Lean Tools During Design & Preconstruction – IPD or Not

I wanted to start this blog post with the most important message I have for all those who read this – you don’t need to have an IPD project in order to successfully use lean tools during design and preconstruction! As you will see from the real life examples described later, in order to do so, all that’s needed is the right integrated environment.

The first thing necessary to use Lean tools is the right integrated environment. A big piece of that is the owner. Success begins with an owner that is deeply engaged, heavily invested, and passionate about their mission or project. This owner does not necessarily have to be experienced in the use of Lean tools, just open, trusting, and willing to invest in a team and project’s success. From one owner’s mouth, “the investment made bringing the team early, a big room, and co-location is the best money spent on a project”.

A team isn’t just an owner, though. The team needs to be a team. By removing waste in a team, reliability is created in delivering on project values. How’s that done, though? Understanding behaviors is key. Regardless of tool or activity, helping team members understand their own natural behaviors, building awareness of one’s self to increase understanding of other team members’ qualities, providing ways to be more effective in team communication, and allowing a means to quickly assess and overcome conflict creates a trusting, strong, and high-performing team.

Being sure all readers now think the previous paragraphs are the new lyrics to “Kumbaya, My Lord,” here are successful examples of tool used regardless of contracted delivery type.

Tool Example #1 - Choosing by Advantages:

One of the most effective tools is Choosing by Advantages. One example is structural system selection. A hospital in North Texas had always utilized a cast-in-place structures for their main campus projects. When the latest project was brought up, set-based design was used to analyze multiple structure types. As a team, it was decided to use CBA for the selection, and it led to a surprising choice. With the selected factors and criteria, a steel structure’s advantages led to a change going forward. Another example was selecting an architect-of-record on a design-build, private K-12 student union project. The owner requested the design architect and general contractor select the architect of record and entrusted the team to do so in whatever way they selected. As a team, CBA was used, and the end result was wholly accepted by the owner and defensible with all the firms.

Tool Example #2 - Set-based and Target Value Design

Target Value Design is also a useful tool on all types of projects. Two great examples took place on the previously discussed student union.

While school officers were growing program and building square footage, the executive committee governed the budget and requested it not increase beyond an early conceptual budget. The team agreed to instantly go into a version of set-based design. Knowing the pieces of program that had to remain, the team created several versions of a floor plan that included those program pieces, as well as some degree of flexibility. With those options, the owner selected their favorite layout, and the team successfully designed to budget.

As a second example, at the concept level, a wood ceiling was selected for the main union dining area. Lesson learned – communication is key. Stained beadboard might be wood, but it was not the radiused, stained, 2x8 ceiling the architect envisioned. As soon as this bust in the budget and design was identified, the team came up with the maximum cost of the ceiling – the target cost. With that information and a drywall trade partner willing to assist in budgeting, the team created several concepts, another version of set-based design on the project, and eventually selected an option using pre-manufactured, wood-looking ceiling products that achieved the design intent and target cost.

Tool Example #3 - Design 3P

Design 3P (Production-Preparation-Process) is also a useful tool that can be used on any type of project. By quickly mocking up test designs of entire rooms with simple materials, such as cardboard, users were able to truly get a feel for the rooms they were helping design and create. This allows the customer to achieve a value and flow not typically met by reviewing plan designs through the typical user meeting/design development process. On a CM-at-Risk project, several areas of an urgent care clinic were mocked up with members of the user groups. Some of the benefits registered and attributable to the 3P process on this project are: the building has never had to be physically expanded, while nearly identical projects for the same client that did not go through the 3P process have; unnecessary storage areas were removed and set a new client standard that carried forward to other projects; and the project led to significantly higher patient satisfaction than other facilities with similar services and budgets.

Tool Example #4 - Pull Planning

A common tool on the construction side of a project, pull planning, is also something that can be incredibly useful during design.

On a 120,000 SF renovation project that was CM-at-Risk, the mechanical engineering group had representatives present, but the firm did not believe in the method and only half-heartedly agreed to their activities on the pull plan. Needless to say, the design process did not follow the pull plan and the regular fire drill ensued. On another project, though, success was attained. As the general contractor was brought on, a basic floor plan had been selected, no further design had taken place, and the owner requested to break ground on the project within five months. Using pull planning, the team came up with a plan to achieve this. Even when decisions lagged or other delays occurred, the team was able to use this technique to re-plan as needed while still achieving the schedule objective.

With all this being said, visible examples of successful lean tool use on all types of projects prove it can be done in any environment. The team and tools are the key, not the contract. Please take these tools forward to use them whenever you have an opportunity!

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