Design and Lean Evolving Together

Design and Lean Evolving Together

A recent interview with Stan Chiu, Director of Healthcare, Gensler, and Lean Construction Institute Board Chair, revealed a number of key concepts and techniques that promote successful Lean deployment in the design process.

What does Lean mean in design?  How does it impact the design process?  Fundamentally, Lean is about creating value, whether you are designing something or building something.

 How do we increase value for the customer? This is a big deal in the design process; using different tools, mindsets and research to figure out what really constitutes value. What is the fundamental need that this design is responding to?    This represents a massive opportunity for design; before we do the work we need to consider what the value is.  How do we know that we have done the design work right?  Sometimes this is described as Conditions of Satisfaction, Guiding Principles, True North, or Criteria.  So it shows up under different names.  Spending the time to understand what constitutes value from the standpoint of all customers is of ultimate importance. It is critical to determine who those customers are since they define value.

Fundamentally, Lean is about driving value:  In design a lot of the Lean techniques are different than in production. In production (such as at Toyota) the big goal is to eliminate waste, but in product development the goal is driving innovation.  So, how do you increase the amount of innovation that you can get into a design? With a given amount of resources (i.e., time or money), how do you maximize the amount of innovation that you can foster through the design process?  One common misconception is that Lean is solely about eliminating waste. In design, Lean is about maximizing innovation. Ultimately, both production and product development are all about aligning activity with value.

Cross-functional subject matter experts are key:  Lean in design depends upon a team of subject matter experts working together, bringing a variety of skills to bear on the different needs determined by the customer.  In our industry, the team comprises one or more people from the design side, plus trade partners and contractors working together to create and innovate.  The project is judged by the customer-driven success criteria determined at the beginning of the project.

Tools and culture

Design Thinking: Groups like IDEO and the Stanford Business School have studied and provided the community a better understanding what true value is, comparing innovation with value. 

Toyota’s concepts: Set-Based design utilizes small-batch thinking to break the project into smaller components and apply the skills of cross-functional teams to the design the components.  In the best case, this is happening to the cadence of the Last Planner System®, which introduces pull planning. We do it all according to the Last Responsible Moment – defined through pull planning or milestone planning.

Target Value Design: A sharpened version of set based design, TVD, defines quantitatively the conditions of satisfaction.  Testing design on a component level against criteria as you go.  Allow yourself to move between the various components.  As the cost of one component goes up, find ways for the cost of another component to go down. A lot of horse trading occurs to drive as much value as you can.

It is the culture that drives this. One construct that is sometimes useful is to think in terms of “legacy“ versus “learning-based” approaches. Continuous improvement (often referred to as Kaizen concepts) addresses the learning mindset where we give ourselves permission to fail as we cultivate a psychologically safe environment.

Respect for People is also a key tenet of Lean thinking: Convening a group of subject matter experts who collaborate effectively together in an environment of tremendous mutual respect will always yield better outcomes.

We look forward to seeing you in Phoenix on May 4-5 at LCI’s Lean in Design Forum! This year’s theme is Evolving with Purpose. Please register online here.