As published in Banker & Tradesman:

Lean: the constant pursuit of maximizing value and eliminating waste from the design and construction process.


Two years ago, Shawmut Design and Construction embarked on a Lean journey, at first dabbling in Lean tools and then experimenting with Lean on select projects. Today, Lean is no longer just an experiment, it’s an integral part of our success.

The alignment between Shawmut’s existing culture and the Lean philosophy was quickly apparent. Our client-centric and collaborative culture was fertile ground for the Lean principles of maximizing efficiencies for the team while realizing significant cost savings for the client.

An employee-owned (ESOP) company, such as Shawmut, provides an exceptional organizational setting for integrating Lean philosophies. Each employee is empowered to act and think like an owner, and is, therefore, already incentivized to find improvements. By applying Lean thinking, the company is creating systems and processes that have built-in tests to identify problems for immediate response. Examples include: the preconstruction process, opportunity management, and the billing and invoicing process (Lean has helped Shawmut significantly reduce the time it takes to process our subcontractor invoices—a huge competitive advantage). At the project level, the teams have always partnered with architects, engineers, and subcontractors to collaborate on design and planning efforts. Asking those same teams to collaborate with and engage subcontractors on the last-planner system, or designers on target-value design is not a large departure. 

Initially, our Lean focus was on projects, but as many other firms have similarly found, that was a mistake. It is your people, not just the projects, that hold the key to Lean’s success. Shawmut quickly changed its focus to our project teams, looking specifically for early adopters who would embrace Lean and encourage others to join them.

A Lean think tank was also created to help evaluate project teams, providing an alternate feedback loop, and sharing knowledge across Lean projects. The group is largely made up of field personnel to help reassure those with concerns about the process and ensure unfiltered feedback on what challenges team members encounter along the way.  

A major milestone for Shawmut’s Lean implementation, and the industry as a whole, is the new School of Engineering project for Brown University with renowned architect Kieran Timberlake. The $90 million Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) project is notable for two reasons: First, IPD has rarely been attempted in an academic setting with a signature architect. Second, under an IPD contract, the project takes collaboration to a completely different level, where subcontractors and consultants all place their profits at risk and subject them to the outcome of the entire project instead of their specific scope. This, alone, has helped shape some of the project’s most innovative and collaborative solutions, including strategies around prefabrication of work, quality control and safety built into the design, and building flexibility in spaces whose future occupants are not yet known.

Ultimately, the Lean process has resulted in reduced cost by understanding what is truly important to the client. We review cost implications with the client at the time of design, so cost always educates the design and not vice versa. For example, is a redundant HVAC system more important than an increased lab fit-out budget? Using Lean, the client can make an informed decision, based on schedule, budget, and needs, before construction begins.

The Brown project team has proven that it is possible to add value while reducing cost at the same time. This project has yielded tremendous results, and the benefits of this level of collaboration are undeniable. Shawmut has taken concepts and techniques developed on this project and incorporated them into other projects across the organization, including internal operations.

Implementing Lean thinking into projects has allowed Shawmut to better manage commitments, reduce variations, and provide innovative solutions to challenges. This, in turn, has dramatically improved the certainty of outcome that our clients have come to expect from Shawmut.

By Joubin Hassanein, Project Executive, Shawmut Design and Construction