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The lean design and construction community has long used the term “conditions of satisfaction” to describe a variety of project goals, value propositions, general terms and conditions, customer requirements and other broad ideals to be used on lean projects. Here, for instance, are three examples used in our community by prominent practitioners:

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they express different levels of granularity. Values are fundamental, high-level beliefs. Environmental stewardship, or respect for people, are values. Goals reflect actions that are consistent with the values. Reducing greenhouse gasses or creating trust are goals. Conditions of Satisfaction (CoS) reflect specific commitments. Achieving a net zero energy project or having a planned percent complete of 82%, are CoS. Whenever possible, CoS are measured for management and/or compensation purposes.

Pankow Foundation, IPD Guide for Practitioners (2017), pg. 35
Conditions of Satisfaction
In a project context, a description of the actual requirements that must be satisfied by the project team for the project to be considered a success and meet the value proposition for the customer. These typically include qualitative and quantitative means of measurements with both process and results-based metrics. Also used in the Last Planner® System to clarify the expectations and needs of handoffs between project team members.

Umstot and Fauchier, Lean Project Delivery: Building Championship Project Teams (2017) pg. 214
An explicit description by a customer of all the actual requirements that must be satisfied by the performed in order the customer to feel that they received exactly what was wanted.

Hill, Copeland and Pikel, ed, Target Value Delivery: Practitioner Guidebook to Implementation, Lean Construction Institute (2016) pg. 160

As pointed out by the multitude of lean celebrity authors of the Pankow Foundation Report, “values, goals and conditions of satisfaction are often used interchangeably.” We think we should bring some consistency to the use of the term “conditions of satisfaction.”

Fernando Flores survived 3 years’ confinement in a Chilean prison following the brutal replacement of the Allende Presidency by military coup in 1973. Flores was Allende’s finance minister; his incarceration ended in his exile from Chile, and he landed in Palo Alto, California at Stanford to work as a researcher in the Computer Department. As part of his work in communication, he focused on the importance of language: “not an abstract system of bits and bytes but a means by which people interact.”1 It was apparent to Flores and others that to improve the use of computers, the role and importance of language was necessary to create effective systems. Flores and Juan Ludlow first discussed the language action perspective in 1980. In 1987, Flores with Terry Winograd formalized the language action perspective in their work Understanding Computers and Cognition2.

In our community, we believe that projects are networks of commitments. This is a true language action perspective. What is a commitment? Under what circumstances can we understand that a commitment has been made? How does the committer understand when the commitment is satisfied? This is at the heart of the work of the language action perspective. A worthy explanation of commitments and their role in outcomes was developed by Stephan Haeckel in 1999:

. . . a commitment is an agreement between two parties to produce a defined outcome and to accept that outcome if it meets the conditions agreed to. One party, the supplier, takes responsibility for producing the outcome. The other party, the customer, must accept the outcome if it meets the conditions of satisfaction. Accountability is established by this interaction. It is a personal acceptance of the consequences of making a commitment. Accountabilities exist only in connection with commitments between people. A person must be accountable to someone, which means no one can be generically accountable for sales, manufacturing, or quality. For the same reason, no process, machine, or system can be accountable for anything. Accountability arises from an agreement between two people about who-owes-what-to-whom.3

We can pull out of this definition that a commitment is:

  • An agreement
  • Between two parties
  • To produce a defined outcome
  • That the requester agrees to accept if the outcome meets the preset conditions of satisfaction

These bullet points match the language action perspective as shown in Flores’ diagram of the process:

This all seems straight-forward. There are two actors, at least one of whom needs something done. It may be that both need something done. I need something accomplished, you need to do some work. But we’re focused primarily on the “thing” I’m asking you to do. So, the offer is made by you to do the work I need, or I proffer a request to you to do the work. Both happen linguistically: in other words, they are part of a conversation. Flores and others call this a “conversation for action.” It results in the sought-after outcome which is reached by understanding and achieving the conditions under which the requester will be satisfied.

We see commitments all the time. In our community we create stickies in our handwriting and undertake to “commit” to the task referenced in the stickie by publicly placing it on the weekly work plan in front of our peers. Stickies are the result of the conversation that ends with “I will do my work this way in order to meet your conditions.” Meeting another’s conditions allows work to continue.

