An Interview with our Panelists: We Have a Design Manager, Now What?

An Interview with our Panelists: We Have a Design Manager, Now What?

We look forward to welcoming our panelists for the Lean in Design Forum session, We Have a Design Manager, Now What? Our panelists will bring varied perspectives and experiences to their discussion of the evolving design manager role. Gain insights into how design managers are becoming more essential in our fast-past industry, and how to reap the rewards of the position in your sector of the design and construction field.

Enjoy this sneak peek, and don’t miss this enlightening panel on Thursday, May 2, at 11:30 am. Register for the Lean in Design Forum today!


  • Kenneth Burgun, AIA, NCARB, Design Manager – Lean, Brasfield & Gorrie LLC
  • Troy Hoggard, Design Principal, CannonDesign
  • Randy Hoover, Architect, Design Manager, Bostwick Design Partnership
  • Monica Steele, Mechanical Process Engineer, SSOE Group

Moderator: Annmarie Thurnquist, Director of Lean Implementation, Jacobs Life Sciences North America

The design manager role is new enough to defy easy definition.

Our panelists noted that different organizations have different ideas of what the role entails. Expect an insightful exchange about the design manager role and how it helps teams integrate Lean processes and culture into their projects.

“We determined that everybody has different ideas of what a design manager is and what they do. We decided to get some key professionals from different organizations to discuss what that role means within their companies and learn what different design managers do while looking at it from a Lean implementation standpoint. What is the role of the design manager in helping their teams along their Lean journeys?” — Annmarie, Moderator

“The people who become design managers are the ones focused on communication, bridge building, and project execution. I’m excited to explore other perspectives across construction, architecture, and general design management and consulting. We all understand the same language and objectives but apply it in different ways.” — Randy

“If you look at the roles on a team, and you ask who is in the best position to manage the project, traditionally, it wasn’t designers. But as we stage and phase design, the overlap between the verb of design and the construction of the building has gotten bigger, deeper, and longer. Design is no longer a set of drawings and then someone else builds it. It’s more likely for the designer to be in the big room working with the builders in real-time. A design leader mindset is very helpful when managing large teams and processes over time. The criticality of that voice is becoming more apparent and elevated. And what do you call that role? It’s a design manager.” — Troy

“I believe the construction industry understands where its pain points are and is attempting to adjust to compensate with the role of design manager. The next logical challenge is the effective integration of this role into an established workflow. This integration requires certain things to change. And where organizational change is suggested, you will undoubtedly find a natural resistance to that change.” — Kenneth  

Lean practices drive efficiencies and success in the role.

Our panelists gave us a sneak peek about how Lean practices inform their role.

“So much of what I find necessary in being a design manager is about outcome and execution. Lean principles and processes by nature help you execute and objectively analyze the efficiency of work. You can’t have one without the other.” — Randy

“I learned through painful experience that if the design team doesn’t control the means of production, you lose control over the process. If you think of how things are made, it is inseparable from the object itself. Embedded within any object is its design and the process through which it was designed and made.  Designers must be leaders in Lean design and construction if we want influence over the outcome of the process.” — Troy

“We in the LCI world feel that having a Lean approach and culture and using these processes is always helpful in making projects not just more efficient and effective but a more pleasant experience for all involved.” — Annmarie, Moderator

Design managers and project managers are both needed in a fast-paced, complex design world.

Panelists noted that project managers historically handled everything from contracts and client relations to helping the different disciplines organize and coordinate the work. As projects have become more complex while timelines have become tighter, the design manager’s role has become important in that process. Part of the design manager’s role is to bring together designers handling different parts of large projects, as well as other stakeholders, and breaking down siloes.

“You’re creating the situation in which design can thrive. As buildings and means of production get more complex, with larger teams and more diversity in skill sets and backgrounds, it starts to take more of design leaders’ time to prepare for the design vs doing the design itself. With the complexity of highly urban sites, where there isn’t lay down space or a place to put people, more happens offsite and that’s a good thing. There’s less waste. It’s better for the environment. But we need to acknowledge the added complexity of delivering a building that way.

In our firm, we always have a project manager. For our mega projects of $1 billion or more, we have several project managers. The traditional project manager is more about the labor and finances of a project—schedule, cash flow, labor burn, and the marriage of resources. That’s different from managing design itself, which involves when do we need to know something, who can develop that part of the design—it pulls all the designers together. For example, in a large healthcare project with towers and a plinth, the design of the plinth is different, and there is the overall site plan. There are design leaders in different parts. You need to pull those designers together, figure out the when, where, and all the details, and not work in siloes. Project managers may not really understand what is critical to the design itself. It’s about the prioritization of design intent.” Troy

“Most challenges come from the nature of being a design manager operating between the siloes. You are taking an assumption of understanding and executing on decisions. I’ve learned that even though information may seem objective, it sometimes isn’t, or people change their minds. It’s the need to connect those wagers you make in your confidence in information with how stakeholders feel and operate. That’s how you help them collaborate.”— Randy

Sharing a real-world example…

Troy shared one of his stories from the field—expect even more during the panel!

