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Decision-Making in Lean Construction

Larry BakerOne key practice I’ve learned in my years in the lean construction industry, is to push decision-making down to the lowest level possible. This can be done by effectively evaluating consensus, empowerment, and healthy conflict resolution, all which have a direct impact on productivity for the following reasons:

  • Without consensus, you might have people who do not fully support what they are asked to do. If they have no input, they may question their value to the process or organization.
  • Without empowerment, you might have reluctance, delay, and frustration.
  • Without bringing conflict to the forefront and working to resolve it, you have turmoil and unproductive, draining activities.

Below is a closer look at what qualifies these three decision-making characteristics.

Consensus is a group decision-making process that seeks the consent of all participants. Those making the decisions may not all agree, but they fully support the final decision on how to proceed. When you have consensus, you have “buy in” and believe in the final decision or actions to be taken; you become involved in the decision-making process; you have confidence and can direct others in something you believe in; and you will do your best to make the decision at hand work.

Empowerment gives someone power or authority, which in turn gives them a greater sense of confidence or self-esteem. You cannot just “give” empowerment, you must ensure whoever is empowered is trained and capable of fulfilling their duties.

Smart business leaders empower and equip their front line people to make decisions, then those who make the decisions in turn have confidence they are supported. What a difference “I can take care of that for you” versus “I don’t have the authority, or I will have to talk to my manager” can make.

Conflict Resolution:
Conflict is a disagreement or clash between ideas, principles, or people. To be incompatible, in opposition, or in disagreement defines a conflict. Unresolved conflict ultimately is a bad thing, but it can be good when it is brought out into the open and discussed with an eye toward negotiation, consensus, and resolution; avoiding “the elephant in the room” syndrome.

Superintendents and foremen in our industry have the frontline responsibility for the projects we execute. It is no question they have very significant responsibility, but do they have authority? Are they empowered to make decisions on the tools, materials, methods, personnel, etc. that are critical and integral to the project? Has there been a consensus agreement? It is critical that the project manager and the on-site project leader have consensus agreement on the key aspects of the project.

If you’re in a leadership role and have people reporting to you, or responsibility for executing a project or plan, you want to have a happy and productive work team. You can do your role and provide them with responsibility and authority by gaining consensus on the decisions that directly impact the work they do, and train and empower them with the capability and expectation to make decisions. This will encourage them to surface and effectively resolve conflict.

By evaluating these decision-making characteristics, you and your team members will be more productive and achieve better results, those who work with them will directly benefit from their approach and execution of their job, and they will be better prepared for that next step or promotion in their career… as will you.