Sisk leading the way with implementation of Lean Construction

John Sisk & Son Ltd is an innovative, international engineering and construction company, employing 1,200 people across its operations in Ireland, the UK and Europe. Sisk have been on the Lean journey since the late 1990s but undertook a step change in approach in 2016, recognising how core Lean principles matched the company’s focus on delivering value for customers and respecting and creating an efficient, safe and rewarding environment for all those who work with them.

The John Sisk & Son vision is “To be the best at Creating Value for our Customers, Shareholders and our People” and taking a leadership position in our industry in the use of Lean is a key part is helping us live up to this vision every day.

As part of making this real, our processes are structured and managed to continuously improve how we deliver value, to continuously improve our safety standards, to continuously improve the efficiency and speed at which high quality work can be delivered. This desire to innovate has been key to our growth and sustainability as a business which has been at the forefront of the construction sector for
Formalising the Lean approach in Sisk
over 150 years.

Following peer reviews and client consultation across both Ireland and the UK we formally defined Lean for Sisk as:

“An approach which uses a systematic methodology to create or deliver value” by:

⦁ identifying precisely what is meant by “value” from the customer’s perspective,
⦁ eliminating waste in all its forms,
⦁ respect for people and what they can contribute
⦁ “pursuing excellence” within a structured continuous improvement culture

The key concepts for us include “leadership by example”, accountability and ownership, and recognising that those closest to the working environment are often best placed to identify improvement opportunities. Our Lean approach also emphasizes the importance of the “visual” in the way work is structured, reviewed and reported.


We recognised that there were two streams of work to be done. One was on the way we operate as a company and the second was the operation of the projects we work on.

In 2016, we undertook an extensive consultation process with over 1,000 staff – 80 % of our directly employed workforce. This consultation was undertaken in the form of consultative workshops, the aim being to identify areas either of frustration or of potential improvement – either in processes or outcomes.

Hundreds of ideas were distilled into 42 work streams, prioritising 16 areas for immediate action. A “Lean Team” was established, charged with identifying and reducing waste and inefficiencies by mapping and analysing business processes.

Delivery by the Lean Team

Some of the big wins delivered to date by the Lean Team:

Lean Management System The entire suite of project management procedures and forms within the construction management system has been reviewed using systematic Lean methodology, process mapping in particular. Procedures and forms have either been combined, refined or eliminated, particularly where overlaps were identified. We are on track for a 25% reduction in documentation our management system.

Digital Field Tools. Through the use of digital tools including iPads and collaborative sharing sites, we have reduced the volume of paper and delivered a time saving solution leading to more efficient workflows, clearer communication and more accurate information on our projects.

Project Set up & Mobilisation.The challenge of rapid mobilisation of a project, such as to produce a safe and efficient set up for the lifetime of the project, whilst reviewing all the design, on boarding partners into the scheme and indeed getting the teams to work together efficiently has been tackled. A robust process for start-up and mobilising all projects across the business is under development.

KPI / Productivity Tracking. We have also introduced better tracking tools to give faster insights into current output and predictive indicators of areas of underperformance. These project controls are helping the wider team on our projects to share accountability for progress and allows the collaborative solving of problems before they become critical.

Knowledge Management In order to capture and leverage the expertise and experience of our people we have developed a Knowledge Management intranet portal, capturing and sharing best practice across all projects, harnessing the best of good ideas.

BIM Implementation. BIM has been a key success over the last number of years and one of the great enablers for Lean working. We have introduced 4D modelling to most of these projects, improving our planning, co-ordination, look ahead and communication efforts. Re-work and sub-optimal sequencing has been drastically reduced on these projects as spatial and sequencing clashes can be foreseen and managed out more effectively, leading to more efficient programs and quality outcomes and allowing us build it right first time.

Training for a Lean culture change

Sisk has trained over 120 staff to Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt standard and have a number of people currently undertaking Green Belt programmes. It is vital to engage staff and to equip them to be part of the process and this training is a key element of that.

Guided Lean Programmes onsite

In addition to eliminating or streamlining non-value-adding processes across the organisation, Sisk has implemented a number of project specific Lean programmes on some key projects. On one large project in the UK for example, completion to occupancy in 22 months was the key client requirement. Sisk engaged the services of a Lean consultant, setting an ambitious target to hand over in 19 months. The full supply chain was appointed on the basis of a commitment to collaborative engagement in live interactive planning workshops.

The project schedule is being managed using a combination of “Last Planner” type collaboration and Critical Path type techniques, with the full critical path micro-scheduled and rescheduled twice weekly. Most importantly, the entire team and supply chain are fully engaged in an open and collaborative approach both to planning and overcoming problems, with weekly “6-week” and 1 week planning sessions, combined with daily field-based whiteboard meetings focused on the same data. A no-blame culture is very evident. At 40% complete, the project is on track to complete in the accelerated 19 month timeframe, approximately a 13.5% improvement on what was already an aggressive schedule.

These programmes are underway on four other projects in Ireland and the UK, each programme bespoke and designed to match the first order challenges on the project.

A holistic approach to Lean – relationships, trust and collaboration

As a main Contractor, Programme and Construction Manager, Sisk’s expertise lies in planning, co-ordinating and managing projects, using our own direct resources or specialist subcontractors to deliver the actual construction. The Sisk Lean programme must therefore focus holistically on the overall design and build process – maximising the value delivered by combined effort of Client, Design teams, Sisk and their supply chain – how to deliver greater value with less effort.

Moving ahead with Lean in Sisk

The Lean Team will continue their work in adding value, particularly through the knowledge management and knowledge sharing efforts. A key priority is to focus on distributing the ownership of change as close as possible to the working environment an enabling good ideas to be acted upon swiftly.

Further developments towards the implementation of paperless site management will be added through the digital field tool and the on-line induction and on-boarding process will be rolled out during 2018 also. The use of BIM on all projects will continue to be a big part of this success. Most critically however will be the collaboration ethos which will be built into all projects from tender stage, supporting and encouraging the supply chain and design teams to embrace the Lean collaborative approach in order to get the best value outcomes for the projects we work on.

For more information on Lean in Sisk contact: Joe O’Sullivan, John Sisk & Son, j.o’

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