Continuous improvement methods capture broader concepts that can help recognize and systematically solve problems at many levels, from individual tasks or crew coordination to projects-level or processes within a company.
Documentation approach for problem-solving and reporting on project-related critical decisions using the Plan – Do – Check – Adjust. (PDCA) method for continuous improvement.
Value Stream Mapping
Mapping the process by including value and non-value add work activities to identify areas of improvement in the delivery process.
Means “Going to the work” or walking the job site where the actual work is done to identify waste elimination opportunities.
Problem solving technique to determine root casue by diving deeper into the “why” five times.
Continuous Improvement at Baker Concrete
Lean implementation as an “ongoing” process, meaning it requires buy-in and attention from all employees. This mindset, rather than considering it as a one-time adoption, results in putting high emphasis on the “Continuous Improvement” nature at the heart of lean adoption.
This aspect was highlighted by different personnel at Baker Concrete, demonstrating that continuous improvement is embedded in their mindset and their culture. This allows continuous improvement to be easily grounded in how Baker does business, treats people, analyzes its operations, and achieves company goals.
PDCA Method (A3 Thinking)
Baker Concrete employs metrics to track and analyze its performance in different areas including quality control, safety, schedule, and efficiency of craft. The massive use of data analysis is one of the remarkable aspects of Baker’s lean journey, indicating that they focus on the entirety circle of the PDCA cycle by constantly checking and adjusting their processes and seeking improvements on a continuous basis.
As an illustration, Baker has initiated an Opportunity for Improvement (OFI) program, in which each employee is asked to report an issue through an app that all employees have on their phone. The program allows Baker to surface their problems, evaluate them, and provide solutions. They find this method helpful for proactively identifying changing needs across company operations for avoiding problems or developing new best practices.
Baker’s efforts to improve build upon a well-defined standard of work that defines consistent approaches, resources, agendas, or other processes that could be easily ported across projects. They have standard agendas for their start-up meetings, along with checklists for their core procedures to ensure all key topics are touched on related to daily planning, constraints, Lean thinking, and safety.
Weekly work planning documents are standardized to keep them simple but structured to align with budget and material planning needs. Even the visuals used to track Last Planner, material needs, and production tracking are standard across projects so any new personnel can walk in and quickly assess the project status.
In conclusion, Baker applies standardization in many aspects of their planning to control their production more effectively. At the same time, they emphasize finding ways to continuously improve their current standardized work.
After some years of standardizing their operation and seeking continuous improvement, Baker developed the upgraded version of their operational model, “Baker 3.0”. This model, which was developed through continuous iterative reviews and consensus building using the PDCA process, helped them refine and document standard operating procedures to ensure each step of their process is conducted in the “best way.”
In addition to creating the ‘instruction manual,’ the model includes an evaluation stage to audit their operation to ensure their processes and core values are being implemented properly through re-visiting, checking, analyzing, and implementing it (PDCA). This model is reviewed and updated continuously, ranging from once a quarter to once a year, depending on the process.
Baker crafted this model for defining and communicating their approach for their operations. The ability to continuously improve must build upon a well-defined baseline or standard operation. The model captures core principles, methods, and processes they have found to be consistently valuable in their Lean implementation.
Executing the PDCA Process
Based on the PDCA process of continuous improvement through the lifecycle of a project, the operations are approached through four phases: Plan, Execute, Evaluate, and Adjust.
The Plan phase characterizes and establishes the standards that support their operations. In the Execution phase, the model highlights the standard procedures for performing each process or procedure, such as the weekly planning process to provide an overview of the project in the next two weeks. By employing visuals, they simplify the standard processes to overcome any confusion or misunderstanding regarding daily activities.
In addition to bringing consistency and connection between teams through standardization, the documented processes help them turn their best practices into the company’s standard practice.
Through the evaluation phase, they measure each department’s performance against the established targets. In the Adjust phase, they document their after-action reports on performance, metrics such as labor per CY to develop a database for their future analysis of bids and planning. It includes financial, schedule-related, quality, and safety data for historical analysis. They also document the output of OFI as the “Best Practice Library” to accept and adopt them as new standards across the country.
By defining key processes in their Baker 3.0 Operational Model, Baker has established a platform to adopt their best practices as standard operations. Through this standardization, they are able to embody their core values in their standards and processes.
However, while using standard boards and processes acts as a company-wide guideline, their main goal is to balance autonomy and standardization. Rather than limiting employee innovation and creativity, they make the work procedures routine. To ensure guidelines are properly aligned with their tasks and values, they review them based on feedback from users and add their insights to apply adjustments as needed. This can be considered an example of the “respect for people” principle to move towards continuous improvement.
Another interesting feature of Baker’s Lean journey is that the Lean operations within Baker Concrete are not led by a specific Lean department or Lean director but rather by having a Lean mindset and related principles in their company. These are embedded in every aspect of their job. Under this mindset, it can be argued that Baker tries to educate and mentor all employees as Lean champions: “everyone is empowered to pursue continuous improvement.”