Student accommodation blocks now slot together like Lego, housing estates appear in a matter of weeks, and pre-assembled schools are rapidly available with minimal disruption. Innovations like modular building, predictive maintenance and BIM offer the chance to revolutionise the construction sector. But few firms appear ready.

Construction firms continue to run against tight margins. Deadlines are often scrutinised and customer demands are increasing. Management is often so distracted by the day job that they don’t have the headroom to take advantage of big bang innovations. Change is so incremental that, to many outsiders, the sector largely operates as it always has!

If firms are to harness new and more efficient ways of delivering assets, they must first improve their processes - efficient and innovative firms are better able to assume the risk that comes with adopting new approaches. The consequences of doing nothing are clear: young challenger firms and new entrants from abroad are already snapping at Irish constructors’ heels. Unburdened by lethargic operating systems, they have the agility to secure first-mover advantage in the modern and evolving construction space.

How should firms improve their internal processes? Solutions will vary, but ‘lean thinking’ can play a central role. Better known for its success in industries such as manufacturing, automotive and aerospace, lean thinking can be equally applied to construction and infrastructure organisations. It is underpinned by the idea that lean construction is a means to design processes to minimize waste of materials, time, and effort in order to generate the maximum possible amount of value for the customer.

Lean thinking can be applied throughout organisations, from external customer and support functions to operations, design or even commercial applications. It will quickly become an integral part of delivering change – a tool to fully integrate new ways of working, like whole life asset management, BIM and predictive maintenance.

That said, firms should not expect overnight success. Lean construction often requires a cultural shift away from reactive problem solving, to greater empowerment, collaboration and an enhanced focus on the customer. Everyone in the organisation has a role to play, not just those at the front line. RSM can help companies identify and implement lean in a way that is right for their business and goes beyond purely aping the manufacturing setting.

In conjunction with clear leadership and management commitment, lean thinking can help firms take their first steps towards large-scale and sustainable change. Modular building will be usurped by another disruptor in time. Firms need to make sure they are ready to take full advantage of the continuing winds of change.

To learn more about applying lean construction and what you may need to consider, please contact Terry.