Lean and Digital Construction

lean digital construction

One of the core aspects of lean construction processes is that it proposes a more robust bottom-up process that is constantly reconciled with the situation on the ground. From this perspective, the construction 4.0 initiatives and lean construction processes can significantly benefit from each other. Their synergies lie across the whole construction process, from early design to construction and later operations and maintenance. Especially, lean construction and related methods can provide a meaningful context to the Construction 4.0 technological framework and how Construction 4.0 can support lean construction methods.

For learning more about the interaction between lean and the digital in construction, please refer to the article “On the role of lean in construction by the authors as part of a Springer book Industry 4.0 for the Built Environment, edited by Marzia Bolpagni, Rui Gavina, and Diogo Rodrigo Ribeiro.

Flow is most important

In the underlying theory of lean construction, flow and value are emphasized alongside the traditional transformation aspect of production. Within the context of production, transformation can be understood as the process where inputs are transformed into outputs through some kind of a process, flow pertains to the flow of resources in order to make the transformation happen, and value refers to value to the customer, i.e., providing what the customer wants in a timely and cost-effective manner. 

One of the core reasons why technological solutions have failed to make an impact is that, much like production, they too focussed on just transformation and ignored flow and value. However, with Construction 4.0, there is a significant opportunity for the technology (including software, telecommunications, and hardware) sector to recognize both flow and value aspects. The majority of Construction 4.0 solutions (Sensor networks, reality capture, digital twin, etc.) explicitly support the flow of information and potentially transmission of value.

digital visual construction management
Digital visual management support, where real-time information on the completion level of different parts of the facility is used.

In modern construction, flow materials and workflow are highly intertwined with the flow of information. Workflow is maintained when teams work collectively to prepare short-term plans, constraints are addressed, and risks and opportunities are exposed collectively. This maximizes the value-added work and reduces waste. The collection and distribution of usable data is a key consideration for supporting an effective production system. The significance of Construction 4.0 is exactly here: securing the availability of real-time data.

Digitalization provides a platform for seamless connections

Lean construction lends itself to adopting technologies and management functions to integrate teams and provide cross-functional transparency. This requires collaboration and transparent information management. In turn, this creates a basis for trust and encourages adherence to the defined workflow. As construction projects develop, the interaction between design, production, and inspection accentuates to maximize customer value. Digitalization provides a platform to seamlessly connect these functions by defining process flow sequences and timelines.

construction reality capture
Reality capture and review involves the comparison of photographic evidence and building an information model.

Key skills needed

The skillset of digital production managers should include the knowledge and understanding of information management and recognise the importance of information flow. This informs the planning aspect of production, where knowledge is used to sequence and identify prerequisites. Shared digital platforms for project planning and management are used to monitor adherence to the plans, where deviations are highlighted, and opportunities for learning are identified. Organizational change can be managed through gradual improvements where increased productivity and efficiency provide a catalyst for stakeholder engagement.

mobile construction app
Empowering the site team to receive and feed accurate and reliable information, including progress updates through mobile apps.

About the authors

Kevin McHugh

Kevin McHugh

Kevin McHugh is an associate direct with Mace. He is responsible for lean project delivery for the international technology sector. Kevin was responsible for developing the production control system using The Last planner system. He has continued to research and adapt the system for increased digitisation of the construction industry. Kevin also managed the digital process to integrate the production control process to generate data and interrogate productivity measures using visual management.

Kevin is a PhD researcher studying in the University of Huddersfield. He recognises the need for close collaboration and strong stakeholder involvement in the project delivery. This in includes supply chain management and promoting modern methods of construction. Kevin is focused on providing a lean project delivery system that identifies opportunities for continuous improvement.


Lauri Koskela

Lauri Koskela is Professor of Construction and Project Management at the University of Huddersfield. Previously he worked at the University of Salford as Professor of Lean, Theory Based Project and Production Management. Prior that he was involved in applied research at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Since 1991, Lauri has been involved in research on lean construction. His research has focused especially on the theories of production management as well as design management, underlying lean construction. Lauri is a founding and continuously active member of the International Group for Lean Construction. He has been Director, Trustee, and Company Secretary at Lean Construction Institute – UK.

Dr. Bhargav Dave

Dr. Bhargav Dave is a cofounder and CEO of VisiLean Ltd, a Finnish startup specializing in cloud based construction management platform.

Bhargav has worked between the interface of Digital Technologies and Construction for his entire career. He has a bachelor’s degree in Construction Technology and Master’s and PhD in developing Digital Solutions for Construction Management. His work cuts across the field of computer integrated construction, knowledge management, supply chain management and virtual environments. He has authored over 45 scholarly articles and industry reports.

Bhargav has led innovation projects in digitization of construction processes, including BIMforLean, Virtual Big Room, Intelligent Products (Integrating Internet of Things, Lean and BIM for the construction lifecycle) and Otaniemi3D (digitizing operations monitoring through IoT, BIM and big data).

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