Placing an Emphasis on Lean Construction

EMDC and MPM Adjunct Professor Rich Seiler is an expert in lean construction and wants his students to understand the principles that make it so important

The construction industry has evolved in countless ways the past few decades, and adjunct professor Rich Seiler has had a front-row seat. As emphasis on being environmentally-friendly and saving money increases, many developers and building owners are opting for lean Construction — a method to work quickly and efficiently while minimizing costs, materials, and waste. 

Seiler teaches Lean Construction in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Project Management (MPM) program and Master of Science in Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) program, where he educates aspiring industry professionals about the technique. He also works as the chief improvement officer at Unified Works Inc., where he guides owners and contractors on how to construct buildings more efficiently.

Lean Construction is based on five key principles that are all about doing more with less while reducing waste. The course syllabus spells them out: 

  1. Value – Transforming fit, form or function such that the customer is willing to pay
  2. Value Stream – Interdependent processes or actions to deliver value
  3. Flow – Uninterrupted value-added work
  4. Pull – Serve the next step on their demand
  5. Seek Perfection – Endless pursuit of reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes

Seiler covers each principle in-depth, and collectively they have been foundational in his career.

“Understanding what internal and external customers consider valuable is crucial to success,” Seiler said. “As such, comprehending the value streams that make-up their production processes and where the waste hides in these process blocks helps move the needle forward. If teams are able to use a pull system to create predictable and level workflow, you’ll notice that projects improve incrementally and continuously.”

Seiler began his career in construction in 1984, working for several years in roofing, waterproofing, carpentry, and concrete placement before transitioning to studying and utilizing lean construction. 

“Technology has evolved, the availability of skilled labor has decreased, margins are narrowing, and prefabricated homes are increasing in popularity,” said Seiler. “Mostly importantly, lean continues to gain traction, so it is critical to better prepare students by teaching them the lean concept as well as actively exposing them to the industry, both in the field and office or administrator role.

Managers need to understand that those who actually design and/or build are the true value creators, and managers and others are servants to these value creators, he said. They serve their workers by providing resources necessary to complete their work. 

Teaching MPM and EMDC allows Seiler to influence the future of the design and construction industry by educating young professionals in a way that better prepares them for the industry and with a unique set of skill sets even some professionals do not yet possess. When students are hired by local firms, a consistent theme is that they are pleased with the depth of understanding of lean construction the program's students exhibit. 

“It is important for students interested in project management and executive management to study lean construction because it will enable them to bring skills and knowledge to the industry that very few veteran designers or construction professionals have,” Seiler said. “This will give them a unique competitive advantage.”

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