LEAN Works in Architecture?

When introduced to the idea of LEAN, many organizations I have worked with always respond, “I thought that only worked in the automotive industry?” or my all-time favorite, “We don’t make cars here, so this really doesn’t apply to our company”. After we get passed the usual ‘resistance to change barriers’ everyone uses when confronted with new and strange ideas, many people begin to understand whatever they do in their careers or day to day jobs, it almost always involves a process or sequence of steps. LEAN, is first and foremost, a management system and this management system focuses very heavily on the concept of improving Flow and reducing or eliminating Waste in a process. So the question becomes after this initial discussion, “Do you think LEAN could help us with our process?” and the answer is unequivocally, “Yes!”


LEAN is a management system that focuses very heavily on the concept of improving Flow and reducing or eliminating Waste in a process.


Recently at EAPC, we introduced LEAN Training for our Architectural Team and many of these concerns were voiced during the internal training session, “How can I use LEAN, I’m an architect?”  We overcame these concerns by first asking the architects about their core processes they do at their job, day in and day out (e.g. In LEAN, these are called Value Streams). Immediately, people started to map out how they completed their projects and saw how the project was just a long chain of steps which at the end of the day finally produced an architectural design process for all to see.

Once we had the process agreed upon, we started to talk about the Flow of their process/value stream. Flow is basically how easy the service or product moves through the various steps – it can be choppy and interrupted with stops and waits throughout or it can be uninterrupted and smooth without many stops and starts. Regardless, if the flow of your process is poor it can be easily seen by employees and customers (i.e. think of long lines at restaurant or many job files piling up on someone’s desk).


If the flow of your process is poor, it can be easily seen by employees and customers.


Smooth, uninterrupted flow is a key factor to a LEAN process/value stream and to ensure the process continues to improve you have to look for Wastes that may be causing the flow to slow down and stop. Interestingly, Wastes are defined by our customers and are based on the concept of value to the customer – A simple rule of thumb statement is involved with this assessment: “If the customer is not willing to pay for it, then it should be considered a Waste in our process”.


If the customer is not willing to pay for it, then it should be considered a Waste.


Once the team of architects started to view their work as a process and assessed the process from the viewpoint of the customer, they were able to quickly identify wastes and put together plans to reduce or eliminate these wastes in the process. At the end of the day, the team of architects asked the question, “What can’t you apply LEAN to?” – Mission accomplished!

This article was published in the December 2015 issue of Prairie Business Magazine