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Lean: a new form of project management

As an interior designer, my focus has been on creating healthy and inspirational spaces for people to live and work. I often find it increasingly challenging to balance client needs with project constraints (budget or timeline) in the traditional construction model. There is, however, a movement that is gaining momentum – placing emphasis on truly collaborative design and construction to deliver client values by continuously eliminating waste.

Lean design and construction is the result of an evolution based on the philosophies and practices of the manufacturing process. The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey Liker, lays out these processes as a way to streamline performance and drive out waste on any project. Continuously focusing on how a process can be improved, what can be learned, what can be corrected, and what can be edited or deleted is a big part of this philosophy.

Creating a culture of collaboration, transparency and systems integration is essential to the success of any Lean project. The key driver is to select trade partners, designers and engineers based on value added to a team rather than overall cost. Business owners can require contractors, architects and designers to design and construct a space that meets their established values without compromise to the projected target costs. These two goals work in tandem with a lean team to drive innovation and by seeking out and eliminating waste, resulting in timely project delivery and profitability.

Greg Howell, a Ketchum resident and co-founder of the Lean Construction Institute, saw there was a better way to deliver projects and drive productivity. The LCI has developed a Lean project delivery system that brings the lessons found in the manufacturing process to life in the architectural and construction industry.

“Lean theory, principles and techniques, taken together, provide the foundation for a new form of project management,” states LCI’s website. “From roots in production management, Lean construction has produced significant improvements particularly on complex, uncertain and quick projects.”

Some differences you will find in Lean design vs. the traditional construction model include the following:

  • Redefining control: The partners focus less on overseeing outcomes and more on creating the outcome.
  • Driving out waste while maximizing value.
  • Designing a facility in tandem with the production of the facility – do work only once. Each trade works closely and in tandem. Trade partners are brought on early in the design process, not last in the construction process.
  • Establishing value early: Define who the customer of your work is and agree to expectations that are fluid and will grow with the project over time.
  • Coordinating processes and outcomes with a continuous flow pattern – a “pull” rather than the “push” of traditional construction methodology.
  • Empowering partners through transparency, and eliminating a central decision authority: Arm participants with ongoing information sharing and allow them to take action.


Crystal Arreola is owner and principal designer at Designer Studio Interiors in Boise and has worked for nearly 10 years in the field. She is certified by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, LEED AP ID+C credentialed, and president of the Intermountain Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. As ASID chapter president, it is Arreola’s goal to bring Lean design concepts and principles to the Treasure Valley.

About Crystal Arreola