Video Transcriptions

Tell us a little about yourself

I am David MacKay and I am with PCL Construction. I am the learning and production manager for our California buildings district. I have been with PCL for 16 years. Most of that time I was the scheduling manager in California buildings. As learning and production manager, I am basically the Lean guy. The main route that came into that was from the Last Planner®® system. As a scheduler, I would get so frustrated because week after week I would see undone activities and we just keep pushing them. People would want to mark up their schedules “Not Started”. The Last Planner®® system was God’s gift to construction. I totally embraced it and have done everything I can to make it the way we do work in our district.


What is Lean construction?

Lean is an operation strategy that emphasizes flow efficiency over resource efficiency. There is nothing wrong with resource efficiency. We want to be efficient with our people and equipment.

Think of Lean construction like a canoe trip; as you go through a building process, it is like going down the river. We want that work to go smoothly. We don’t want to hit rocks or have the canoe going this way and that way. The canoe is the thing we really want to focus on. There is a lot of us in the canoe – general contractor, trade partners, architects. If you have a group of people in a canoe, and they just get in there and start paddling, the canoe is going all over the place. That’s been the core problem in construction – we are very fragmented.  What we are trying to do is bring people together to focus on getting the canoe, the building process, down the river smoothly by working together in our labor and equipment. When we apply Lean – by doing that together – as a team, everybody benefits.




Who is David MacKay and what is Lean construction?
  • David MacKay has been with PCL for 16 years and is the Lean guy.
  • The Last Planner®® system was God’s gift to construction.
  • Lean is an operation strategy that focuses on flow over resource efficiency.
  • When we apply Lean as a team, everyone benefits.
How far along are we on the Lean journey?

We are like trying to push the canoe into the water right now. The more that we learn about Lean, the more we realize we have to grow. I think that it would be a mistake to get discouraged or argue about “Oh it is only three”. What we do want to focus on is the progress we have made and the potential for more progress.


How do you encourage people to change?

Until everybody sees the benefit, they are not going to change. One of the best ways to see the benefit is to experience it. That is why most of us get into Lean. We are on a project that is trying to do things and we start to feel something we have never felt before. We start to feel flow on the job. We sense the cooperation that we don’t usually experience on projects. We realized that by building some trusts and recognizing the value of working together as a team that we all benefit. Sometimes the other guy benefits a little more than me but overall we all benefit.


We are so trained to think that “If I just work faster, I will make more money.” That is not what Lean thinking is about. Lean construction is about identifying and eliminating waste that is so prevalent yet most of us don’t see it. The moment we start seeing the waste, then we have no problem with working Lean. When the light bulb goes on we become hooked on Lean and we’re willing to give up ourselves for others because we know in the end everybody benefits.




How far along are we on our Lean journey and how does this change happen?
  • We are just getting our feet wet right now.
  • People change by experiencing the benefits of Lean for themselves.
  • When that light bulb goes on we become hooked on Lean.

Embrace Lean thinking. Get educated in it so that you personally understand Lean. Don’t just delegate it out to your field people. There’s two major areas you are going to benefit from it – on the job site and within your organization. There are so many things you can do independent of what is happening on the job with your own internal processes to eliminate waste, make workflow be more efficient and profitable in your operations. Out on the job site we make that decision of doing Lean construction whether others do it or not because we know it is to our benefit in the long run and hopefully influence our industry. The more efficient we can be as an industry, the more sustainable it is and ultimately the more profitable too.


What does your onboarding process look like?

Remember we are only around 3% towards this. I wouldn’t say that we are consistent ourselves with this yet but other than having a quality and safety mindset, we train to the Last Planner®® system and 5S system. We are happy to invest our time not just with the PCL people on the job site but with our trade partners to help them understand not only the methods that we are using but the underlying reasons for them so that we can all experience the benefits together. We think the investments in the training more than pays off on the project.




What advice do you have for trade partners?
  • Do not delegate Lean to others, embrace it for yourself.
  • By eliminating waste and making your processes flow you can benefit personally from Lean.
  • Other than having a quality and safety mindset, we train to the Last Planner®® and 5S System.

I you want to be ready, the best place to start is by learning and understanding the 5S System. It is probably the easiest gateway into Lean. There is this book titled “2 Second Lean” which is about the experience of a small business owner.

