Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement Within the Building Design Industry

| April 3, 2018

In my earlier blog titled Applying Lean Principles in the Building Design Industry, we discussed continuous improvement as one of the key principals.  This principal drives innovative solutions through the never-ending quest to be better today than we were yesterday.  It is important to think incremental.  Don’t let best be the enemy of better by waiting until the change is perfect.  And no improvement is too small.  Small is realistic and achievable which is especially important in a demanding industry like building design.  It requires a shift in mindset to a long-term view where investments now are evaluated on the future benefit.The first question you’ll need to answer in changing your culture is why strive for continuous improvements?  At Fitzemeyer & Tocci, the answer is linked to a balanced score card approach across all our strategic pillars.

  • Becoming a high velocity learning firm will allow our employees to increase the rate at which they improve as individuals and become problem finders.
  • Focusing on value added activities allows our firm to thrive in a competitive market place.
  • Lastly, it produces innovative solutions and technical excellence for our clients.

So now that you know why you want a culture of never-ending improvements, how do you build or establish the culture?

To be successful in establishing a culture of continuous improvement, 100% participation is necessary where everyone is empowered to make “just do it” improvements.  These improvements are quick or easy to implement and are directly related to the individual’s job function.  They don’t require any sort of documentation or approvals due to the nature and direct relevance to how they complete their own work.  Allowing individuals to take charge of improving their own work will be critical to the engagement and participation making it successful.

Continous ImprovementHowever, not all changes or improvements are easy or quick.  Process or innovative improvements likely need some level of planning and acceptance by a group with cross functional participation before implementation.  These improvements should be treated like projects and often use A3 Thinking / Problem Solving, discussed in my previous lean blog post “What the Building Design Industry Should Know about A3 Thinking”, as the tool to measure if the improvement had the impact you planned for.  The Plan-do-check-act cycle of an improvement.

Failure demand response is another way to generate continuous improvements.  This is a systems concept that was first published by John Seddon in 1992.  The demand is created by a failure to do something or something correct which creates a waste.  In the building design industry, a response to a RFI or a rejected shop drawing can be viewed as a failure demand.  It requires the building designer to have an outward mindset asking why the RFI needed to be submitted without feeling the need to defend one’s prior work.  It’s not easy but in this answer lies the potential for a continuous improvement that eliminates future failure demands or waste.

Ultimately the success of any continuous improvement program will be tied to a consistent commitment from leadership and the empowerment of staff to connect it to their job and their work.  Leadership at the corporate, discipline or project level needs to make continuous improvements part of the routine.  Really, it needs to be part of the job.  Do your work plus improve your work should be in every person’s job description throughout the company.  Lastly, remember to celebrate the improvements that have made measurable impacts on your firm no matter how small they seem.  It is a long-term mindset where many small improvements eventually have huge positive impacts on your employees, your firm and ultimately your clients.  Be patient and communicate often while waiting for measurable impacts to speak for themselves.


Jeff Romeo

Jeff is the vice president of technical services and the director of the project management office for the firm. In these roles he is responsible for the successful delivery and management of firm’s project and client portfolios. His primary goal is to ensure the firm exceeds our client’s expectations by delivering superior project leadership, technical excellence and innovative solutions. Jeff is an industry expert and advocate for Lean principles and practices. He has been quoted in Lean publications, authored blogs, led client initiatives and is actively involved in industry advocacy groups. He is a licensed electrical PE in 10 states with a B.S. in Architectural Engineering and A.S. in Electrical. Jeff is currently attending the American Council of Engineering Companies Senior Executive Institute.

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