The argument for understanding Lean construction as a socio-technical field is growing and the need to better consider the role of human beings within construction systems is becoming the dominant factor in project success. Many current attributes of lean already focus on people and on human engagement approaches but the field of lean construction addresses project environments that are often complex and highly variable. The authors argue that the successful delivery of these projects relies on the creation of a common understanding of the project objectives within the diverse value systems of project participants and wider society. Additionally, many of the new ways of working that lean thinking brings already support the creation of a common understanding and could be harnessed to better effect. Based on a literature review and supported by case study examples the authors explore the nature of knowledge and understanding and position them within an eight flow model for construction production. The findings indicate a need to reconsider the development of a common understand for each project due to the tacit nature of experiential knowledge held within the project team and the specificity and complexity of the project environment. As a result effort is required to generate and maintain a common understanding throughout the project duration. The continued attention and action required to maintain this common understanding elevates it to a flow of equal status to those identified in Koskela’s flow production model thus increasing the number of flows to eight. A significant lean construction case study is revisited and examined to identify interventions undertaken to achieve this generation and management of common understanding thus demonstrating that this development already exists, albeit intuitively, as an element of “lean thinking”.
Lean construction, flow, complexity, systems, understanding, value, theory, knowledge.