Tallinn University of Technology

The seminar explores a research program that unveils a unified theory and science of production, addressing the scarcity of knowledge in this domain. The presentation emphasizes a balanced application of transformation, flow, and value generation, the three underlying lean design and production concepts. The convergence of design and production goals is highlighted, focusing on maximizing knowledge utilization and pushing the boundaries of innovation. In the realm of construction, our research-backed methods promise substantial sustainability-driven improvements, offering efficient solutions for various initiatives like information technology, offsite construction, and circular construction.

koskela uus

Lauri Koskela joined the Tallinn University of Technology in November 2023 as an Associate Professor. Previously he worked at the University of Huddersfield and at the University of Salford as Professor of Lean, Theory Based Project and Production Management. Prior that, he was involved in applied research at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Lauri is a founding and continuously active International Group for Lean Construction member. With more than 25,000 citations according to Google Scholar, Lauri is one of the most cited scholars in construction management and allied fields.

Since 1991, Lauri has been involved in research on lean construction. His research has focused especially on the theories of production management and project management, underlying lean construction. Since 2005, he has researched the theory of design. He has promoted the view that design theorizing started in Antiquity, with the method of analysis (from geometry) and rhetoric as the first models of design by analogy. It is contended by him that these two models still provide a superior understanding on design.

The presentation outlines the outcomes of the presenter’s personal research programme addressing the theory and science of production, and the prospects of applying those outcomes for solving current challenges.

Production as such has not been a popular topic in research. Theoretical and conceptual knowledge on production has been scarce and fragmented. Many scientific disciplines have somehow covered production: operations/production management, economics, systems engineering, project management, and others. An emergent aim in the research programme has been to sketch a unified theory/science of production (design is conceived as an integral part of production), which would clarify and present the central knowledge on production in one frame. In addition to theories of production/design, epistemological and ontological perspectives covering improvement, learning and change have been outlined.

The starting point in my research has been the insight that production needs to be approached through three concepts: transformation, flow and value generation. In the past, only the transformation concept had been systematically applied. The new prescription is that all concepts need to be applied in a balanced way. This is what happens in the approach of lean production. It turned out that these three concepts can be equally applied for conceptualising design.

Regarding design (as value generation), I found that already in Antiquity two models of design had been proposed: the method of analysis in geometry, and rhetoric. This legacy has been forgotten. Closer examination of the method of analysis drew my attention to the different types of inference occurring in design: deduction, induction, regression and abduction. From these four, abduction was found to be the most intriguing, but also important: it is directly related to creativity. In turn, also rhetoric as such is in many ways related to creativity; traditionally analogy and metaphors have been identified as creativity-inducing devices. Current creativity research has highlighted two additional rhetorical phenomena that facilitate creativity: questioning, and face to face discussion.

Two generic aims accentuate in design and production: Using existing knowledge and information in the best possible way, and breaking through the current frontier of knowledge through creativity. The theory and science of production is instrumental for both aims.

In the past, the drive towards efficiency and effectiveness of production have been motivated by competitive pressures. As it is well-known, at present urgent needs to maintain the sustainability of the life in the world have turned attention to new requirements: Efficiency of using material and energy resources in general, and effectiveness in achieving the aims we set for production and consumption, like zero carbon. The significance of the evolving theory/science of production is that it will support such efforts.

In the context of construction and the built environment, there are considerable opportunities for production-related improvement from the sustainability viewpoint. When initially applying new theory-based methods in construction or refurbishment projects, it has been found that much waste can be reduced. In turn, in the existing building stock, methods pursuing improvement and learning can be applied, especially for the sake of reducing energy usage.

Moreover, methods inspired by the new production theory can advantageously be used for ensuring the success of various other initiatives to improve construction. Especially in the context of information technology, both the design, implementation and use of new systems can be made more efficient and effective. Also, say, offsite construction as well as circular construction represent promising but complex initiatives that can be effectively streamlined through new production thinking.