An Interview with Bill Seed, Lean Leader

An Interview with Bill Seed, Lean Leader

We were thrilled to interview Bill Seed, a long-time Lean practitioner and mentor to many in our community. Among his many achievements and activities, Bill is a past winner of the prestigious LCI Pioneer Award, an LCI Board of Directors member, and the author of two books on Lean, Transforming Design and Construction and Don’t Conform, Transform. His career spans transformative Lean leadership roles at Universal Health Services, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Jackson Health System.

As he shifts the pace of his long and influential career, he shared key insights to help others along their Lean journey. We hope you find his words as inspiring as we do.

How did you get involved with Lean Design and Construction?

My first exposure to Lean was at a conference in Southern California. I heard Sutter Health speaking and then happened to sit next to the speaker at breakfast. The speaker introduced me to Greg Howell.

I liked what I heard at the conference and what Greg shared, and then he sent Hal Macomber and Rebecca Snelling my way, and started consulting with us and our program at Universal Health Services. The rest is history.

Why have you focused on Lean for 17 years of your career with three different owners?

I found Lean outcomes and applications to be extremely rewarding both in traditional measurements—time, quality, money—and even more so on the people side of the business. Collaboration is the secret sauce. It really does drive the results.

I have done a significant amount of self-learning on emotional intelligence and the softer side of life, as well as change management. I broadened my horizon from being an engineer to becoming a right- and left-brain thinker. It’s been a great journey. You never go back once you learn a better way to do something.

A goal of mine was to transform delivery at Universal Health Services and the work we did there across the country. Then I took it to Disney. Then everyone said you can’t do this in the public sector so that was a personal challenge. That led to my work at Jackson Health System, a county-owned safety-net hospital in Miami.

Ultimately what keeps me going is the people’s lives I impact. There is a long list of people who crossed my path and I have truly changed their lives. I have close friends I don’t believe I’d have if we’d stayed with a more traditional delivery methodology.

Why would someone else want to explore Lean in construction? What are the benefits?

On the business side, when embarking on a major investment, you want predictability—how much it will cost, what it will look like. Lean increases predictability by incorporating all the doers. You have more experts to rely on. There are more value-based, informed, and meaningful decisions with all the trades in the room.

From a personal human perspective, you’ll have fewer headaches and stomach aches. It’s much simpler. You have more people helping solve problems and collaborate. Being in a collegial environment leads to a much better workday.

Business results, people interaction, and personal growth are the primary outcomes of Lean product delivery.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become involved with Lean Design and Construction?

If you’re unsatisfied with your current outcomes, it’s time to look at Lean to see what it can do to make it better. You’re going to be a change-maker and probably need to prepare yourself for that by learning about emotional intelligence, collaboration, and working with people in a different manner. You need to be willing to experiment and experimenting leads to failure sometimes. You need a community that allows for that and recovers quickly.

It can be a hill to climb. If you want to do that, try to connect with people who have led the way and can help you. You will get better results with Lean, and the higher the Lean intensity, the more it will improve.

The key is to learn constantly, experiment, fail, and do it all over again. Personal growth is involved. Then you will get to the point where you start leading the way and for me that’s exciting.

Tell us about your transition from the Private Sector to the Public Sector.

I’ve been a big program leader for 20 years. When I moved to Disney, I made a significant impact in a year. I replicated my learning from Universal Health Services quickly. In January 2017, I moved to the public sector, serving as SVP, Facilities Design & Construction, at Jackson Health System, and continue as a consultant there. In the public sector, I thought two years should be good and then I’d hand it off to other leaders. But it took me seven years to make that total impact.

The public sector is a lot more difficult to work in a Lean manner. Decisions require far more scrutiny, involve many people from the procurement department, and everything needs to be documented in excruciatingly transparent detail because you are spending the public’s money. At the same time, you’re working with public servants who are afraid to reach outside the box because of all the scrutiny. Change management is more difficult. I learned how to replicate many of the practices from private to public. It’s not exactly the same. By understanding the desired outcome, I did my best to mirror those outcomes.

We had many highly successful projects. We did over 100 projects in the public sector, all of which had some Lean applications. It’s proven now that it can be done.

I also adopted an integrated delivery project contract that will be used sometime in the public sector as soon as I have the appropriate program for it. That would be the culmination of the final proof that Lean can be done in the public sector.

Share a couple of your projects where Lean processes had a significant impact.

One was Temecula Valley Hospital in California. The industry still talks about it. It was a great program that finished in 2013. I am close friends with many of the people who participated. Many are now senior executives at their firms based on the success of that project. The project blended two general contractors which is unusual. Lots of things were done well on that project.

Texoma Medical Center was the first project I attempted any of these Lean processes on. It delivered 10 percent savings. That’s where I met Bernita Beikmann, a former chairperson of the LCI Board of Directors. That set her on fire for her entire career. Now she is one of the four top executives for HKS, Inc., one of the largest architecture firms in the world. It changed her life dramatically. Helping her get started and watching her grow has been meaningful for me.

Tell us about your books, Transforming Design and Construction and Don’t Conform, Transform.

Never in my life did I think I’d be a writer. I have an engineering background and consider myself a doer not a documenter. Will Lichtig encouraged me to write a paper and that’s how it began. That encouraged me that I had a message to tell. I’ve published many papers and made other contributions.

Transforming Design and Construction

The first book, Transforming Design and Construction, was a group effort. I wanted to share the good things we were doing. It has about 40 chapters of topics that need to be taught, discussed, and thought about if you are going to be a Lean practitioner. Each chapter is a six-to-seven-minute read. It’s meant to serve as encouragement and a learning tool.

Key Takeaway: The book should be used for learning something new and concepts for learning in action. It should be applied in meetings to learn together. Common knowledge is a key concept to growing a good team.

Don’t Conform, Transform

Don’t Conform, Transform was born from my transition from Universal Health to Disney. We transformed the delivery process and described how we did it as a manual. When we started there was no roadmap. You just started off trusting your instinct and the people you surrounded yourself with. The book focuses on 12 things to learn and focus on to develop a program to deliver in a Lean manner. It can be a one-project program or preferably enterprise-wide. Most start with one project. And then for continuous improvement, they would add to it and customize it to their practices. The book can provide the outline from which to build a program.

Key Takeaway: Starting a new journey is scary but having at least a roadmap to follow should give you more confidence that it’s doable even with bumps in the road. You customize it and keep going. For new Lean practitioners, it should provide confidence that it can and will be done. Don’t be afraid.

Now that you are partially retired, how are you spending your extra time?

Retirement is a construct of leaving the drudgery of work. I don’t believe that at all. It’s a vocational shift for me. Instead of working 7 am to 7 pm every day with a specific role, I will and have been focused more on giving back to my community and organizations.

I am a member of the National Academy of Construction, which honors outstanding construction industry leaders and shares their collective experiences to help improve the industry. I am chairperson of the Membership Committee Board and find top candidates to induct to the society.

I am on my local Habitat for Humanity board to provide homes for people in my area.

I also give back through other organizations. I’m still consulting with Jackson Health to help keep their program on track and others as well. I have more control over where and how I work now that I’m not in a traditional job.

If you enjoyed this interview…

Check out Bill’s books, connect with Bill on LinkedIn, and join your Lean community at the 2024 LCI Congress for more Lean inspiration!