“The project was a bed tower, and the owner was having trouble with two big decisions that could derail the schedule. One, should the tower be on the hospital side or across the street. We did an elaborate exercise with 12 metrics using Choosing by Advantage. The data itself included beauty, future master planning, and family experience, all of which were inherently design-specific, as well as cost, safety, energy, etc. It struck me—who should run this? A safety or budget expert? No, because that wasn’t the real issue. The issue was a design question. And it made sense for a design leader to pull in the others vs the reverse. That was my first brush with the need for a designer to manage a decision. The second issue was about height, and it was late in the process. I was in the design manager role at this point. I rallied the team to demonstrate why it should be a Phase 2. I also modeled and rendered it using 4D visuals. It may be easier for a design leader to do a 4D analysis for phasing.” — Troy

Our panelists shared their favorite Lean tools for design management.

“My favorites for the design arena are A3 Thinking and Choosing By Advantages. They help with one of our biggest issues, which is getting our clients to make decisions in a timely fashion and then sticking to it. A3 provides a methodology that helps with the decision-making and documentation to help when people want to revisit later.

The other is the design cycle planning thought process. We no longer have the luxury of performing design in the systemic order we learned in school. Everything is fast-tracked, and we need to adjust how we’re performing design. Design cycle planning helps with that.” — Annmarie, Moderator

“For me, it’s process mapping, understanding how complex organizations and projects’ needs have relationships with each other, chronologically and in terms of resource distribution. If I can map that out myself visually, it will help me identify bottlenecks earlier. It helps me create an underlying structure for how to get Person A and Resource B to interact better if I know the constraints and how they flow together.”— Randy

Troy shared that in his experience, Lean tools complement each other and work best together:

“Lean tools come in suites. There is a limit to each but when you put them together, they are powerful. Pull Planning and Component Team Structure unlock Choosing By Advantage, and Target Value Design too. You have the expertise then, and Pull Planning tells you when to do those things. Using the synergy between them is the secret sauce.” — Troy

Who should attend?

The short answer from our panelists: this panel is relevant for everyone working on design and construction projects.

“Being a design manager requires so much stakeholder trust and input. I hope people at high levels of these organizations will attend with their leadership so they can understand this different structure in large organizations. This is the first panel I’ve seen where we are addressing the role head on this way.” — Randy

“Everyone can benefit from this panel —construction managers, engineering firms, clients. Design managers interact with all the roles on teams.” — Troy

The key takeaways.

Our panelists shared that they would like attendees to gain an understanding of the design manager role in today’s complex projects, and that they hope the conversation continues beyond this session.


“This discussion will inherently help us spread the message that a design manager doesn’t have to be one thing, but it is part of the team that makes designing in sophisticated, complex projects so successful.”— Randy

For Troy, he sees the key takeaways as three-fold: one, the design manager role is here to stay; two, designers should be open to taking on these crucial new positions, and three, advance understanding of what the role does:

“One, I’d like to impress upon any skeptics that the design manager role isn’t more overhead or bureaucracy. It is in fact a Lean, better application of expertise on a team. It’s reducing overhead by being more efficient with the knowledge of the team leadership. It’s using the pieces on the board better. It’s not an add or a fad. It’s the market adjustment to the reality of complexity.”

Two, this is for the design leaders in the audience. This is an attractive career path that will make your designs better and get them built. I don’t do renderings. I do buildings. Renderings are the means. I want to change lives and make the world a better place. No one is curing cancer with a rendering. We need design thinkers to be builders not just renderers.

I do think there is a little bit of stigma in the design community, among those who sketch, ideate, and do conceptual design—the early design processes. A little bit of ‘why would I engage with this when I want to be off sketching beautiful things. This sounds like management.’ But that’s wrong. The outcome of that thinking is that the larger buildings get, the uglier they get. A lot of brilliant thinking isn’t in this space and needs to be.

Three, I’d like to come to a better definition of what a design manager is. We all have a different definition. If we could have a dialog and define it better for the audience, so they can explain it to their peers, using value for the client and project as the goal – that would be a success.” — Troy

With the panel just before lunch, our moderate shared the hope that the discussion will continue into lunch—and beyond:

“While we have a panel representing several companies, this has much broader impact and influence. We hope the conversation continues and we get some sharing between participants at the conference which will really help as people are working to get more Lean processes and tools into the design arena.” — Annmarie, Moderator

“I’m excited to see this kind of discussion taking place at such a high level with such like-minded and mission-driven folks.” LCI is about getting things done.” — Randy

We look forward to seeing you in Chicago! Register for the 2024 Lean in Design Forum!