Last fall the president of one of America’s “Top 10” builders who I have known for years corralled me at a conference. Because I travel this industry about as much as anyone, he likes to pump me for intelligence – as I do him. He wondered, what did I see out there? Who was making it? Who wasn’t? Which cities were ready to emerge and which were not?  I gave him my take on things and then he asked a series of bombshell questions, “Who really impresses you? Who truly has the best practices?

The NAHB in conjunction with Professional Builder Magazine launched the National Housing Quality Award (NHQA) in 1993 to encourage and recognize best practices and best builders in the continual improvement of product and process. Modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, over time the NHQA has become the gold standard of awards in homebuilding.

Our business picked up in late 2011, started the New Year off well, and we were deluged at the IBS show, beginning with a standing-room-only presentation on Lean Design. Our first quarter is strong and 2nd quarter looks even better. Builders seem to now have sufficient confidence that they want to get their processes “Leaned-up” to meet current and projected growth. We have a long list of clients who are reporting sales being up way above the  national average of 8% reported for January and on into February. Yet the question persists … is this recovery for real?

Peter Senge wrote one of the best business books of the 1990’s, The Learning Organization. It is one of those on my list to pull off the shelf and read again, if I ever catch up with the stack of unread volumes on my credenza now. I even attended his 4-day workshop in Boston in the mid-90’s and it made a considerable impact on everyone there. What Senge laid out was what constitutes the “Learning Organization” and why those companies invariably do better than those whose primary goal is to replicate and execute their existing business model.

There is nothing in homebuilding that makes less sense than purchasing by the square foot and it is a big obstacle in Lean implementation. Other than the fact that it makes things easy I suppose, there is very little to be said for it. It damn sure makes purchasing inaccurate and confusing, at best. Not much of a tradeoff. Imagine, for a moment, buying an automobile by the pound. Do you think you could do any meaningful price/value comparisons?

In my blog two weeks ago, I launched into a tirade about how so many residential architects are not doing their job. Each week, I link this blog back to the LeanBuilding Group on Many members posted responses with good points on how to remedy the problem. Here are some excerpts from them. I thought I’d let them do the talking this week. (Note: if you are not a member, go to and search “Lean Building.” The group will come up, and join! There are some excellent discussions going on.)

With the February edition of Professional Builder, I begin a series on the evolution of quality management. Here is a more detailed version of an excerpt from that article to come. Be sure to read that.

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.)

Michael J. Fox and I have something in common (besides the obvious – talent, good looks, irreverence, witty repartee, etc.)  We both have an incurable “condition.” Fox has Parkinson’s disease, a well-known affliction that continues to ravage his body despite an astounding amount of medical research dedicated to discovering a cure.  My condition is a rare one called Alport’s Syndrome, a genetic fluke that resulted in total kidney failure nearly 12 years ago.

Last weekend was the annual Christmas sojourn to my wife’s relatives in Chicago. On the obligatory trip downtown to Marshall Field’s to see the Christmas decorations, visions of credit card slips danced in my head as my wife and daughter pursued something precious that surely could not be found elsewhere. As they searched, my mind naturally turned to thoughts of Lean, rather how much waste I could find in the store’s products and processes. Yes, it is an obsession. Then my eyes fell upon this plaque, something that Marshall Field himself wrote in the 1800’s.  I took this snapshot.


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