The Lean Builder: Architects — my frustration overfloweth

January 10, 2012

In the past year, during our LeanPlan Workout process, we had the dubious honor of “working on” plans from 3 of the biggest name, most expensive architectural firms in the country (among others.)

Our version of “working on” these plans is engaging 20-25 suppliers and trades in a highly-structured review of field reality and cost/value analysis, led by our architect from TK Design, Todd Hallett, along with one  of our experienced field consultants and a team from the Builder. These are plans that builders paid top dollar for. They shouldn’t be just good plans, they should be GREAT plans. So how do I say this in a civil way? These plans stunk. In one case, they stunk to high heaven. That’s as nice as I can put it.

Last year I got a genuine piece of hate mail from a staffer at AIA in Washington asking that Professional Builder order me to “Cease & Desist!” because I was disparaging the profession of Architecture in a couple of articles I wrote. What did I say? Simply that Architects, by and large, are not doing their job. I provided specifics and pictures. He didn’t like that much.

Never one to shy from a fight, I challenged the AIA staffer to engage me in a debate – “he said, she said.” Hell, I even offered to be the she, if he liked. PB would have been happy to print a point/counterpoint article. No answer. I volunteered to meet him anywhere, anytime at any forum – I even offered to be polite – and debate the issue, even at the annual AIA conference. He would not respond to any of my suggestions. Finally, I asked that he at least do the gentlemanly thing and list specific points where I had said specific things that misrepresented his profession, so I could specifically reply. Again, he refused to engage.

Funny thing, when I put this out to our LeanBuilding Group, (please join!) every single Architect member came back in full support of me, encouraging me to “Tell it like it is.” And so I will. These 3 big name, very expensive architects? Their plans were full of errors. They had just dumb things in their floorplans. They had even dumber things on their elevations. They were designed with blatant disregard for cost. We saw things that a first year architectural student at a community college should have been whupped upside the head for. Just one quick example: on one set of plans, out of the 28 specific detail boxes provided by the architect for building corners, cornices, soffits, etc. 24 were flat-out wrong and could not be built as drawn.

In each case, I felt badly for the client who had paid so much for so little quality, and suggested they demand some money back. The good news is, with the help of the suppliers & trades, Todd Hallett was largely able to fix them, improving the plans and elevations while saving $5K - $10K per house in the process. Of course, it is much, much cheaper to do it right the first time.

As long as these firms continue to perform such shoddy work, there will be plenty of work for us. That is strangely not as satisfying as you might think. When you are a committed, dyed-in-the-wool “Leanista,” waste of any kind is painful. And what these particular big-name architects are doing is painful, indeed.



Scott Sedam is president of TrueNorth Development, a consulting and training firm that works with builders to improve products, process, and profits. A senior contributing editor to Professional Builder, Scott has written award-winning commentary on all aspects of the business of home building and won the 2015 Jesse H. Neal Award, business journalism's most prestigious prize, for his commentary in Pro Builder. Scott invites you to join TrueNorth's Lean Building Group on LinkedIn and welcomes your feedback at or 248.446.1275.


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