6 Lean Construction Myths BUSTED

April 18, 2017 John Wiegand

You are fatter than you think you are. We’re not trying to be mean, it’s just the truth. Science says so. Being skinny may be the great American ideal, but very few of us actually are.

As every addict knows, the first step in getting better, is admitting you have a problem. So let’s just admit it: The construction industry has a problem, and it’s that we think we’re way leaner than we are. At the root of that problem are six common lean construction myths you need to know.

Lean Construction DEFINED:
a combination of operational research and practical development in design and construction with an adaptation of lean manufacturing principles and practices to the end-to-end-design and construction process.

Myth #1:  Waste Reduction = Lean Construction

Waste is expensive. According to the Construction Industry Institute, on average, waste accounts for 57% of a construction crew’s time—and that’s not even including materials, rework, and so on.

But if you think lean is the same thing as waste reduction, you’re missing out. All competent builders strive to eliminate waste. That doesn’t make them lean.

Rather, lean is formal system that provides for two key things:

  • Flow
  • Continuous improvement


Flow: The ability of a team to operate in an uninterrupted fashion, moving from one task to another in a single, continuous manner, seamlessly handing off tasks from one stage to the next without disruption.

Continuous Improvement: Ongoing effort to improve products, services, and processes over time, carrying lessons learned from each iteration into the next.

Waste reduction is a byproduct of lean, not the whole of it.


Myth #2:  You’re Already Doing It

Lean Construction Plan Workshop Overview.jpg

(this is what lean construction might look like)

There are three types of construction professionals: Those who think they’re doing lean, those who actually are, and those who wish we’d shut up about it. The middle group, those who actually are, is a very, very small group.

Smaller than you think.

We hate to break it to you but, statistically speaking, you’re probably in either first or the last group. And, given that you’ve read this far, it’s probably the first group.

Lots of teams think they’re practicing lean construction because they’ve sent their supervisor to “lean construction” training and applied some of the things they learned.

The truth is, lean is not a thing you up and do and call it done. Lean is a way of being. It’s a commitment, an intentional and ongoing philosophy and process. If you’re not eating, drinking, and dreaming lean, you’re not practicing lean.


Myth #3:  Lean is Only For The Elite Few

One can be forgiven for thinking something so monumental as complete commitment to a philosophy and way of doing business is only for those who have too much time on their hands.

You’re too busy actually getting the work done to stop for all this lean BS, right?


The truth is, you can’t afford not to implement lean. Practitioners of lean—those few true practitioners who fit in group #2—report cost savings of 20-60% per project over standard projects. Lean projects run faster and make customers happier, for less money.

If you’re not going lean, you’re going to struggle. Unnecessarily.


Myth #4:  You Can Do It Alone

Many companies think they can implement lean within their own company without involving the suppliers and subs and others in the process. But If you’re implementing lean but your suppliers and partners continue to operate in the same old way they always have, you’re going to stall out.

Lean construction involves a constant circle of work, recognizing that everyone involved is both a customer and a supplier at different times.

At each point in the circle, there is a negotiation that occurs.


Lean Construction Commitment Cycle.png


If your suppliers and partners aren’t engaged in your lean process, the negotiation phase is going to fail. You can’t plan a lean project if you don’t know when and where and how your suppliers are going to deliver, and you can’t know that unless they also have implemented lean principles.

For lean to be truly lean, all of the trades and all of the suppliers and all of the customers must be actively engaged in the lean process. 


Myth #5:  It’s a Project

If your lean champion says, “Let’s do a lean project,” it’s time to take it down a notch. Lean is not something you can implement on a single project. Likewise, you can’t simply hire an expert to lay “lean” over the framework of your organization and expect to reap the rewards.

Lean demands an intentional, committed philosophy and process, and involves people and partners and a systematic, documented approach to problem solving. This is not something that can be accomplished in one project or even a few. It must be ongoing and baked into the organization.

The good news is that you can begin implementing elements of lean process right away, and then build on those over time. Nobody gets lean “right” out of the gate. Lean is a process, not a project.



Myth #6: You Need Specialized Software to Pull It Off

You might think that because I am from a software company, I’m going to tell you that you have to buy our lean construction tools in order to do this earth-shattering lean thing.

You’d be wrong, again.

Lean Construction Plan.png


Lean manufacturing was born long before fancy cloud-based software was available to support it. It takes a lot of sticky notes, but lean construction can be implemented on paper.

Lean Construction App copy.png

(this is what lean construction without the sticky notes looks like, using an app like BIM 360 Plan)


It’s just better with software, such as BIM 360 Plan. The right software enables a dynamic environment in which continuous improvement, better collaboration, and more effective communication are baked in and ongoing.

Plus, the elimination of endless sticky notes, paper updates, trips to the printer, and worry over whether everyone has the latest version helps with the whole wastefulness thing.

We’ve got a problem, but we also have the solution. Take a good close look in the mirror--are you as skinny as you need to be to compete? If not, maybe it’s time to get lean.


Did you know 84% of lean practitioners found that adopting lean led to higher quality projects?

Download our free guide:

{{cta('2f177cf3-5545-46bb-8e50-4efc44a07443')}} "Getting started with lean construction: a guide for project teams"


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