May 2, 2024
The Intersection of Values and Construction: An Interview with Lauren Meier

Lauren Meier


By Tova Green and Lauren Meier

The yellow Herrero Builders trucks have emblazoned on their sides, “Obsessed with Value Creation.” Curious about this, I interviewed Lauren Meier, Project Manager for the construction company that is renovating Beginner’s Mind Temple.

We met in her office (formerly the City Center Director’s office) and walked to the dining room, where team meetings are held. It was my first time in the building since I moved up the street at the end of December, and I was impressed by the work that has been done to create an open space where the front office, bookstore, and a guest room had been.

Herrero started pre-construction on this project in July 2022. The team began investigating existing conditions and working with the Design team to create the plan for the project. Lauren joined the team as the Project Manager in December 2023 to manage the construction phase of the project. She was tasked with determining what is most important to the OAC team (Owners, Architects, and the Construction company) in both the process and the final product, especially in ensuring mutual understanding around what values are most important to everyone working on the project.

The team used a process called the Value Integration System (VIP), which was developed by Paulo Napolitano for Herrero Builders. It stems from the Lean Manufacturing Method, developed by Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, Japanese industrial engineers, developed for Toyota Manufacturing plants.

Initially, each team member identified and defined three to ten of their values, also called True North Indicators. For example, someone might stand up and say, “My value is respect, because….” Then Lauren created an Affinity Diagram showing how the values relate to each other and how they overlap. Some examples of values people named are clear communication, budget management, fun, respect for the Julia Morgan building, accountability, and safety.

After this exercise was completed, Lauren arrived at the top five True North Indicators that would drive the project to a successful completion (True North). For this project, they are: Respect, Communication, Teamwork, Clear Process, and Accountability. By attending to and focusing on these values everything else is accomplished.

In contrast to this values-based method, most construction projects consider the budget and staying on schedule to be the most important ideas that drive the project to a successful completion. The Value Integration Program shows us that when you focus on outcomes like staying on budget and meeting the schedule, you are more likely to struggle to keep a positive, calm, and transparent atmosphere amongst the project team and to thereby meet your goals. This process helps to foster a positive experience for the team and to encourage future interactions. The VIP also leads to uncovering issues early on in the project so that solutions can be found. In this way of working, relationships matter deeply.

Lauren leads a monthly review with the OAC group where each person reports on how they think things are going. Problems (called Risks, Issues, and Deltas by the Herrero Team) are discussed in an open and honest meeting setting. At the end of the meeting, team members summarize Lessons Learned, Small Wins, and Action Items for positive change and development.

Lauren began working for Herrero Builders some years after she graduated from UC Davis, majoring in Communications and minoring in English and History. She says her Communications degree helps her, as she is often “with very intelligent people who can sometimes use help learning to communicate well with different kinds of thinkers.” She found her way to her first position at Herrero as a Project Coordinator through a close friend she’d known since elementary school, whose relative was employed by Herrero.

After four years at Herrero learning about an industry that was new to her, Lauren was promoted to Project Engineer. About three years later, she became a Project Manager. She loves the challenge of working with all kinds of learners and hopes to continue exploring how to help fill gaps in the construction industry.

Lauren credits her professional success to her youth in sports. Her family is active in sports, particularly water polo, and she still plays, coaches teams, and referees. Her father started working as a referee in his free time when she and her sister were in high school as a way to be more involved in the sport that his daughters loved. He continues to work as a referee today, through his retirement years. Both of Lauren’s younger sisters played on the Olympic Development Pipeline teams and her middle sister represented the United States of America in the last three Olympics; her team won three gold medals.

According to Lauren, “The reason this project is going so well is the openness, transparency, and honesty between San Francisco Zen Center, Herrero Builders, Studio Bondy Architecture, and the other designers and Trade Partners working on this Historic Gem. Herrero’s aim is to give everyone all we can to meet their needs and have a successful, enjoyable experience.”