Addressing the sticky note problem for the digital age


Paul Daynes, Regional Director, UK & Northern Europe, Newforma  discusses updating project scheduling for the twenty-first century with lean planning…

Working in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) space means you have probably heard the term ‘Lean’ on numerous occasions. Lean has been applied to all sorts of areas including; Lean processes; manufacturing; construction; design; supply and even ‘thinking.’ What lean actually means for the AEC sector is the streamlining and removal of unnecessary and complicated process, that often occur in the planning phase. By incorporating the knowledge and feedback from all parties involved in a project, systems and structures can be planned and agreed before the foundations are even dug. In addition, by agreeing who is responsible for delivering certain aspects of a project, each party can be held accountable for its delivery.

A key aspect of Lean is Lean scheduling. In the construction industry, Lean scheduling promises to make as a big an impact as Building Information Modelling (BIM) is having now; by transforming design and construction efficiency and empowering construction teams. Lean principles attempt to address inefficient processes before they have an impact on a task or series of tasks.

From Paper To Screens

Traditionally, firms have conducted Lean scheduling using Kanban boards – coloured cards or sticky notes on large boards – which show who is responsible for the work to be done, work that’s underway and completed work.  However, a paper-based way of working – particularly in construction where team members are often going back and forth from the office to the building site – can be unreliable and contradict the benefits that Lean can offer. Spreadsheets are unreliable and difficult to maintain – and sticky notes literally fall to the floor from planning boards! In addition to this, when several decisions and changes are being made each day on any given project – it also puts construction firms and their clients at risk of mistakes being made when it’s not easy to track updates in real time.

Given these changes in the marketplace, there is a noticeable industry shift towards the use of software tools to replace paper sticky notes that serve as a favourite medium for Kanban cards. The advantage of such software is that it eliminates the labour-intensive, error-prone (that is, non-lean) process of transferring data from cards to spreadsheets. Lean planning software automatically records the movement of cards across the Kanban board, enabling the generation of real-time reporting, without delays. Because reports are immediate and accurate – and because collaborators do not need to be in the site office to see the board, since it’s viewable on their portable tablets – Lean teams are managing themselves more effectively, with less effort.

The more, the better

Metrics are vital to the smooth delivery of projects across the industry. Accordingly, Lean production can be surmised by holding up the ‘Three Big Metrics in project delivery; constraints, variances, and planned percent complete – PPC.

Introducing digital tools which can track data and analyse successes and failures will help managers deliver these metrics. However, capturing reporting data hinges on transferring information from cards to spreadsheet-based reports; this is where lean processes are vulnerable to failure. Visual production planning software can allow design teams to escape having their planning rooms covered with fallen sticky notes by transferring assets to a digital board.

Once the project has gone digital the possibilities and potential increase. For example, by hosting digital planning boards in the cloud and ensuring that teams can access tasks and plans remotely, construction supervisors, task owners and teams will be free from having to be physically present in the office.

How Costain Embraced Lean  

Engineering solutions provider Costain is one such firm that has embraced Lean software. It has deployed LeanPlanner from Newforma, and has since seen a vast improvement across the company in terms of collaboration and workflow visibility.

“We have seen additional improvements in the way we deliver our strategies for Lean construction and Factory Thinking,” comments Gavin Pearce, Production Control Manager, Costain Group plc. “With virtual collaborative task boards, we have improved the planning and issue resolution with our project teams and partners. Through improved visibility of tasks in defined work periods and shortening the interval of control, we have achieved greater efficiency in project delivery, with an audit trail that enables precise construction status and productivity reporting to our clients.”

Lean Thinking Technology

Technology has caught up with the process-problems in project delivery; manifested in the digitisation of workloads in the office. Whilst this has resulted in an explosion of data which project managers now need to deal with, it presents a new horizon for Lean principles.

For example, an exercise in Lean planning would see digital tools used to show separate teams what they have to do, what work they’re doing, and what they’ve done. Enabling interaction with virtual Cloud-hosted whiteboards would allow collaboration through mobile technology; allowing different teams to access current commitments at any time.

The AEC sector has gone through a number of major updates and modernisations in the past few years’. BIM was only the start with Lean now being the next instalment to feature in the continued evolution of this sector. Where once digital tools were seen as a luxury they have now become compulsory for most businesses in the construction industry. In the past, project managers and planners had to follow the work paradigm of “Cost – time – quality: Pick two,” but with digital tools it is now possible to have all three.

Paul Daynes

Regional Director, UK & Northern Europe


+44 207 268 3020


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