Nick Masci is a vice president of lean at environmental engineering services firm Haley & Aldrich. Nick once told me a story of a Massachusetts construction company and their journey with lean thinking.

Nick shared how, from construction jobsite to corporate headquarters, the firm uses kanban boards and lean processes to help with any process in any department – even picking insurance providers.

I know what you’re thinking: Why is a company using lean planning to find an insurance vendor? Isn’t lean an on-site construction scheduling tool?

Traditionally, yes. Lean cut its teeth in construction scheduling. The beauty of lean, however, is its wide applications in reducing waste and adding value.

“We say you develop ‘eyes for waste,’” Nick said. “Once you have that aha experience with lean, you see waste everywhere.”

Materials procurement? Visual planning can help. Bidding? It’s a candidate for lean methodologies.

Using lean practices in more places

Paper-based visual planningThis extension of lean practices poses a problem, though. If you’re using sticky notes and spreadsheets to plan, you won’t have enough walls to accommodate all the kanban boards.

And if you’re using lean planning software, you’ll likely find it does not work so great outside the construction trailer.

You see, most lean planning software is built to specifically support the Lean Construction Institute’s Last Planner® system, which focuses on subcontractor scheduling. Those products may not be as flexible as your HR department needs to manage hiring, or your startup group needs to manage commissioning.

As Nick points out, the Last Planner system is just one tool, and doesn’t emphasize all five lean operating principles that must be applied if you’re using lean methodologies for processes other than construction production planning.

Newforma LeanPlanner, powered by LeanKit

If you settle on software that lives and dies for construction scheduling only, you may find yourself implementing a different system when you expand your visual planning to manage other processes. And two systems for lean planning is not very lean!

To avoid redundant systems and help your organization become lean across the board, Newforma LeanPlanner is straightforward enough to make contractors happy, but flexible enough for back-office colleagues to pick up quickly.

You can check out LeanPlanner here if you’re curious to know more.

So how is that Massachusetts construction company doing with visual planning in every department? It makes a difference. For example, a project administrator says the insurance-vendor-selection project they managed using lean practices gave her more of a voice in the company than she has experienced during her whole 17-year career.

When you consider that empowering people is a top-three tenet of lean, that’s a powerful endorsement for the expansion of lean thinking.


Susan Parker Susan Parker is a product manager for Newforma.