Process, What’s That?

A 100-person architecture, planning and interior design firm known for its commitment to sustainability, joined the SPI Certification program in order to internalize processes and methods for continuous improvement.

Challenge: “We don’t have a process”

While conducting the company-wide baseline assessment, SPI found that the planning department lacked some of the core skills, perspectives, metrics and intentionality that were more developed in the architectural department. When SPI asked one of the planners about the process the company used to deliver sustainability services, their response was, “We don’t have one.”

Solution: Let’s Get Together

The planners, it turned out, never looked intentionally at what it meant to deliver sustainability. They didn’t rest on their laurels — they integrated sustainability strategies such as transit oriented development and green space into projects. But they rested on the assumptions that such project results were the sustainability part of it. Because they never looked upstream at the process, the planning department missed major opportunities to develop the self-awareness about how process and relationships influence the project’s results. SPI facilitated an internal discussion following the Certification kickoff meeting to help the company evaluate their process. SPI wanted the planning department to understand that, while the awareness about process may not have been as detailed and phased as in the architectural projects, the department, like all organizations, did have a process. This dialogue provided the planning department staff with an opportunity to explore what it means to focus on sustainability with a heightened self-awareness of how process impacts performance.

Result: From Owners To Allies

Using the Certification framework, SPI helped the company uncover little epiphanies about sustainability as it relates to their planning process. “Oh, we never thought that these things were connected,” was a unanimous response. The framework gave the planning department a mindset and a way to talk with clients about how sustainability fits into program requirements, namely budget.

Two specific benefits became evident early in the process: improved relationships with owners and provided a clearer methodology for planning practice that increased efficiencies over time – and with new staff joining the firm and getting oriented to a standardized methodology. One of the younger associates said that this process was incredibly valuable because, “for a long time I’ve wanted our company to be more systematic about the processes we use instead of just reinventing it every time.” Others called attention to how institutionalizing processes will shift their relationship with owners to a relationship based in trust and education. Of course, none of this would have happened if the company hadn’t set aside time to talk through their process, or, as they thought, lack of process.