Road Works! Will they ever end? I have often wondered if and how the principles of Lean production could be applied to the never ending series of road works that seem to plague the otherwise beautiful environment that we enjoy here in Utah. Lately, I’ve had the chance to watch a full blown road-work-like project unfold outside my office window. There is (or used to be) an irrigation canal running through the middle of our office complex. I used to enjoy walking along the canal for a quick respite from the phones at lunchtime. This all came to a halt when the county decided to bury the canal and put a nice multi-use recreational path in its place. Now, I’m sure that the pathway will be a wonderful addition to the community when (if?) it is finished, but it sure has been frustrating having to navigate the traffic disruptions throughout the construction process.
If you think about it, why couldn’t road works, or in this case canal works, be performed in a Lean manner? Do they really need to tear up miles of roadway all at once, and then lay all of the cables or pipe at one time, and then cover it all back up again. I think not. In fact, I believe this current “batch process” could be transformed into more of a “single-piece-flow” and thus, avoid a lot of headaches for everyone. Here’s the idea: take a small section of roadway and begin to dig the trench, all the while having a second team of workers right behind laying cable or pipe, followed by a third team of workers covering it all up. Is it unreasonable to think that all of this work could be done within the span of a single city block? The principles of Lean production would say that it can and should be done that way. The work just needs to be balanced such that the rate of trench digging equals the rate of cable or pipe laying, which also equals the rate of trench filling and repaving. I’m confident that this could be done and, in so thinking, I have just challenged myself to create a simulation model in ProModel that shows just how it all could work. In the end, wouldn’t it be nice in your locale if only one block of the city could be under construction at a time? Can anyone out there point me to a good example of road works that were finished on time, with minimal disruption to traffic? What were the success factors?