The Lean Builder

The Lean Builder

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.

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.

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.


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