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Key Factor for Success in Lean Building Design

Posted by Ray Corby on Mar 27, 2017

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It is overwhelming how many books, articles and blogs there are about Lean and Six Sigma. Google “Lean Six Sigma” and there are more than two million results. But I haven’t found anything yet that explores one important aspect when applying these techniques to building design:

“Change your language when mapping your value stream.”

Here is why:

As humans, we understand our world by our experiences. Through the years, we develop habits and expectations that make our lives easier. Our brains are built that way: the more we can do subconsciously, the more conscious brain power we have for other things.

Habits become so strong we don’t realize we are doing them. For example, if I’m not sure I locked the door when I left the house, I’ll go back to check and, sure enough, it’s locked. It’s habit. How many times have you driven to work and can’t recall a thing about the trip? We all have these habits that we do without even thinking.

These engrained habits hinder our ability to change our behavior. It’s hard to change what we don’t realize we are doing.

Expectations are similar. If the same thing happens over and over again we barely pay attention or might not notice at all. We enjoy the stability of things being as expected. It’s in our nature.

Breaking through these habits and learned expectations takes work. It can be difficult to change our most comfortable language when talking about buildings, but words like “office”, “conference room” or “nurse station” bring with them all our preconceptions about what happens there. If you use this type of language, you will always do what you always did, where you always did it. That is not a formula for change. We have to shed our natural human tendencies by thinking and speaking differently.

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I’ve seen this work very well in value stream mapping for building design. When the group speaks only of activities, not rooms or spaces, the conversation becomes much more process-focused, and the subconscious habits and expectations become exposed and assessed for their value.

So, ban the use of the word “room” or anything that sounds like it. Focus only on the activities that should occur to make your process the most functional and efficient, and then build the space around those activities. You can give the spaces names after that.

Topics: Lean Design, learned expectations, Value Stream Mapping

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