Lean in Design Forum Session Spotlight: Saving our AE Industry with Prefab and Wild Collaboration

Lean in Design Forum Session Spotlight: Saving our AE Industry with Prefab and Wild Collaboration

The Lean in Design Forum kicks off next month! Enjoy this preview of one of our many exciting sessions.

We spoke with the Saving our AE Industry with Prefab and Wild Collaboration panelists, who understand the value of innovating together and evolving to advance our industry in an increasingly challenging market. During the session, they will share how they have re-structured their design thinking to embrace prefabrication, supply chain engagement, and Lean practices across the entire value stream, despite obstacles. Get a sneak peek of why embracing wild collaboration can be a game changer from our panelists, and don’t miss this session on Thursday, May 2, at 10:45 am.

Finalize your plans to join your design community from May 1-2 in Chicago at this can’t miss event! Register for the Lean in Design Forum today.


  • Stan Chiu, AIA, NCARB, DBIA, LEED Director of Integrated Project Delivery, HDR Inc.
  • Jenny Han, AIA, NCARB, Director of Design Integration, The Boldt Company
  • Romano Nickerson, AIA, NCARB, Principal, Boulder Associates
  • Kyle Weisman, AIA, NCARB, Vice President/Principal, HGA

Changing the mindset to stay competitive

Our panelists shared that wild collaboration is a concept centered on breaking down silos and fostering open dialogue across disciplines. This collaboration between designers, trades people, builders, and other stakeholders improves project delivery. Early stakeholder engagement optimizes the design process as it gives trade partners, the fabrication team, and consultants the opportunity to address concerns and make any necessary changes. It’s about sharing information and collaboration to help move projects and the industry forward. Design firms must adapt to new project delivery methods to remain competitive.

“Having two architects in the room is typically like having two North Poles; they typically go to opposite sides of the room and don’t want to collaborate. This group actually embraces sharing across organizations to move the needle on improving the design and construction process to the benefit of our clients.”
— Jenny

“How do you deliver excellence, without doing more? How do you do the right amount for value-add, without over-detailing everything? If you rethink what you’re doing on the design side and how that translates to more collaborative delivery, our ability to have more value-added, design input and thought on that side of the equation, versus just drawing, optimizes the whole together. I don’t think a lot of designers think that way. In fact, I think the collective design industry struggles with that because many people think everything needs to be perfect. If you’re collaborating correctly, you don’t have to worry about that because all trade partners and builders understand what the design goals are.”
— Kyle

“There are a couple dimensions on the wild word. It’s wild as opposed to domesticated (competitors). It’s outside that realm. Wild has an unpredictable, experimental quality. The four of us are up for that, as opposed to a linear approach.

Through design thinking, we have expanded our mindset to include additional voices in the design. The client/customer was traditionally considered. Now, in addition to users and administrators, we are including contractors, trade partners, and financial people. We work to understand all those voices and needs.”
— Stan

Optimizing the design process to reduce overproduction

“Overproduction causes all kinds of other wastes. If you do the right amount of work, it sets you up for success. It lowers the unevenness and the burden. If you’re doing the right thing at the right time as the right person capable of doing it for the customer, that’s the sweet spot.”

“I hate doing anything extra. One could accuse me of being lazy, but it is another way of thinking about waste.”
— Romano

Optimizing the design process reduces overproduction and waste. It ensures the right amount of production at the right time. For example, collaboration between design partners, product manufacturers, and other stakeholders can reduce the need for excessively detailed drawings and improve overall value. Early engagement of trade partners and suppliers can lead to better results throughout the entire value stream.

Redefining collaboration in design—breaking down silos

We discussed breaking down silos with our panelists. They shared that wild collaboration only works if there is buy-in from the top down. Collaboration across partners should become part of standard work and go beyond individual organizations. To move the industry forward, leaders must be willing to share information, break down traditional silos, and stop gatekeeping information. When information and experiences are shared openly, there is a better chance of enhancing project delivery on future projects.

Wild collaboration can be used as a strategy to improve business and the entire industry. Shifting the mindset of design firms to viewing their trade partners and builders as team members, like how industrial processes work in manufacturing, is a big step in making this idea of wild collaboration a reality. A future where design firms and trade partners operate as cohesive units, akin to the symbiotic relationships found in manufacturing processes, is wild collaboration at its finest.

“Building trust between the trades and the designers allows you to do some of what we have been talking about. It’s more than collaboration. It’s starting to believe that there can be a different way and a different way can be better. People uncover this if they know they have permission to think that way. As I coach my teams, one of my favorite things is to see that spark igniteyou’d better be ready as the ideas will not stop. One of the most satisfying things is being able to activate people that way.”
— Romano

“A tricky thing that we are experiencing on a large project is getting aligned on the values of a project. The conditions of satisfaction have been a moving target. Psychological safety is important and so is taking the time to create the values. The values ultimately guide the decision-making process throughout a project.”
— Stan

Prefab is here to stay—and needs A/E designers as key stakeholders from day one

Our panelists agree that prefab is part of the solution and the future—but it is essential that designers’ prefabrication and modular considerations are included on projects from their inception to drive optimization.

“I can talk about this for days. To optimize for prefab, your designer must be engaged day one, thinking about how to design for prefab and the build process. If you don’t have your A/E design partners collaborating with builders and fabricators day one, you are losing value in prefab. We are losing value on the multi-trade side because designers aren’t coming to the table early enough for prefab and modular. You’ll be chasing and making design changes going backwards instead of going forwards. Getting more designers engaged in vertical integration of construction is where the industry needs to go. Prefab is paramount, it’s at the bleeding edge, and more prefab-minded designers need to be at the table to optimize value for our clients.

Prefab is part of the solution. It should not lower design quality. If you think it does, you are doing it wrong. You can standardize around key details. We can optimize design and delivery in prefab and that’s part of wild collaboration.”
— Kyle

Start with the module. You can’t chop up a building like a wedding cake and expect it to stand up. Chasing after the modular delivery is painful. As you go further along the development of the plans you lose value exponentially.”
— Jenny

Closing thoughts—and join us for more!

This session will be enlightening and valuable for design teams, as well as owners, who will gain understanding of how to “reap the rewards” and the significant value of including A/E designers from day one. Our panelists shared some closing thoughts and key takeaways:

“It’s urgency, opportunity, and permission to try things. This isn’t all completely worked out.”
— Stan

“There’s a better way to do things. Collaboration and alignment on value-added drivers while leveraging prefab will create value for our customers. Getting aligned and breaking down siloes will optimize delivery. The A/E team must be key stakeholders in the prefab process.”
— Kyle

“The design team can and should lead with Lean and lead with prefab to drive value for the whole team, particularly for the client.”
— Jenny

“People need to realize the urgency with which to treat this adaptation in the way projects are delivered. With prefab, there is a clear path to be competitive and the ability to produce product so much faster. Do you want to watch from the sidelines or be part of that?”
— Romano

Join us in Chicago on May 2nd for a deeper dive into this topic and many more that could reshape the way you work, think, and succeed. Register today!