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Exploring lean construction practice, research, and education

Thaís da C. L. Alves (Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, San Diego State University (SDSU), San Diego, California, USA)
Colin Milberg (The ReAlignment Group, Ltd, USA)
Kenneth D. Walsh (Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, San Diego State University (SDSU), San Diego, California, USA)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 31 August 2012




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the history of dissemination and use of lean concepts in construction and potential challenges for continued use, as application of lean concepts transitions from a small group of first adopters to an industry‐wide community.


Using insights obtained from a meeting with industry practitioners, literature review, and published cases in which different approaches were used to disseminate lean production/construction, evidence is presented that supports these challenges.


The authors identify three challenges facing lean construction (LC) practitioners, researchers, and educators. One challenge is lean has many meanings (whether denoted or connoted) when applied to construction. Another challenge is to have academics constantly working with industry practitioners to keep working on the adaptation of concepts/systems and not only tools. The third challenge is that without a sustained effort to engage people in meaningful learning experiences, LC may be viewed as a fad in the construction industry.

Research limitations/implications

The discussion presents the authors’ interpretation of facts and existing literature reviewed to support the arguments made. Moreover, while the literature reviewed addresses sources from different parts of the world, the preponderance of the authors’ research activities and experience are limited to two countries, Brazil and the USA.

Practical implications

In the face of overwhelming interest in lean by the construction industry, research on effective methods for disseminating lean concepts is overdue.

Social implications

By partnering with industry practitioners who are already implementing LC or want to start the journey, academics have access to projects (labs in the real world) and can bring back to the classroom examples to educate future generations of professionals who can push for changes in the industry. This partnership also helps the validation of experiments regarding LC implementation, as data can be collected and analyzed in a scientific way, and can be documented for dissemination within the industry.


The paper discusses challenges related to the evolution of LC in the industry, with the aim of forming a basis for an informed discussion on how to promote sustained and informed learning in construction.



da C., T., Milberg, C. and Walsh, K.D. (2012), "Exploring lean construction practice, research, and education", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 512-525.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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