How Do You Understand Lean?

Maila E. Herrala1, Aki Pekuri2 & Aki Aapaoja3

1Post-doctoral research fellow, [email protected]
2Ph.D. student, [email protected]
3Ph.D. student, [email protected]


The critical starting point for lean thinking is value. All process improvement actions should focus on eliminating steps in the value stream that do not create value and make the value-creating steps flow smoothly toward the customer. This research reviews how Californian construction industry professionals understand lean and how these views correlate with the basic principles of lean. Research results are based on semi-structured interviews conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area (California, U.S.), where lean management practices have been applied in dozens of large and small construction projects. According to the interview data, there are three prevailing understandings of lean—eliminating waste, improving efficiency and implementing tools. This shows a limited understanding of lean as a value creation process that may hinder system-wide performance improvements and jeopardize the sustainability of lean transformation. By focusing more on providing customer value, companies could differentiate themselves, gain competitive advantage and increase profits.


benefit realization, culture, implementation, lean construction, mind-set, transformation, value



Herrala, M. E. , Pekuri, A. & Aapaoja, A. 2012. How Do You Understand Lean?, 20th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , -.

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