By Brent Darnell

Lean Project Delivery and Last Planner System are big trends in the construction industry. Lean uses a collaborative approach to projects that eliminates waste, focuses on adding value, and continuous improving.

Continuous Improvement And Respect For People

The two pillars of lean are continuous improvement and respect for people. As an industry, and as technical people, we focus on the process as well as the continuous improvement aspect of lean, but we don’t put enough emphasis on the “Respect for People” component.

Rich Seiler, my partner in crime for lean (and in my opinion one of the best pull planners in the country), talks about an inverted triangle where the craft workers are at the top and the executives are at the bottom. The craft people should be the most important people on the project, since they create most of the value, but we don’t treat them that way.

We always ask groups: Do you respect your trade partners?

They all say YES!

Then we ask if they would sign the trade partner’s contract and we usually get nervous laughter or HELL NO! We must change this if we want to practice Lean successfully.  

This change that includes respect for people can begin with Owners.  Owners are the ones who can help establish a culture of lean, therefore helping shine a light on the “respect for people” aspect in all that you do. Owners can drive this change in the industry which as a result leads to continuous improvement within the industry.  

The People Dimension

Lean is getting a lot of attention. There are incredible success stories, as well as stories where unmitigated disasters have implemented Last Planner and the Lean model to recover. So what is the secret sauce? What contributes to success as opposed to failure? I believe that the people dimension of this process is a critical factor to its success.

Take a look at the typical emotional profile for a large group of folks (over 500) who manage the construction process:

As you can see, the relatively high scores are self-regard, independence, assertiveness, stress tolerance, and reality testing (black/white thinkers). The relatively low scores are impulse control, flexibility, emotional self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility (the ability to work in groups and teams).

This is a bell curve distribution, so 100 is the mean. Let’s put it this way: This group of construction managers couldn’t get any of the interpersonal skills to the mean. That means that all of the interpersonal skills in this sample of construction professionals are BELOW AVERAGE!

This does not bode well for collaborative project delivery methods such as Lean. In order for Lean to be successful, we must address these emotional competencies first. Then, we must cultivate the relationships and create trust. Then, and only then, can we properly plan the project.

We do a lean boot camp where we not only focus on the process of pull planning and the last planner system, but we work on how to get buy-in, how to establish trust and how to create relationships quickly. Why? Without this focus on people, the process falls apart.

Whether you are just beginning your lean journey or you have been doing lean for a long time, you must continually reinforce the respect for people aspect and the lean culture.  

Once the lean culture permeates all that you do, it will better your organization in many ways, not just on projects.  

Brent Darnell has been teaching critical people skills and emotional intelligence to the AEC Industry since 2000. If you would like a free white paper and chapter from his latest book on how to create high performing teams using emotional intelligence and lean, go to or contact him at