Interview with lean construction expert Tammy McConaughy

11-Apr-2022

The CRB Director of Lean Delivery discusses her training in the lean concept, her introduction to the cleanroom sector, and how the two are a perfect match

Of the buzzwords in the cleanroom industry, 'lean delivery' is a fascinating one. Tammy McConaughy, Director of Lean Delivery at CRB, is an expert on the matter who is enthusiastic to share her journey in the area.

The first question clears up the exact definition of lean delivery. "An integrated delivery method of lean principles and tools that enables a team to focus on delivering value holistically through continuous improvement and respect for people," McConaughy explains.

The first time I had to bunny suit up to walk the walk was eye opening

When discussing how she got involved, McConaughy says that her background is in organisational development. "I learned about lean project delivery when I started to engage in the Lean Construction Institute (LCI)," she says. "I had already achieved the award of my Lean Six Sigma Black belt and was looking at how I could apply what I had learned in my role with Alpha Mechanical, and in the industry. Engaging in the local LCI communities of practices and with like-minded individuals has driven my personal lean journey."

Talking more about 'Lean Six Sigma Black Belt', the Director explains that whilst Lean is a management philosophy and a culture, it is not a process or a toolset. Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology based on a specific set of techniques and tools. "They complement each other but are very different," she explains.

Application in cleanrooms

Lean delivery is a brilliant match with the cleanroom industry. McConaughy explains that because there are so many testing requirements and commissioning requirements, designers should start with the end in mind, so that they understand from the beginning what a successful turnover looks like to all stakeholders. "Plan for the last 90 days in the first 30 days!" She enthuses.

Practically, taking lean concepts into the controlled environment sector, at companies like JE Dunn Construction and Alpha Mechanical, McConaughy had a lot to bring to the table and a lot to learn.

"Working for a mechanical contractor, the controlled environment was a large part of the projects I was involved in, mostly laboratory clean spaces," she says. "I had some great mentors at Alpha who took the time to help me understand the mechanical standards, technology and processes for the environments we were working in. I really started engaging lean principles in the controlled environments when working on a JE Dunn project for a confidential client."

As a society we see failure as a taboo topic. Learning from the failures and seeing the opportunity to improve myself and help teams do the same was invaluable. It"s a lesson I am constantly learning

McConaughy says that both experiences highlighted the necessity and application of a controlled environment but also the challenges of working and executing within those environments. "The first time I had to bunny suit up and walk the walk was eye opening into the world of what the trades must do multiple times a day."

Critical points of understanding that McConaughy singles out for understanding the cleanroom sector are basic refrigeration, cooling loops and HVAC cleanroom standards. But she says there is always more to learn. "Going into working for Dunn and the project I was on had me feeling very confident about my knowledge. Then came subfabs and interstitial spaces and I had to accelerate my learning two-fold," she explains.

But this also gave rise to a key lesson for progressing in the sector. "I walked away knowing it was okay to ask questions and there were amazingly smart people out there who took a lot of pride in their work that were more than willing to teach if I asked and listened," she explains. "I do have a better understanding of what it takes to execute work within a controlled environment for the workers along with a better understanding of the importance of the design standards that our A/E team members uphold and manage. They both take a unique approach to delivering value effectively to the customer with the constraints of time and budget."

Gaining know-how

In a moment that changed her career trajectory forever, McConaughy talks about a chance encounter in Brazil. "I met Rebecca Snelling on the streets of Fortaleza," she says. "She was the National Director of Lean Construction for JE Dunn at that time. We were both there to speak at the International Group for Lean Construction (IGLC) Conference. It was seven months after we met that I was working for her as a Lean Specialist at JE Dunn Construction."

"This was such a pivotal moment in my career," she adds. "I was looking at how I could be a lean professional full time in the construction Industry. I knew that this is what I wanted to do after supporting Last Planner System on a couple of projects. The chance meeting and her support to present at the LCI Congress that year led me to apply for the open Lean Specialist position in Oregon for Dunn."

I knew that this is what I wanted to do after supporting Last Planner System on a couple of projects

McConaughy spent eight years at JE Dunn after this, and has many takeaways from her time there. "My years at JE Dunn were filled with a multitude of experiences and learnings," she says. "On a professional level, the most invaluable experiences centred around the practical application of lean principles and tools along with the experience of coaching others. It"s easy to talk theory and what the principles and mindsets should be but implementing and cultivating them is a completely different experience."

Elaborating, she explains that implementing lean is not just learning a new process, it requires people to think differently. "For example making the transition from engaging trade partners early in the design process and utilising their expertise in conjunction with the design team instead of waiting to bring them into the project after it is fully designed, handing them a drawing and telling them to build it, requires a shift in perspective, engagement and trust."

On a personal level, she says that it really taught her the value of failure. "As a society, we see failure as a taboo topic," she says. "I failed more times than I can even begin to count. Learning from the failures and seeing the opportunity to improve myself and help teams do the same was invaluable. It"s a lesson I am constantly learning."

Forward-thinking concepts

Starting her new role at CRB in September 2021, McConaughy is greatly excited about applying her talents to the company"s ONEsolution approach. "CRB"s ONEsolution project delivery method is built on the principles and tools of lean delivery. That was one of the reasons I was drawn to CRB. The ONEsolution approach is focused on elevating the experience of the client, the trades, the design and construction team through early integration of the whole team and alignment to deliver the best value," she says.

These forward-thinking concepts are at the centre of McConaughy"s expertise and she thinks that they highlight where the industry is headed. Speaking about other interesting concepts in cleanroom technology, the conversation touches on advanced energy modelling. "I have heard of it and read about it," she explains. "It is amazing to me where our industry is going, and the steps that are being taken with regards to climate change. AEM gives us the ability to optimise the whole of the building and deliver a level of value we may not have even thought of."

Plan for the last 90 days in the first 30 days!

McConaughy explains that being able to understand and model energy performance well into the lifecycle of the building is not a new concept, but that the levels of modelling that we are advancing towards are amazing. "Seeing the advancement of net-zero buildings over the years has been exciting to watch," she enthuses.

Hearing her discuss the industry with a big picture view, McConaughy comes over as a person who carefully observes and assesses the situation, with an open mind to learning. This may be why she is so well suited to her role in lean delivery. Her day to day duties can vary, anywhere from working with the project team, delivering training, helping with project pursuits, coaching individuals, and learning more herself. Such a dynamic job role requires a flexible and adaptable personality. "I am currently a team of 1," she explains. "Working towards building a team. First, I am taking my time to understand the needs of each region. I want to understand the current state in comparison to the ideal state, so that we can build the right support at the pull of our internal customers."

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Through building her team, McConaughy is aiming to provide the best version of lean delivery for CRB. "Lean is a journey for each individual and organisation, it"s not a one size fits all deal," McConaughy says. "When organisations try to implement lean without coaching or a specialist it can lead to learning silos and plateaus. Having a lean delivery specialist can help to optimise the learning of the whole organisation, providing strategy on how to do so. Operationally this allows for better outcomes, and alignment with KPI"s that are sustained."

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Looking to the future, McConaughy knows that projects are becoming more complex and challenging, and that providing teams with the capabilities to meet these complexities will be key. "Lean is more than something extra we do, it is a culture and a philosophy that is centred on respect for people," she says. "This is a passion for me that aligns with CRB"s beliefs."

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