Lean and the Design Process

Posted on November 5, 2010


In the average building project, there are only so many ways to improve value via the design and construction process. The most obvious is to shorten the time it takes to do any one task, thus saving time, resources and money. Construction is an obvious target because it is the greatest chunk of time in the project process.

But I am surprised with the lack of discussion on design process innovation. More specifically, designers never talk about shortening or structurally tuning up the way things are done for significant savings. Why? Why not apply lean, for instance, to design?

Because design is not a linear process—and lean has its limits. Simply put, lean makes sense for simple, replicable processes. Lean works wonders for low value, repeatable work. Design is high value, unique work. Design is not a speed-focused endeavor, but an outcome-focused engagement. Design seeks the best solution, whether it takes five minutes or five months.

There are times when designers wish design was a step-by-step process but creation and synthesis are not so easily codified. And yet, design is still a legitimate target for revision and improvement for greater process value, an appropriate question no doubt. Lean just is not the right answer to this question.

Posted in: Lean Design