LEAN via Spaghetti, Skewers, and Straws

Lean construction practices have had us curious here at Conspectus for a while now.  There are so many cool terms and intriguing graphics that are incredibly synonymous to how we view the process in which we manage decisions through specifications. In search for applications between the two, in the dawn of virtual meetings, I began to 'Zoom' into CoP's around the country, including Chicago and Ohio. I have met incredible people, but I continue to be hungry to fully understand how, why and even if the LCI practices are truly aligned with our approach. I received an invitation to a Mid-Atlantic Community of Practice in-person event, discussing Target Value Delivery (TVD),  with a simulation exercise that included spaghetti and marshmallows, at a brewery no less. Awesome! 

It was like old times being in person, and in this case, meeting new people.  The social vibe was great, and when the leadership began the education and introduction to TVD and associated phrases, once again it was obvious that these were our people.   As an industry liaison, I often see a cross-section of professionals at meetings from every areas of the AECO community.  However, at LCI, the majority were contractors. This makes sense since it is lean CONSTRUCTION institute. But they even know that they are only part of the project team, and it is critical to get designers and owners on board with Lean practices at the beginning of the project.  This is often discussed in multiple CoPs.  It was obvious to me that the contractor is the master chef in the kitchen, providing ways to improve each "dish" sourcing the best ingredients, in a timely fashion, hitting the right price point, with lean practices.  

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Case in point revealed itself through the simulation - 

We were put into project teams with 6 members: owner, architect, estimator, trade partner, GC and supplier.  

Given Materials: 3 sheets of blank paper, 3 pencils, 10 bamboo skewers, 10 raw spaghetti noddles, 8 Q-tips, 8 straws with bend, 3 foot piece of masking tape, material list for estimating, and 1 marshmallow.  

Exercise 1: The owner and architect worked together to design a tower that was a 10" square base and must have a marshmallow at the top.  They could procure the drawings and hand it off the construction team to review and provide RFIs if necessary.  Documents were revised and returned for construction.  The construction team them built the tower based on the drawings and specs/notes. Each phase was given a time limit. 

Results: There were lots of questions, as to why some of the details were created.  As a result, the installer changed a detail in order to make it constructible. There was quite a few assumptions, and a bit of frustration, but a lot of teasing the owner and architect. The cost was calculated by the estimator and was on the high end. However, we did come in ahead of schedule. 

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Exercise 2: All of the project team members began the design process together.  The requirements was to create a tower with a 10 inch base, at least 2 feet high, and the marshmallow at the top must be within 2 inches plumb. Immediately the team identified the project requirements, began problem-solving together through discussions and ideas, simulations to sketches and notes. Modifications to the original design happened collaboratively:

  • The estimator identified the most expensive material (the Q-Tip), and we successful removed it as a detail from the project.
  • The architect asked the contractor team if a specific detail would work, eliminating assumptions, and ended up saving on cost.
  • The contractor team worked through ideas and details.
  • The owner approved and validated the ideas. He contributed to design solution and detailing as well. 

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Result: We completed the project way ahead of schedule, therefore receiving a credit. We were the lowest cost, under the budget, and successfully accomplished the project requirements. It was the best looking skewer, spaghetti, straw, tape and marshmallow tower, if I do say so myself. 

Most importantly, it was incredibly fun. Because why would we work in this industry if we don't truly enjoy it? It was enjoyable because we worked together, listened to one another, respected one another's ideas but weren't afraid to improve upon each idea. 

It confirmed that the Conspectus approach is parallel to lean practices.  Although we don't use specific lean terms, we completely understand what they mean.  So when we are invited to a lean project, by the contractor, we will completely understand the language and contribute significantly to the solution. 

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