August 26, 2013
by Andrea Sponsel

Three years ago I started the Lean journey with my first Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Lean project at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health – Simon Family Tower.  As a member of the Interiors team for the first phase of the Tower, I was nearing completion of a traditional design and delivery process for the first two and a half patient floors and the new Lobby.  Embarking on the second phase, I began asking myself:  what would incorporating IPD and Lean change about the project design and delivery of the remaining four and a half floors?  The answer was almost everything.

Traditionally, Interior Designers aren’t sitting at the table on the first day of the project.  The Architects will meet with the end users to collect information and develop a schematic design plan.  Back at the office, the Interiors group will be working on a design narrative and strategy for concept development based on information gleaned from an RFP, past client experience, and/or information passed to us by the Architects.  When we do get to the table, there can often be frustration on all sides because we may be asking the same questions to the end users, the contractor may or may not be there to answer budget questions, and we notice that the floor plans need a little massaging based on furniture and equipment layouts, flows and adjacencies.  Now these are worst case scenarios, but they are frustrations that we’ve all felt at some point on a traditional project.

So how are IPD and Lean different than the traditional process?  First, representatives of the entire team are there day one, from the owner to contractor.  Before any design information is pulled from the client, put on a piece of paper, and handed to the contractor to build, we develop a strategy.  We start with the end goal in mind and pull our schedule back from there, thinking about the last responsible moment a decision needs to be made. Second, when we begin meeting with the end users we don’t present them with a floor plan, design concept, and finishes that won’t meet their needs. We first talk to them about their vision for the space.  We use Lean operation principles to design rooms based on the activities performed in them and the necessary furniture, equipment and supplies for those activities.  The project is designed with the right people in the room at the right time, and design meetings are collaborative.  Spaces are not designed in a silo as there is an integration of Architects, Engineers, Interior Designers, Owner Representatives, Contractors and end users.  As a result, we are not building a code minimum space that they can’t function in, providing cabinets that will sit empty most of the time just because we always put a cabinet there, or designing waiting areas that aren’t right-sized.  Decisions are made as a team and everyone is in agreement that the outcome is best for the whole project, not just for the individual discipline or trade.

I say this all with three pieces of advice given to me on my journey of now several IPD and Lean projects:  First, be careful what you wish for.  I have probably learned more about MEP systems than an Interior Designer needs to know, but in the end I think it’s made me a better, more aware designer.  Second, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  This is not a process for the weak and weary.  You must fully understand the steps it takes for you and your team to deliver a great project.  You must be prepared to explain the clinical, emotional, and monetary value of your design decisions and finish selections to an audience that you had probably not considered or presented to before.   Finally, you must know (or know how to quickly find) the dimensions of a sleeper sofa.