But what precedes filling out the stickie? What precedes filling out the stickie is what Flores calls a “conversation for possibilities.”4 Flores explains these kinds of “conversations:”

In this type of conversation, you declare a domain in which you invent and fulfill opportunities with conversations for action. These conversations are very different from those for action. Conversations for possibilities lead to and are completed by conversations for action. 5

In our world, that means that we explore a myriad of possibilities (set based design, optioneering, brainstorming) before we settle on the request and the negotiated commitment to meet that request. These requests are spurred by planning (literally, the plans and specifications) but they are not a result of planning; they are a result of a specific ask. How will you install the duct work? When will you install the duct work? How many people are on your crew? Where will you be? The commitment responding to these requests is often contained on a sticky on the weekly work planning wall. It is hung on a certain day (the time commitment), designating the work (the what commitment), showing the area (the where commitment) and the size of the crew (the how commitment). The Last Planner® System is thus called a network of commitments because the people doing the work respond to the request for the work to be done; and when they respond, they know that completing that work satisfies their commitment.

So, what of values and goals and conditions of satisfaction? What of fundamental, high-level beliefs? And what role does “planning” play in all this? These are the questions we have not asked very deeply; we have left them to be called out on a laundry list we call “conditions of satisfaction.”

We would argue that what we now mean by conditions of satisfaction— “values, goals and conditions of satisfaction” to quote the Pankow Report really represent three distinct conversations. “Values” responds to a conversation for possibilities. What will this building say about the owner’s work, the owner’s sense of place in its organization and its community, the owner’s commitment to aesthetics and a more valuable built environment? These are the values that inform our design and our building, but they are not, strictly speaking, “conditions of satisfaction.” The values generate a series of big ideas that we think (we being an IPD team or an Owner/Stakeholder) may capture those subjective thoughts, expressions and ideals we want the facility to represent. These cannot be captured in a conversation for action just yet because we must ideate the possibilities. The first category of a comprehensive “Conditions of Satisfaction Analysis” for a project therefore are subjective values that can only lead to conversations for action as to how they are turned into work that satisfies those subjective desires.

The second area where we define conditions of satisfaction meets our definition to a “t”. The owner has requirements for the building/facility that meets the owner’s business case, its commercial value proposition. The facility must have 300 suites. We can easily measure whether we have satisfied that condition by counting the number of suites. The Owner has made a request, we have negotiated around it, so we understand it, we implement it and as soon as we have 300 suites, we have satisfied the request for 300 suites. But what of the nature of the suites? What do they look like? What do they contain? How do they operate? These are continual conversations, first of possibilities through the planning and modeling process and then into construction when the specific requests of the owner are fulfilled. We meet the “what” request by delivering the suites in the condition requested.

We believe there is also a third component to this broad Conditions of Satisfaction analysis—that concerns the boundaries within which we must solve the problem represented by the request. Almost every project has constraints—articulated budgets, desired time limits, required quality concerns, usually designated sustainability or environmental quality conditions and metrics. We believe we need to articulate those constraints at the beginning of the project.

Our conclusion is that what we now call Conditions of Satisfaction misuses that term and leads to confusion as to how to fulfill all the subjective and objective requests within the constraints applicable. We would suggest we begin using the term Owners Value Proposition to include the three domains discussed. There may be many more areas to explore within each domain than those illustrated but it is an example of how to begin to ask the relevant questions that support the Owner’s overall Value Proposition.


1. "A Language/Action Perspective on the Design of Cooperative Work" by Terry Winograd, Human-Computer Interaction 3:1 (1987-88), 3-30.
2. Winogard, Flores, Understanding Computers and Cognition, Addison-Wesley Professional (1987)
3. Haeckel, Adaptive Enterprise: Creating and Leading Sense-and-Respond Organizations. Harvard Business School Press (1999), pgs. 142-143
4. Flores, Fernando and Letelier, Maria Flores ed., Conversations for Action and Collected Essays (2012) CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, South Carolina, Chapter 4
5. Ibid, at 39.

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Dick Bayer is the Vice President of Colliers Project Leaders and an Adjunct Professor at the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management within the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. He is currently living in Ottawa working as the IPD/Lean Design and Construction Adviser for the Centre Block Rehabilitation Project, a proposed 12-year project to improve and renovate the Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament building campus.