Improving the Project Closeout Process Using Lean Construction Principles

Damian Torres| February 26, 2020

Once the closeout process typically begins on a project, the amount of work left to perform is a small portion of the overall contract value. 

Yet completing the closeout process takes a disproportionately long time. So on most projects, closeouts are a very poor use of everybody’s time.

The causes of this inefficiency are varied, from insufficient staffing and lack of funding to subcontractors failing to submit documents on time.

But the principles of lean construction offer solutions. So in this post, we’ll demonstrate how to use lean construction principles to avoid the common pitfalls of the closeout process.

 

What is Lean Construction and How does it Affect My Closeouts?

Lean is a concept that originated in manufacturing. It’s a system that looks to continuously transform waste into value from the customer’s perspective. To accomplish this, lean focuses on two linked steps:

  1. Continuous elimination of waste.
  2. Creation and flow of value without interruption.

In construction, the main sources of waste that lean attempts to reduce include unnecessary or repetitive transportation, inventory, and processes. Lean also treats waiting and motion as waste that must be removed.

To be clear, by “motion” we mean any work that is done that does not create value. And by “waiting”, we mean the time one project stakeholder spends not working as a result of another project stakeholder not completing their work on time. 

The final source of waste that lean attempt to minimize or remove is product defects. 

When you apply the principles of lean construction to your closeouts, you’ll undoubtedly find all sorts of waste. In fact, we’ve written at length—outside of the context of lean—about the various types of closeout inefficiencies, from misplaced documents to inconsistent file naming.  

 

Identifying and Defining Value in the Closeout Deliverable

So how do you actually improve the closeout process with lean? First, you must define value in the closeout deliverable. 

By that we mean you need to find out exactly what information the owner needs at the end of the project. You also need to know why they need that information. By speaking to owners and understanding their needs, you’ll start to identify what value is to them in the closeout process.

Only then can you actually start removing waste. But more on that later because there’s more work to do to properly identify and define value in the closeout deliverable.

In addition to talking to the owner, you need to bring together the general contractor, architect, engineer, subcontractors, suppliers, and owner. By doing this, for each activity in the closeout process, you can identify the people, labor, information, and materials you’ll need to enable a continuous flow of work.

Remember: lean isn’t just about identifying value, it’s also about figuring out what needs to be done to ensure that value continues to flow with minimal interruption.

The final task of defining value in the closeout deliverable is identifying the medium through which closeout information will be exchanged between project stakeholders and eventually delivered to the owner.

 

Eliminating Waste in the Closeout Process

Eliminating waste is the logical next step after identifying value. Once you’ve identified value by collaborating with all project stakeholders and understanding the owner’s expectations, you know what’s wasteful and what’s valuable.

While the exact manner in which waste is eliminated in the closeout process varies by project, the concepts are universal. For example, you should be aiming to:

  • Eliminate unnecessary information from the closeout package.
  • Coordinate timing and medium of subcontractor information submission.
  • Establish naming conventions for information.
  • Identify project dependencies
  • Facilitate cross-discipline communication.

 

Continuous Improvement

There will never be a point at which you reach absolute perfection, whether it’s in the closeout process or the entire project lifecycle. The unique nature of every individual construction project makes that impossible. 

But, you can continuously get better. So the final component of lean is the principle of continuous improvement. Those who use lean construction principles recognize that the improvement process is never-ending.

This is why it’s important to have in-person discussions to talk about lessons learned on every project. Also, you should be seeking opportunities for improvement not just for future projects after the fact, but also during the current project.

 

Technology to Support the Process

Taking the concepts of lean a step further, you can also use lean as a framework to select technology to support your closeout processes.

For example, with ARC’s technology, you can improve searchability as well as document organization. Just these two improvements eliminate wasteful processes such as searching for documents or trying to sort through various versions of the same document.

Of course, our technology can fit in and support your application of lean construction principles to the closeout process in many more ways. To learn how, learn more about our Construction Project Closeout solution.