The Lean Builder



One of the requirements in Lean Operations is harnessing the “Voice of the Process.” Your processes can teach you so much and hence save you a lot of cash … IF you know how to get them to talk to you. How do you do that? Metrics, of course, but usually not the old tired ones that don’t provide much illumination. You have to dig a little deeper. Here is a great example. How many of you have ever looked at the ratio of how much business you do under VPO (Variance Purchase Order) vs.

Yesterday after presenting an orientation for our LeanPlan Workout process to a group of suppliers & trades in Texas, a contractor named Mike walked up to me and two of the senior managers from the builder. Strong-looking guy, with very alert eyes, about 50 years old with that kind of rugged Texas good looks from a life spent working outdoors that you see a lot down there. He had been very attentive during the presentation, and took a lot of notes.

I am frequently asked, what is the right way to buy labor and materials? Should you use turnkey suppliers and trades or should you purchase and negotiate labor and material separately. Let me be 100% clear about this. I have the answer. I am now into my third decade of looking hard at this issue and have watched more than 200 builders up close and personal and unequivocally conclude based on the evidence that the clear answer is to buy labor and materials separately – except when the best way to purchase is turnkey. Got it?

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.

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.

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