Architects often tout their experience with Lean Design (Six-Sigma, Kaizen, etc.) with little or no real-world expertise.
The most common error is when we look at a space and design it to optimize the performance of the people who use it. This is part of Lean Design, but hardly the whole process. A major component that the architect typically doesn’t get involved with is if the end-users of the space are actually working in a way that is truly efficient. We only solve part of the problem is we place an inefficient process in an efficient space.
Lean Design has to do with the whole process and everything that touches it. By making something easier and more efficient for one group of people, might make things more difficult and inefficient for others. Lean Design has to do with taking a whole organization and seeing how things can be improved to benefit the process as a whole.
Lean Design needs to involve everyone. There is nobody “too-small” or “too-large” to be part of the process. Does a patient-room wing of a hospital work for the nurses? If so, that’s only part of the equation. It also needs to work for Patients, Families, Materials Management, Doctors, Custodial Staff, Pharmacists, IT Specialist, Facilities, etc. Anyone who has a good or service “touch” that wing should have an input on how it will impact their process.
In the end, it takes more than Architectural Design to create Lean Design. We are only part of a much larger process.
Designers and media often tout the latest environmental advantages of one product over the other. Too often this type of analysis is flawed due to the lack of long-term research on these products. This weakens the argument made by Architects and other Sustainability Guru’s since their early adoption/assumption of these materials and methods can sometimes prove to be incorrect.
Another method used is the “Shame” method. This is where a facility owner is faced with the moral choice of paying more and having a sustainable building or having baby seal pups die in the Arctic Circle. Too often building owners have to answer to share holders who are obligated to look at the bottom line.
If Architects and Engineers want to push a Sustainable agenda, they need to start speaking in the language of building owners. The green in their language deals with dollars and cents not bamboo flooring and recycled content.
The federal building program for the U.S. Forest Service takes a hard look at life-cycle cost analysis to help them make decisions on how the building should be designed. Their report can be found here:
Most typical life-cycle analyses look at the initial capital cost versus the operating cost over a fixed amount of time. This will often give them a ‘pay-back’ time that would equate to the operating dollars saved versus the initial cost premium.
The report states that in a simple analysis of a building with a 30-year life span, the operating costs are typically one and a half times the cost of initial construction. It also states that salaries and benefits of employees over that same 30-year period are 18 times the initial cost of construction. Since employee productivity is affected by the quality of their workspace, it should be considered the most important factor when evaluating the effectiveness of any building design.
Knowing this, architects and engineers need to better frame their design decisions to reflect this data. They also have to be more effective in relaying this data to property owners. We need to remind the owners of the human elements that happen after the building is open and how the design can affect employee productivity, retention and well-being.