The Journey of Lean Construction Theory Review and Reinterpretation

Nelson Biton1 & Gregory Howell2

1Nelson Biton, Project Manager, Searlbridge Joint Venture, at Unki Mine, an Anglo American company, Zimbabwe. [email protected]
2Lean Construction Institute, United States of America, [email protected]


The theory supporting Lean Construction has been developing since the early 1990s. The result is a set of conceptual foundations, fundamental principles, basic practices and a more or less common vocabulary. These developments challenge the foundations, principles and practices of traditional project management. The lack of a coherent underlying theory of traditional project management in three areas has led to the current problems in the construction industry. Lean Construction is an innovation that was provoked by the inability of traditional practice to solve a set of common and repeating problems on projects. Lean Construction has evolved and developed from Koskela’s seminal work. He proposed a coherent theory that applied concepts and practices from Toyota Production System. This paper traces the journey of Lean Construction theory from its inception by drawing on the work of leading thinkers such as Koskela, Ballard, and Bertelsen and then looks forward to the emerging field of complexity theory and its relationship to projects. The aim here is to explain key developments in theory of Lean Construction and where it is headed.


Lean Construction theory, complex systems, project management, and Cynefin framework.



Biton, N. & Howell, G. 2013. The Journey of Lean Construction Theory Review and Reinterpretation, 21th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , 125-132.

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