By: Nicole Imeson 

Around the world, people from all industries — including design and construction — employ Lean techniques to expedite projects, enhance delivery, and stay within budget. By dismantling traditional workflow silos and promoting effective collaboration and communication among neighboring scope performers, the project progresses more smoothly, thus resulting in fewer cost overruns, changes, or rework. Although the root concepts of Lean trace back to Venice in the 1450s, Henry Ford, W. Edwards Deming, and Toyota pioneered the modern Lean process in the manufacturing sector. They concentrated on eliminating waste to streamline production, delivering faster and cheaper products without compromising quality. In the 1990s, lean manufacturing principles firmly established their presence in the construction industry. 

The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed the rise of commissioning as building systems grew in complexity and design and trade disciplines began to overlap. One project team member can no longer grasp all the complexity and interconnections as the project unfolds. Lean aims to enhance workflow, create value, and eliminate waste, while commissioning strives to enhance and validate building assembly and system performance. Lean and commissioning share the goal of adding value to a project and enabling some alignment in how these goals are achieved. Lean employs six tenets to connect work silos: respecting people, optimizing the whole, eliminating waste, generating value, focusing on flow, and continuously improving. Commissioning providers can integrate various Lean principles into any project, whether Lean or otherwise, to enhance project delivery to clients. 

Culture of Respect 
The Lean process focuses on respecting people, extending beyond mere greetings in corridors or holding open doors. It involves valuing the skill sets of all team members, regardless of the size of their roles or scopes, and actively engaging them in the overall project. Respect nurtures trust as well as enhances communication and collaboration between team members to create a sense of camaraderie.  

Trade partners (the more respectful name for subcontractors) possess expertise in their skill sets and understand how to perform their tasks more efficiently, but they often face constraints imposed by contract documents, leading to the neglect of their ideas. What if, instead of assuming how to approach the work, the team actively solicited input from the trades on the best way to tackle the project scope? Trade partners not only provide valuable advice to enhance the overall project, but if the team implements their suggestions, trade partners are likely to contribute more ideas. Kurt Neubek, a principal, senior director, and Lean advocate at Page (Page Sutherland Page Inc.) in Houston, Texas, explains, "Respect for people means asking the person doing the installation how much time they need. They know how to install it better than anybody else. If they say they need three days or three weeks, that's what we're going to budget." 

In commissioning, it is important to consider everyone on the project as your ally. Cultivating an atmosphere where you ask questions, listen to the answers, and strive to implement them whenever feasible will significantly enhance the project workflow. Additionally, communicating with the general contractor regarding commissioning's goals, the value it contributes to the project, and the prerequisites for success — rather than presuming they have this mindset — will facilitate a better understanding of the process and more effective integration of commissioning into the project workflow. 

Optimize the Whole 
Lean aims to dismantle the silos of traditional workflows and unite overlapping scopes to promote collaboration and communication. With their comprehensive perspective on various scopes of work from project inception to operations, the commissioning provider is the ideal candidate to aid the project team in optimizing the whole. Serving as an advocate for the owner's project objectives and leveraging their experience with the operations teams, the commissioning provider occupies a distinct position to provide feedback to the design team and streamline the process without compromising performance, objectives, or efficiencies. 

Eliminate Waste & Generate Value 
Neubek explains, " Lean is also not about making it cheap; it's about increasing value and reducing waste. Waste is whatever the owner doesn't see value in." The project team contributes value by eliminating waste, encompassing needless waste and items the owner doesn't want. The Lean Construction Institute has pinpointed eight distinct types of waste that occur on every project: over/under production, waiting, unnecessary transportation, over/under processing, excess inventory, unnecessary motion, defects, and unused creativity of team members. 

The commissioning provider can significantly diminish waste and rework for the team by identifying defects or uncoordinated items early in the design or rough-in stages. While streamlining workflows is the primary focus of the Lean process, it does not prioritize system performance validation and may not possess all the mechanisms required to identify every defect in the way commissioning does. Neubek pointed out, "If a defect occurs relatively early in a project, everything else builds on this defect. If you don't find out until later that it was defective, then trying to inspect quality in the end is wasteful. It's better to find out early on in a project." 

Flow concentrates on mitigating one of the eight types of waste: waiting. While commissioning providers may encounter or undergo each waste type on every project, waiting is likely the most common. Failure to collaborate with trade partners and failure to appreciate the value of commissioning can lead to wasted site visits, prolonged waiting for others, rework stemming from failed tests, and increased costs due to inefficient use of time. 
In construction, time is money, signifying that every minute squandered on incomplete work represents unrecoverable project costs. Through respecting people and optimizing the whole, Lean practitioners consider the necessary steps for completing each task and everyone's role in those steps, fostering enhanced communication, scheduling, and ensuring parties are promptly informed when workflow disruptions occur. 

Continuous Improvement 
In an amalgamation of all the previous tenets, Lean practitioners apply the knowledge they've gained from respecting the team, reducing waste, adding value, and improving flow to advance the construction process. Ideally, these changes are progressively integrated in real-time over the project's duration. Lean and commissioning share the common goal of adding value to projects. The synergy between Lean and commissioning, rooted in principles like respect, waste elimination, and continuous improvement, offers a holistic approach to project delivery, maximizing efficiency and value.