To home builders, speed is a highly valued commodity.  It is not unusual to hear home builders boast about fast build cycles, lightening fast product development, near real-time custom pricing quotes, etc., right?  Yes, it seems we are laser focused on, and maybe even addicted to speed in developing land, designing plans, and quoting homes, but is this speed really important to the customer?  That is a tough question that I can't answer, but here's a speed question I can.

Last year PB received an official complaint letter from a high level staffer at the AIA, basically saying that I was being unfair to Architects. I confessed to being guilty of describing the reality of continuing problems in the field that result from Architects taking a rather limited view of their job responsibilities.

If asked, I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite author, but if forced to choose just one I would go with Antoine St. Exupery.

The idea of running a 100 mile race ten years ago was as inconceivable and foreign to me as the possibility of a 6 year real estate crash.  As it turned out, last month I got to experience both of these.

One of the greatest misconceptions about Lean process and methods is that they cheapen the product. Lean is first and always about value, and the customer perception of value at each price point is a critical component. It may surprise you that on a fairly regular basis I have to advise a client to put something back in a house rather than take it out.

The accompanying picture was used recently with what was an otherwise good article on how to create profitable design. That article is much bigger in scope than simply the design of the house itself but still, the irony is palpable. What’s your first impression? Give it a good examination before you go on, in fact, gather some of your people around the monitor or print it out and ask if this is an intelligent, cost-effective design? Looks pretty good? Not if you have spent the past 5 years or perhaps just the past 5 weeks really dissecting plans and elevations from a Lean perspective.

Recently I was asked to present to a group of purchasing managers for a Top 20 builder, led by a Corporate VP who truly gets it when it comes to Lean. That is encouraging in itself, because what I see from so many of the Top 20 is either more of the same old “beat the snot out of the suppliers and trades” or misguided strategies under the name of Supply Chain Management and regrettably, even Lean. This VP and the Directors of Purchasing had no stars in their eyes, but were resolved to keep an open mind and find good ideas whatever the source.

Henry Ford was a genius and if not father of the automobile per se, he was arguably father of the automotive industry. As usually accompanies genius, Ford was a little wacky in some regards and some of his beliefs about ethnic groups and how to control the behavior of workers not just on, but off the job, certainly give one pause.

In the past month I have had the opportunity to present to and spend time with two different groups of 25 successful, independent lumber & material dealers. These suppliers have weathered the storm and although bruised and battered are still alive. In each one of their markets, significant competitors have been fed through the proverbial chipper and are no more. These survivors are smart, savvy business people. I was impressed by their dedication and knowledge, both of their operations and about how builders work.

Both my grandfathers were self-made men who did well during the Great Depression and retired quite comfortably, if not wealthy by today’s standards. Each began with an 8th grade education and nothing backing them up but grit and determination, and each feeling graced by having survived serious crashes on Indian motorcycles. My mother’s dad started as a packing boy at General Electric in Youngstown, Ohio at age 15 and retired at age 65 as plant general superintendent. Fifty years of service with one company. Just imagine. He had a lot of plaques on the wall thanking “E.

You know that phenomenon where you hear a reasonable sounding, logical guy armed with facts that presents an convincing analysis of a problem and his solution and you think, “You know, he’s right” … and then you hear another logical guy armed with facts that presents a totally contrary analysis of the identical problem and a completely different solution and you think, “Whoa, wait a minute … HE is right … I think … maybe.” So now you don’t know who to believe and then it occurs to you that had you heard just ONE of these two guys, you’d be in his camp, probably quoting him to your friends,

Lean savings that go direct to the trades don’t reduce the builder’s costs, right?

If this is your belief, there is no greater obstacle to becoming truly Lean. I once heard a purchasing manager say in regard to the many extra trips the lumber company was making on the builder’s behalf, “So what? Those are his costs and they don’t count for us.” If you are hoping to crack the code on Lean, you have to acknowledge that a dollar is a dollar is a dollar, and no matter where it falls, it is important and it counts.

Probably the simultaneously most understandable yet least valid excuse for not launching a Lean implementation is that your staff is overloaded and has no time. I hear it constantly so let's just say it, "No one has enough time or people today!" That's the nature of a housing recession. It’s a given.

As a dedicated practitioner of Lean process and methods, one of the more aggravating things I sometimes hear is a builder bragging about how they are obviously “Lean” because they have gone through three, five, or seven rounds of rebids. Everyone had to do rebids during the past five years of the housing recession. After all, customers have in effect rebid the builders continually. Because foreclosures and short-sales still make up a significant part of the market, that means that the rebidding from the consumer end continues.

Todd Hallett and I are working with a fantastic smaller builder in California this week. They really “get it” and are very open to input from all of their suppliers and trades. They build very good looking homes at affordable prices and are highly sensitive to anything that would “dumb down the house” or hurt the visual appeal in any way.

I am finishing up my September column for Professional Builder based on a list of the 10 biggest myths of Lean Building, and I just wrote about one of the most aggravating — the idea that Lean process savings don’t count like saving in sticks and bricks.

As I write this week’s blog on a plane from Detroit to Vegas, I happened upon an article in the Delta in-flight magazine about healthy eating and guess what? All the things we know about eating eggs and egg yolks, common knowledge learned during the 80’s and 90’s that persists to this day – are flat out wrong. Eggs do NOT raise your cholesterol. They are, in fact, a virtually perfect food, full of protein and raising HDL (good cholesterol) reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and helping keep a steady blood glucose level.

If you knew that were losing at least $5K per unit due to one single item of waste in your houses, would you do anything about it? How about $10K? The money is there, inarguable and undeniable, and we have the proof, yet a tiny percentage of builders understand it, let alone try to correct it. Even worse than that, most are afraid to confront it.

A discussion erupted this month on the LeanBuilding Group on Linked In about how do you define value to the customer? One of our members was assailing builders who go cheap, installing ubiquitous “builder grade” products. I replied that there are fine lines sometimes. One person's better value can be another's substandard. Not so long ago, vinyl siding was considered almost universally a cheap product. That is rarely the case now though.

Twenty years ago, there was a project in Denver where the foundations began moving, to the point that several new homes had to be taken completely down. In the milder cases, the builder had to sink caissons next to the foundation as deep as 40 feet to stabilize them. The problem was expansive soils.


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