TrueNorth Development
President

Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (www.truen.com), spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at HousingZone.com. He welcomes your feedback at scott@truen.com.

Honest wrong beliefs: Sometimes it’s what we know that gets in the way — Lean Tuesday with Scott Sedam

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. This is not the first time I have read this clinically-proven shocker, as I have become extremely food conscious of late on my way to losing 30 pounds and pulling my blood sugar level down from diabetic levels, to non-diabetic. 

Yet on the breakfast menus of restaurants everywhere from Denny’s to the Ritz you will still find egg-substitute and egg-white-only versions of omelets and scrambles promoted under the banner of “healthy eating” – at an additional price. Ever try an egg-white omelet? Yuuuuuck (technical term.) Let’s see … deplete the nutritional value and pay more for something that tastes lousy. Such a deal.

So how does this apply to home building? One of the biggest obstacles to progress in Lean implementation or any variety of other improvement pursuits, are the things you know to be true and insist on believing despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. Examples? One huge one I wrote about last week is the wasted or otherwise unnecessary (if everything went right) trip to the building site. It is perhaps the single biggest controllable cost factor for builders, suppliers and trades alike, averaging $10K per unit. Yet virtually all builders and a surprising majority of suppliers and trade contractors know that this is not a significant problem for them.

I have worked directly with more than 100 homebuilders over the past 22 years, and counting divisions of companies that number approaches 200. Here is what I know. There aren’t but a handful of builders in America who are not burning up significant money every day due to the wasted trip problem, and my 6 other TrueNorth associates will tell you the same thing. No one wants to face it, because it takes a lot to simply understand it, let alone do something about it. It is much more comfortable to stay secure in your knowledge that for you, it isn’t a big issue.

The same goes for design-induced waste – the waste in product and process that originates when the first sketches of a new plan go down on paper. But you know that is not an issue in your company, don’t you? How about your schedule? That scheduling process that most of you know is damn good – is actually costing your suppliers and trades and thus you – a ton of dough. Your bidding process? You know there is no big problem there, but your suppliers, trades and I know differently. We have talked directly with more than 1,600 of them in the past five years and after hearing it about 1,000 times, it becomes hard to deny. And what if I told you about the builder I know that has never once – ever– even when blame is inarguable, submitted a back-charge. You know that is just dumb, not to mention unprofitable, right? What if I tell you this builder is the most profitable one I know in the U.S. or Canada. That one shocked even me. So do you dismiss him as looney? Or do you resolve to learn more?

It is beyond merely disconcerting to challenge, let alone give up long-held beliefs. I have had to give up a few of my own over the last few years. But if you truly want to grow, to do otherwise is to at best limit your potential and however well are doing, you could be doing better. At worst, it might be your death knell.

NOTE: If you have any examples of “knowledge” that stood in your way, I would love to hear them – and I will only write about them with your permission (and if desired, you may remain anonymous.) Please contact me at scott@truen.com

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