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Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development (www.truen.com), spends most of his time working in the trenches with builders, suppliers and trade contractors. His Lean Builder blog appears weekly at HousingZone.com. He welcomes your feedback at scott@truen.com.

The Lean Builder Blog: Don’t let this passion go to waste

December 06, 2011

Yesterday after presenting an orientation for our LeanPlan Workout process to a group of suppliers & trades in Texas, a contractor named Mike walked up to me and two of the senior managers from the builder. Strong-looking guy, with very alert eyes, about 50 years old with that kind of rugged Texas good looks from a life spent working outdoors that you see a lot down there. He had been very attentive during the presentation, and took a lot of notes. Mike looked at us and spoke in a voice that was simultaneously forceful yet almost quivering, “I think I can speak for every trade here today. What you have showed us is exactly what I have wanted to do for the past 20 years. I am really excited about it, but I am equally concerned.”

What we had showed him was a highly-structured process of plan review that takes supplier & trade participation to a dramatically higher level, producing about 5 times the input and value of the usual informal approach. (Of course, most builders have essentially no approach at all.) The results typically produce $5K to $10K per house in cost savings with zero collateral damage. That money is found without asking for one cent of price reduction and in fact, the profit margins of the supplier/trade participants go up along with the builder’s, as waste in product and process is eliminated for everyone.

What was Mike concerned about? “This is going to be a lot of work,” he said. “My team is going to bust our cans getting ready for this. We are going to show you a lot of money.  Life will get better for everyone, but here is what you cannot let happen.” He said “cannot” emphatically as the passion in his voice rose and his stance took on a firm set. “One year from today, you cannot have had nothing happen, nothing change, nothing fixed. You cannot ask us to do this, get us excited, get our hopes up, and then blow it. You have to follow through. You just HAVE to.”

This was as forceful a speech as I had heard in years. This contractor’s willingness to engage with the builder to make significant, cost-saving improvements was intense and ran deep, and we find this continually in the Lean projects we have run across the country. When given a genuine opportunity, suppliers & trades always step up. When builders possess the skills to harness this passion and are truly willing to listen, houses getter better, managing becomes easier, homeowners are happier and profits rise. Yet with the continual “churn and burn” attitude toward suppliers & trades that is typical these days, few builders will ever achieve those goals and persist in the wholly fallacious belief that “you just can’t get good people anymore.” They will never know what they missed.

So heed Mike’s words. His passion to improve your business is available in limitless quantities across the country, if you resolve to capture it. Lean is all about finding waste wherever it resides and removing it. Losing this passion would be the biggest waste of all.

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