative events that lead to an organic deepening of relationships across all parties. Teams also know that everyone involved cares about each person being successful so the overall project will be successful. With direct, open and transparent communication among all parties, each team member often comes to better appreciate the skill sets and expertise that each person brings to the project, which results in better designs. This knowledge sharing can also accelerate the personal growth of team members. Overall, participation in lean delivery projects can present career-changing opportunities.

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Standardization, Modularization and Off-site Construction

Off-site construction is one of the more powerful lean solutions that you can employ on any integrated design/construction project. The more work you can push off-site, the greater the opportunity to create parallel, overlapping workstreams. This work can also be performed more efficiently in partner shops without being impacted by site conditions. As a result, the quality of the work improves, completion dates are more certain and cost is more predictable. 

Reducing the concentration of craft labor on-site also reduces risks and improves overall safety. In our current market, where there are real shortages in qualified labor, it allows the project team to better align scopes of work with companies that have the bandwidth to execute them. 

To that end, the industry is finding ways to modularize and standardize facilities that were once thought to be truly customized. The use of more standardized modular components for the delivery of custom designs helps reduce costs and accelerate project timelines. Some examples include electrical panels, automation codes, duct routing above similar spaces, air handler sizing and cooling coils. 

A changing landscape that is embracing cell and gene therapies continues to challenge that thinking, but, with the right combination of technical and delivery SMEs, it is possible to adapt to whatever challenges arise.

Considerable Benefits for Pharma 

In the pharmaceutical industry, the biggest area of waste in the delivery of manufacturing projects is time. Pharmaceutical companies are in business to get life-changing and life-saving drugs to their patients as rapidly as possible. At CRB, we have used our lean delivery model to cut project schedules in half  — reducing typical three-year design/build/qualify timelines to less than 18 months.

In addition to significant time reductions, we have seen much better cost control, less construction waste and safer job sites. There is also a huge improvement in the overall team experience. Lean delivery projects are much more enjoyable for people to work on.

Because lean delivery projects involve an entirely new, integrated approach, clients must be willing to embrace this new mindset. If the client is not ready to embrace the lean approach, they will not be able to achieve the same results. It can be difficult initially to convince drug manufacturers that have a focus on cost minimization, systems installed and teams in-place whose performance is solely based on cost savings.

For example, if the client’s procurement team requires hard bids on every contract and piece of equipment, they will lose the collaborative advantage of early involvement by these key partners. It has been shown that a perceived initial savings in buying out a contract is almost always offset by change orders and cost escalation. In projects where there are tremendous cost constraints, people are driven into very competitive situations that often result in the need for one change after another, which creates tensions and negative impacts on scheduling and cost.

Eventually, however, even the most conservative companies will come to accept the lean delivery concept, because the data speak volumes. When a lean delivery approach is used and suppliers are included on the project team, costs and timelines can be more easily controlled. Contracts are established that create ownership and accountability and allow companies to make a fair profit. 

The use of lean delivery is in its infancy in the pharmaceutical industry, but CRB is ahead of the curve.

CRB and Lean Delivery

As a firm that has been focused primarily on the life sciences industry for the past 30+ years, we have been involved in the delivery of just about all types of research, development and commercial manufacturing facilities. We have also been able to build a stable of experts across our company that we can leverage to solve just about any problem our clients throw at us.

The use of lean delivery is in its infancy in the pharmaceutical industry, but CRB is ahead of the curve. We have had some great successes using our lean, ONEsolution approach, but there are still more opportunities for improvement. CRB is very excited to be part of leading this revolution in how projects are delivered for our industry, and we hope to continue to demonstrate how to significantly beat traditional delivery metrics to those clients who may still be skeptical. We have built our company around this delivery approach and believe that it is the model that will transform capital projects for the pharmaceutical industry.

In the end, it is not just about getting the project done, but about helping our clients to be successful making drugs that improve and save patients’ lives. 

Matthew Khair

Matt has been at CRB for over 12 years and manages CRB’s design and construction team in Rockville, Maryland. As an owner in the organization and in his leadership role for the company, Matt is charged with direct oversight of all design and construction-related activities for CRB in the Maryland life sciences market. Matt is a proud alumnus of Drexel University and was a recipient of Consulting-Specifying Engineer’s 40 Under 40 Award in 2017.