Modularization — a Third Approach to Making Construction Lean?

Sven Bertelsen1

1Sven Bertelsen is a Danish management counsellor within the field of Lean Construction (


Every construction project is characterized by being complex.This complexity causes high variability in the flows and one approach to mange this kind of production is to use situation based management approaches such as Last Planner. However, another approach is to reduce the complexity of the site production by turning the building into a product, which can be manufactured in permanent facilities, where lean production is usable and make the site-work an installation mainly.This is seen in the manufactured home industry. In recent Danish discussions these two approaches has coined these two different approaches ‘the process strategy’ and the ‘product strategy’ respectively. However, a third approach to making construction lean is modularization. By this the complex system is divided into easily manageable and clearly defined functional modules than can be developed, designed, manufactured and installed as small scale projects in an easier to manage assembly construction process. This approach has since IBM’s ground breaking modular development of the 360 series of computers proved a very fruitful route to manage complex product development and manufacturing. Experiences from a full scale Danish development program indicate that the benefits of modularization observed in manufacturing may also be obtainable in certain parts of construction. Looking closer into the development of the construction process reveals that modularization already exists to some extent,but that the potential benefits of this approach have not at all been explored and a few only have looked in detail into the nature of a construction process based on such systems. The paper investigates the process and the product strategies to managing complexity in construction and suggests a third strategy based upon the use of modularization. It proceeds by looking at the IBM360 development process and not least its consequences for the computer industry, and it then presents some ideas on how an approach to modularization in construction may be made.


Modularisation, complexity, prefabrication, manufacturing, management



Bertelsen, S. 2005, 'Modularization — a Third Approach to Making Construction Lean?' In:, 13th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Sydney, Australia, 19-21 Jul 2005. pp 81-88

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