The Lean Builder

The Lean Builder



During an orientation recently with a room full of suppliers and trades for one of our “LeanPlan Workout” implementations, I was interrupted by a woman who clearly did not appreciate my message. Despite my saying it 6 different ways and illustrating with numerous pictures, she was not buying my story that Lean is not about “dumbing down” the houses.

Today, a sharp young guy named Ryan wrote to me after seeing a Keynote Presentation I did at the recent BuilderExchange meeting in Las Vegas. Two-hundred fifty people attended from 60 suppliers and a like number of builders.

Last fall the president of one of America’s “Top 10” builders who I have known for years corralled me at a conference. Because I travel this industry about as much as anyone, he likes to pump me for intelligence – as I do him. He wondered, what did I see out there? Who was making it? Who wasn’t? Which cities were ready to emerge and which were not?  I gave him my take on things and then he asked a series of bombshell questions, “Who really impresses you? Who truly has the best practices?

The NAHB in conjunction with Professional Builder Magazine launched the National Housing Quality Award (NHQA) in 1993 to encourage and recognize best practices and best builders in the continual improvement of product and process. Modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, over time the NHQA has become the gold standard of awards in homebuilding.

Our business picked up in late 2011, started the New Year off well, and we were deluged at the IBS show, beginning with a standing-room-only presentation on Lean Design. Our first quarter is strong and 2nd quarter looks even better. Builders seem to now have sufficient confidence that they want to get their processes “Leaned-up” to meet current and projected growth. We have a long list of clients who are reporting sales being up way above the  national average of 8% reported for January and on into February. Yet the question persists … is this recovery for real?

There is nothing in homebuilding that makes less sense than purchasing by the square foot and it is a big obstacle in Lean implementation. Other than the fact that it makes things easy I suppose, there is very little to be said for it. It damn sure makes purchasing inaccurate and confusing, at best. Not much of a tradeoff. Imagine, for a moment, buying an automobile by the pound. Do you think you could do any meaningful price/value comparisons?

With the February edition of Professional Builder, I begin a series on the evolution of quality management. Here is a more detailed version of an excerpt from that article to come. Be sure to read that.

In the past year, during our LeanPlan Workout process, we had the dubious honor of “working on” plans from 3 of the biggest name, most expensive architectural firms in the country (among others.)

Michael J. Fox and I have something in common (besides the obvious – talent, good looks, irreverence, witty repartee, etc.)  We both have an incurable “condition.” Fox has Parkinson’s disease, a well-known affliction that continues to ravage his body despite an astounding amount of medical research dedicated to discovering a cure.  My condition is a rare one called Alport’s Syndrome, a genetic fluke that resulted in total kidney failure nearly 12 years ago.

Last weekend was the annual Christmas sojourn to my wife’s relatives in Chicago. On the obligatory trip downtown to Marshall Field’s to see the Christmas decorations, visions of credit card slips danced in my head as my wife and daughter pursued something precious that surely could not be found elsewhere. As they searched, my mind naturally turned to thoughts of Lean, rather how much waste I could find in the store’s products and processes. Yes, it is an obsession. Then my eyes fell upon this plaque, something that Marshall Field himself wrote in the 1800’s.  I took this snapshot.

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