Challenges in the digital transformation of lean design methods: a case study
Paper in proceeding, 2020
Lean design, a major lean construction focus, entails a number of various methods which are practically implemented. Among them, the lean design-inspired concept Project Studio (PS) has been utilized since 2011 by a major Swedish contractor, to facilitate and standardize the design process in conjunction with collaborative planning. PS promotes the face-to-face communication and collaboration of designers within the same physical project space, by using visual analogue tools, fostering creativity, and facilitating mutual learning. Following the digitalization paradigm shift in the construction industry, the aforementioned contractor sought to digitally transform existing flows, processes and tools, as part of its operational strategy. This course of action included PS, which was digitalized in 2017 via cloud applications seeking to optimize its performance, increase scheduling availability, and facilitate the question-answer handling outside of the PS physical project space. In the current paper, the digital transformation of PS is critically analysed. Methodologically, the abductive reasoning of qualitative analysis is adopted, by working iteratively between a preliminary targeted literature review performed through the concept-centric framework, and the qualitative field data obtained in a case study that was conducted by observing an in-company competence course. While it was noted that through the digitalization of PS some benefits were indeed brought about (e.g. higher detail of deliverables and remote access capabilities), the major results of this analysis were rather alarming. The critical observations showed a large variation on the understanding and utilization of the cloud tools (which in themselves could not adequately replace any of the PS existing working methodologies), more time-consuming meetings, frequent misinterpretation of digitally exchanged information, mobility reduction in the PS physical project space, and stakeholder dislocation. These results can be tied with the general discussion of the possibly negligent way of introducing and utilizing digitalization within construction (following the current hype), the largely unfounded perception that digital tools make processes self-propelled, and the still existent unavoidable discrepancies emanating from the disassociation between developers and implementers.