Document Detail

Title: RS191-1 - Lean Principles in Construction
Publication Date: 10/1/2005
Product Type: Research Summary
Status: Tool
Pages: 32
Examines the potential use of lean principles in manufacturing for adapting into the engineering and construction industry. Presents five principles and more than 30 sub-principles for construction that can be applied now and potentially improve all elements of the industry, including safety, cost, schedule, and quality.
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The development and application of lean principles in manufacturing have had a dramatic impact in that industry on product costs, capital requirements, quality, cycle times, inventory, and space needs. The construction industry, where significant waste can be identified in the processes of designing and constructing facilities, could perhaps reap similar rewards if the lean principles similar to those in manufacturing could be applied. Major differences exist in the two industries, but construction’s processes could no doubt be improved.

CII began an investigation into this problem by forming the Lean Principles in Construction Project Team (PT191). The mission of PT191 was to examine the potential use of lean principles that were developed in the manufacturing industry for adaptation and use in the construction industry. As part of its investigation, the project team had the objectives of determining if the lean principles as defined in manufacturing can be applied to the construction industry, and if not, are there other principles that are more appropriate for construction?

The team began by defining lean construction as: “the continuous process of eliminating waste, meeting or exceeding all customer requirements, focusing on the entire value stream, and pursuing perfection in the execution of a constructed project.”

The project team’s most significant finding was the large amount of waste activities (defined as anything that takes time, resources or space but does not add value to the product or service delivered to the customer) in construction as compared to manufacturing. The research determined that only 10 percent of field construction activities add value (according to lean manufacturing standards).

PT191 interviewed lean manufacturers, early adopters of lean construction methods, and academics and theorists from around the world. Using all of this information led to the identification of five lean construction principles:

  • Customer focus
  • Culture and people
  • Workplace organization and standardization
  • Elimination of waste
  • Continuous improvement and built-in quality
These principles and numerous sub-principles that were arrived at through team member analysis and discussion can significantly benefit both owners and contractors. They are described in this publication.


Although PT191 could not identify anyone who has been successful in applying the lean theory to the entire engineer-procure-construct (EPC) process, it believes that a huge opportunity for improvement exists in the industry through the application of the lean construction principles. Those principles and the research that was the foundation for their development are summarized in the following pages.