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Lean management in architecture?

2022.07.27.

When we had a go at this years ago, all the other offices just observed BIM modelling nervously and awkwardly. Something similar is happening right now, but it is related to the management system. We would like to level up again, and to do that we are focusing on improving our processes.

IN-EX has always been an innovative company. As an architectural office, and later as general designers, we were looking for opportunities, which could help us stand out from other architectural companies, which could make us better and more competitive than others. As a result, we can look back on a number of successful projects, not only in this country, but also in Western Europe and the Middle East, and we are currently working on a number of them. Thanks to our agile approach, we were one of the first designer companies in Hungary to adapt BIM technology. When we had a go at this years ago, all the other offices just observed BIM modelling nervously and awkwardly. Something similar is happening right now, but it is related to the management system. We would like to level up again, and to do that we are focusing on improving our processes.

But what is lean?!

One of MIT’s researchers, John Krafcik studied the way different car manufacturing companies operated in the late 1980s. He found that every car manufacturer has a similar operation management system, except for one. However, this one has a radically more efficient and more flexible operational approach than its competitors. In the end, Krafcik decided to write his paper on the operations of this one company. This company was Toyota, and their model was called the Toyota Production System (TPS). In his article, Krafcik called Toyota’s operational approach “lean”, which later became the name of the management approach. However, the meaning is best described as sporty lean, dynamic, flexible, efficient.

OK, OK, but what does a car manufacturer’s management method have to do with design engineers?

The truth is that the lean methodology spread like wildfire worldwide at the end of the 20th, and at the beginning of the 21st century. With the publication of various books and the help of consultants, the other manufacturers implemented TPS as well, and then they obliged the suppliers to use the methodology and philosophy of this management. Simply because of the efficiency and flexibility that lean brings, as those, who did not use it were left behind in the competition. After the automotive industry, it was also adopted by other manufacturers and then by their office environments, and from there it was only one step to the financial sector (!). Nowadays there is no bank in the world, that does not adapt the lean approach. As BIM technology has spread into the practices of offices striving for improvement, so has lean. The financial sector was followed by healthcare. The application of lean methodology is particularly essential in those countries, where healthcare is market-based and where the healthcare institutes are in serious competition (e.g., USA, England). Surprisingly, the literature on lean healthcare is slowly catching up with that on lean production. Nowadays, the lean approach is being applied in public administration and almost all other services. Moreover, the construction industry is not immune to the effects of lean. The lean approach and its methods have been adopted by companies in accordance with their demands. Nowadays, to the west of our country, the use of lean management is essential in case of constructional projects. Readers of these pages may be familiar with the following expressions: Takt planning or Last Planner System, which derive from Lean Construction. So, this is how we started to implement the lean management methodologies and philosophy that is indispensable when it comes to professional and high-quality work that is efficient at the same time.

But I still don’t understand what this lean stuff is all about!

The goal of lean management is to create a system that can react to the changing demands of our customers in a flexible way. This can be achieved by the reduction of costs and by reducing the waste in our workflow. Since the costs of companies can have the greatest impact on their own operational processes, we analyze and improve them continuously. It is like a series of daily trainings for people doing sports, the drive for continuous improvement is what allows us to increase efficiency and flexibility. The two fundamental principles of lean are reducing the aforementioned waste and respecting people. The latter can manifest itself in a lot of things: from providing a high-quality working environment to supporting staff development and improving teamwork and cooperation at the same time. Numerous methods have been created to apply these principles while working on continuous improvement. Some of these can be transferable from other industries to us, architectural designers, but obviously not all of them, because there is no point in copying in a sneaky way. We need to find our own solutions to all our problems, and we will have to create our own methods. So, this is lean management. A people-oriented system that continuously strives for improvement. This is the path we have embarked on, and we are already starting to feel the results of our implemented arduous work. We are confident that we can keep this up for countless years to come and we will be followed by other design offices, just like when we started to apply BIM technology. The lean philosophy of people-centricity and continuous improvement fits perfectly with IN-EX’s values. If you’d like to grow with us, take a look at our open positions.