09 July 2020

Interview-Narayan Neelkanteswaran (Capacite)

Lean mantra


One critical aspect to be ensured in the systems and processes of the construction industry is lean business practices, feels NARAYAN NEELAKANTESWARAN


Skill, scale and speed required to benefit from the rapid expansion of the construction sector in the coming years can only be realised if the contracting firms change their orientation from being personality driven to be system driven. Systems per se cannot replace people but they ought to complement each other. One critical aspect to be ensured in implementation of systems and processes is being lean, in business practice. Many infrastructure companies had bloated when the PPP projects were launched, accumulating huge waste in the process, only to fall on hard times subsequently. For sustainable growth of an organisation, lean principles are essential and inevitable.
Lean construction aims to meet the value proposition for the customer, at minimum cost.


The expenditure of resources in any aspect other than the direct creation of value for the end customer is wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. In this context, at the development stage itself, it is essential to define the project objective and specify the content, sequence, timing and outcome of the component activities, resource requirements and acceptance criteria. In doing so, wasteful addition is to be excluded. It is best to firm up the design and drawings in advance of commencing the construction works, so as to avoid delays and the associated waste of time and resources. Equally important is the need to ensure constructability, speed and ease thereof, in terms of resource requirements – be it men, machinery or formwork.  In the construction process, waste is any activity that consumes time, resources, or space but does not add any value to the product or service. It is necessary to avoid wastage of resources in the form of:

  • Unnecessary movement / transport
  • Piling up of inventory
  • Idling for want of work / waiting for other resources
  • Overwork / over-consumption / over-deployment
  • Repairs / rectifications / rework


Thus, the focus during construction is on minimising cycle time, minimising inventory, minimising resource deployment, maximising productivity, maximising resource utilisation and avoiding wasteful expenditure. In addition, the approach in lean construction is to make the work flow reliable. The project is structured and managed as a value generating chain of processes. A six week rolling programme details the look ahead schedule, seeking to establish reliability of actual progress with respect to the same, even as it seeks to bridge any gap between the master construction schedule requirement with the progress to date. 


In this context, it is essential to:

  • Focus on project goals, considering contract and delay cost
  • Select key processes considering critical path & resources
  • Map the value stream of key processes on as-is basis
  • Decide the future state map of key processes, cutting waste
  • Plan, communicate and implement the shift from as-is to desired


This entails an Efficiency – Effectiveness - Empowerment drive to:

  1. Reduce
    • cycle times,
    • work in progress / inventory
    • material waste/scrap
  2. Improve
    • productivity,
    • earned value
    • key performance indicators
  3. Standardise processes, sustainable improvements and training


Most importantly, the conversion of theory into practice is crucial for the lean construction practice to succeed. Hence the thrust is on “Plan – Communicate – Implement”.

Perseverance is key to sustain and carry forward the lean construction practice, as one tends to give up after an initial hype. There is a tendency to shy away from making waste visible. This is where leadership comes into fore, goading all into compliance, looking at the overall organisational interest in the long term. Lean construction by a contractor actually benefits the developer and hence it makes sense for the concept to be imbibed by the developer as well as the designer and the consultant forming part of the project team. Lean design creates even more value for the developer.

It therefore acts as a catalyst in alliance form of contracting where everyone works towards a common goal, with shared values and interests.  More and more companies are now looking up to lean construction practice to cut waste in the process of value creation for their customers. This is good news for the capacity building of the nation as a whole.


 –The author is Executive Director (Operations), Capacit’e Infraprojects.


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