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By Andrea Sponsel, vice president and senior interior designer, HKS
About the expert: Andrea Sponsel is a vice president and senior interior designer at HKS. She began her Lean journey seven years ago, and was immediately immersed in the philosophy of continuous improvement, standardization of work and eliminating waste to create value. The process was something she quickly and easily identified with. Her passion is bringing Lean knowledge learned to others within HKS to promote a more efficient delivery of design.
When and where did your Lean journey begin, and why did you choose to go down the Lean path?
Sponsel: My Lean journey began by default about six or seven years ago when I was staffed on an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) project and was sort of thrown into it that way. I found that Lean principles really resonated with me – don’t do work that doesn’t matter, streamline your work and standardize your work. Not doing things that don’t matter was something that I really enjoyed, and it was really kind of a fresh perspective. Also, the transparency and collaboration that comes along with all of that.
Do you remember being hesitant at all to adopt Lean processes?
Sponsel: No, it was never a sense of hesitation. It was just more of a learning curve, you know? It was new terminology and a new way of thinking. I didn’t know how wrong or broken some things were until I saw this new way. I was just trying to learn the vocabulary and open my eyes to a different way of working.
How would you convince others of the Lean advantage?
Sponsel: This is part of my job and Bernita Beikmann’s job basically every day, and that’s kind of why we were staffed in these positions – to be the bridge. I’m an interior designer by background and Bernita is an architect by background. So we try to bridge the gap between people who somewhat believe in the Lean way and the design world by showing how we can apply Lean to help both design and construction sides of a project team.
I don’t know that we have it completely figured out just yet as to how we can convince people, but our approach to it is trying to show some of the Lean tools without actually calling it Lean. By showing them how to do collaborative planning, how to utilize A3 for problem solving and documentation and teaching the tools shows how this creates a collaborative project. Oh, and by the way, you are doing Lean.
Instead of saying “Kaizen,” it’s “identifying opportunities for improvement.” Instead of “Last Planner” or “pull planning,” we talk about collaborative planning. Instead of calling it an “A3”, we call it a “problem solving document.” By providing a familiar vocabulary, people are sometimes more accepting.
As a designer, what has been your biggest obstacle to overcome throughout your Lean journey?
Sponsel: I would say my biggest obstacle was reordering project processes, especially on the first project or two. For a traditional project, I knew what the delivery schedule looked like and I knew what I should be doing, when I should be working on it and the traditional order of things that needed to be done. In an IPD project or in any integrated project, it really turns that project schedule on its head and changes your way of thinking. It’s not the order you are used to doing; it’s the order of when you actually need to do it and when you actually need to select that final paint color or that final system that will go into the building.
And then, being in a Lean champion role, it’s really about getting people to utilize the tool that is the biggest obstacle. Getting them to get past that initial vocabulary or their initial fear of doing something differently and getting them to actually jump in and do it is always the biggest obstacle. We have been fortunate at HKS to have some IPD projects that were dictated by the client, so there was no choice but to do it that way, and that has really opened a wider group of people up to a different way of working. They become our group to spread the gospel throughout HKS. So, some of it has been kind of forced and as they have been dispersed on to other projects’ teams, they really help lead the cause to this new way of thinking.
What would you tell someone in the design community who is just starting his or her Lean journey or is struggling to get a good foundation on what Lean in design is all about?
Sponsel: I started by reading about Lean as much as I possibly could. Prior to the formation of the LCI Central Indiana Community of Practice (CoP), which was formed by my first IPD project team after realizing we wanted to bring more education to the community, there wasn’t really anything in central Indiana. So it was just doing a lot of research online and reading as many books as possible that really helped me learn the vocabulary and learn about the different methods out there.
We at HKS recommend LCI’s “Transforming Design and Construction: A Framework for Change” to anyone in our company who is just starting their Lean journey. It’s just a great overview of the process and all of the different tools. The way it was written, the visual cues and all of that is just an effective way to give someone an overview. We have a larger network of HKS Lean champions that meet regularly, and when “Transforming Design and Construction” came out, we used a few chapters as talking points about our experiences with those tools. It was a good way to get feedback from across the country and to see how others are utilizing the same tools.
Part of the keynote discussion at 2017 Lean in Design Forum focused on the relationship between designers being the advocate for what the owner wants upon delivery. What experience do you have with that collaboration?
Sponsel: Part of what we try to do at HKS and what we’re developing more standard work for is how we kick off those projects. We’re breaking down those silos instead of it just being the design team talking to the owner and trying to communicate that information to the construction team. We’re also creating some sessions where all groups are at the table from the beginning to develop our guiding principles, concept statement and Conditions of Satisfaction (CoS). This is so that they are not developed in a silo and pushed out to the rest of the team, but are something that really becomes a collaborative set of guidelines that we can all work toward. We certainly still try to be the advocate, but we also try to set ourselves up for everyone to be the project’s advocate. We don’t want members coming into the project without understanding what’s going on.
What kind of team onboarding has HKS done?
Sponsel: It’s funny you’re asking me this question because this is what Bernita and I presented on at 2017 LCI Congress.
We’ve learned it’s really about developing a process for getting people up to speed as new team members are added throughout the whole design and construction process.
Everything from letting them know how to get to the Big Room or to the jobsite to where the files are stored to incorporating them into the culture of the project. What are our guiding principles and how were they developed? It’s an ongoing process for how we’re developing those tools. Bernita and I were just talking about it recently. She had heard of someone creating a video introduction for the project that was supposed to be a fun way of sharing all these things with new members versus a boring PowerPoint or static posters in the Big Room.
So, I won’t say that we completely have this figured out, but we’re on our journey toward that.