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Lean Construction Management – interview with our graduates

Nina Schreiner and Claus Gstöttner are among the first graduates of the part-time Master’s in Lean Construction Management at the Graz University of Technology. PORR applies the LEAN Construction approach as part of its strategy and is promoting the still brand-new course by encouraging employees to complete the programme. Nina and Claus completed the programme in four full semesters alongside their management responsibilities in pde Integrale Planung. We interviewed them about their experiences.




What were your thoughts and expectations when you started the course in 2019?

Nina: We started this exciting, very intensive period full of enthusiasm and curiosity. Since we were the first people to do this course, there weren’t any colleagues yet that we could ask and find out what we were getting into. Based on the published curriculum, my main goal as a qualified architect was to expand my knowledge of LEAN construction management and then combine and apply it in practice.

Claus: Since I had been rather sceptical about the LEAN approach prior to my studies, my expectations involved gaining a better understanding of the processes and the interplay with other disciplines. And there were lots of “Aha!” moments; after all, when you explore the topics in a Master’s-level course with renowned experts and practitioners, you simply get to understand things in depth.

How long did the programme take?

Nina: It all started in the winter semester 2019, of course including in-person sessions. Covid led to some postponements and rescheduling in the course of the programme and that’s also why the final exam was not held until November 2021, i.e. in the 5th semester. And, sadly, the pandemic meant we couldn’t go on the planned study trip to Japan, which would certainly have been a highlight.

What challenges did you face? And what positive surprises?

Claus: The positive that surprised me most was how broad the course was and the quality involved in how the basics of construction management were handled. This meant that the course was also interesting for those who aren’t construction engineers and why I would highly recommend it to them as it doesn’t require any prior knowledge. The biggest challenge for me was the Master’s thesis, not least because it had to be a scientific paper with a minimum length of 80 pages. That said, we all exceeded this page limit easily with the topics we chose. When writing a thesis like this, it’s hard to commit an hour after a hard day’s work. Most of us took a period of leave to concentrate on our thesis and be able to write in larger time blocks.

Nina: Balancing studying and working was certainly far from easy at times. During this period, our teams took on a lot of personal responsibility, for which we are very grateful. Without their support we would not have managed to keep up with the double burden.

What topics did you explore in your thesis?

Nina: I analysed our design processes and then developed a common pde standard together with our expert planners from the main design and planning disciplines of Architecture, Structural Planning and Technical Building Services Planning with the help of LEAN methods. I presented this optimised standard in my thesis, entitled “The standardisation of design and planning processes in integral planning teams”. We are also implementing this standard straight away in practice here at pde – using optimised process mapping with LEAN Design.

Claus: The title of my thesis is “Investigating the factors affecting motivation and involvement of project participants in the construction industry in collaborative construction management using LEAN”. It explores the topics of how to introduce those involved in the project from the design and build sides, as well as subcontractors; how to introduce them to very far-reaching changes and how to design this process. I also intensively explore Change Management methods, as these are an integral part of any introduction to LEAN.

Do you view projects differently now with the knowledge you have gained from this course?

Nina: My studies clearly showed me that it’s important to constantly question, optimise and consistently improve your own processes as this is the only way to avoid waste. This is also the basic idea behind one of the central principles of LEAN, the continuous improvement process (CIP). What’s more, it was interesting to see how waste is always far easier to spot in others than in oneself.

Claus: My perspective has really changed and I often think about projects and what huge potential there would be with LEAN and an integrated approach to promote the project and contribute to its success. Implementation is often perceived as an added burden that one would not normally have – in a situation in which the time and cost specifications on projects are always very tight. But every project in which LEAN is applied properly from the word go is one that delivers value added. This makes it a truly worthwhile investment!

What advice would you give to colleagues considering this course?

Nina: It’s essential to plan enough time in the final semester to write your thesis. You should also do some “groundwork” wherever possible, at least regarding the choice of topic. Most of us underestimated the time required. Since ours was the first course and we were pioneers, we had to find our own way.

What was your first thought when you heard the exam result?

Nina: Happiness and relief – naturally! But also a tinge of sadness as a wonderful period shared with our fellow students had come to an end. We were a group of 23 PORRians from Austria and Germany, from building construction, railway engineering, structural engineering, from the permanent business, and from pde, and the course brought us very close together. The first half was really valuable in terms of team building and cohesion. We benefited a lot from that in the second half, when nearly all of the sessions were purely online, especially when it came to group work. If we were ever to meet in the future on a joint project, there will be a completely different dimension to our teamwork – I am simply certain of it.

Can we end with a summary?

Claus: I think it’s wonderful that PORR made this course possible for us, that’s far from a given. That’s why I would also like to thank the Executive Board, the pde management, and also our colleagues at PORR who got behind this initiative: from our LEAN department through to the HR department. Thank you! I can’t recommend it enough to anyone: grab this opportunity if it comes your way!

Simulations showing the application of LEAN Construction in practice