We now apply the 5S System in California buildings as well as every subcontract we have. We make sure they also apply the 5S System – Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. 5S System represents a whole way of thinking. It is different than what we have accepted in the business before. We don’t drop trash all over the place, we don’t deliver all our rebar or all our duct out to the site to pile up and be in the way. We bring materials when we are ready for it and get it off when we are done. When we generate trash it goes straight into the bin. In fact, we try to minimize the amount of trash. We try to keep things mobile so we can move them around the site. Working on a site like that you are going to immediately experience the benefits of increased productivity. The best way you can prepare is learn yourself all you can about Lean thinking.




Where do trade partners start on their Lean journey?
  • Start by learning the 5S System because it is the easiest gateway to cross towards becoming Lean.
  • 5S represents a whole new way of thinking and working.
  • Doing things like making everything mobile allows you to minimize waste.
Give us one success and one challenge on you last project.

One example is the very large airport expansion project that we are currently working on. From the very beginning we want to drive Lean thinking and practice it into this project. We spent a lot of time during the early stages in design starting to build that up on the project.

One of the big successes I feel that we have had out there is putting the Last Planner®® system into practice. We have currently 10 different teams out there. They have their planning boards. They have their own times to meet. Actually, it is a little challenge for our trade partners because the ones that have tried to stretch their foreman too thin are running around from planning-meeting to planning-meeting. What it has done is even on such a large project those little teams of sticky notes are keeping teams focused on their important milestone, on working together, collaborating towards those milestones and experiencing the benefits.

One challenge is to sustain this new way of thinking that we are not accustomed to. We have watched the team struggle over time. Things have kind of taken a little deep down and recently things are coming back up. The 5S System pushed the team back up to a more energized approach to Lean.




Give us one success and one challenge on your last project.
  • One big success was putting the Last Planner®® system into practice.
  • One challenge is to sustain this new way of thinking. The 5S System has helped us do this.

We don’t set a lot of rules. We have guidelines and we show visual examples like different job sites, more dirt, others are a TI; and so they are very different conditions.

One job that is building a multi-cinema inside an existing shopping mall downtown. One of the thing we emphasize is just-in-time delivery. In fact, PCL and a lot of contractors use the three phrases: just in time, nothing hits the ground, and everything on wheels. “Just in time” is very difficult for them because they have limited windows of delivery. They are being creative and using the principle as best as they can in their situation whereas other job sites are wide open and they can bring trucks in multiple times through the day.

We showed them the visual examples of what “nothing hits the ground” job site looks like. One slide shows a job site that is a disaster and the other looks pretty good. The second one is actually a lift with a Gatorade bottle, a pen and a nail laying on the ground. Most people go “Oh well that one shines.” What we are really trying to get across is neither of them shines. The type of thinking we are wanting to bring to the job site is “Why would you tolerate a bottle laying on the ground? What value does that bring?” We need to change our thinking. Again, we show examples and let the teams be creative.




What else do we need to know about the 5S system?
  • Don’t have rules, have guidelines instead and show examples.
  • The 3 guidelines are: just in time, nothing hits the ground, and everything on wheels.

One of the key things about 5S that differentiates it from other Lean tools is that it reaches right out into the field and affects every worker right at the face of the work. You take like the Last Planner®® system. Yes, they are going to ultimately experience the benefits but it is really the team in the trailer, the foreman whereas 5S they are all part of it. They are practicing it. They are living it every day. For example, you have a job site with 200 people. It’s not just 20 who are affected. All 200 of them are brought right into Lean thinking.


Do you think 5S can be used by everyone to start their journey?

Absolutely. I was on a job site and one of our trade partners was very serious about using Lean practice in their work. They recently had some training and I am standing and looking at their planning board. One of the guys, Efren, comes up behind me and he starts telling me about 5S. It is not too often that your guy in the field is going to come up to the guy in the khakis and start talking about 5S. Efren is passionately telling me all about how they learn about “nothing hits the ground”, and how they practice 5S in the field. 5S allows everyone to engage, have a common language and become passionate about improvement. That is the power of bringing such a simple tool like 5S into the field.




Going back to the basics such as 5S is important, why?

The team is engaged with 5S every day, they are living and practicing it.

5S allows everyone to have a common language and become passionate about improvement.

Yeah, I do. What is going to get them passionate is that “aha” moment, that light bulb going on and recognizing the potential of what Lean can do. Once you get someone who is passionate about something, they are self-motivated. They start looking for ways to improve their own work, they start encouraging, they start rubbing off on the people around them and that is where you really start to head towards a culture change.




Do you think people need to become passionate about Lean to transfer that excitement to others?
  • Yes, being passionate means that you are self motivated and that becomes contagious.