On the Back of a Cocktail Napkin an Exploration on Graphic Definitions of Lean Construction

Zofia K. Rybkowski1, Tariq S. Abdelhamid2 & Lincoln H. Forbes3

1Assistant Professor, Department of Construction Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, [email protected], 979-845-4354, corresponding author
2Associate Professor, School of Planning, Design and Construction, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, [email protected]
3Adjunct Professor, Department of Construction Management, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, [email protected]


Quick descriptive sketches made on the backs of cocktail napkins are a tradition in the architectural profession and are representative of the visionary conversations that take place between business associates in relaxed venues where fresh ideas are sometimes first hatched. In this paper, we propose the use of this technique to better convey and capture the principles of the growing and evolving discipline of Lean Construction. Whether they occur in academic classrooms or professional worksites, exploratory conversations about Lean Construction also suggest there may be a need for an easy-to-understand, easy-to-represent graphic definition (“cocktail napkin sketch”) that can quickly communicate key components of lean thinking to those wishing to understand and potentially implement lean. This paper shares an exploratory analysis of the results that emerged from cocktail napkin exercises administered three times from Feb 2011 to April 2012: at an IGLC mid-year meeting in New York, NY; at an LCI workshop in Houston, TX; and at an LCI-Academic Forum in Boulder, CO. Finally, the authors propose a graphic definition of Lean Construction, distilled from submissions made during these events that might serve as a potential starting point for future discussion and refinement.


Lean Construction, cocktail napkin exercise, simulation, lean definition, graphic representation



Rybkowski, Z. K. , Abdelhamid, T. S. & Forbes, L. H. 2013. On the Back of a Cocktail Napkin an Exploration on Graphic Definitions of Lean Construction, 21th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , 83-92. doi.org/

Download: BibTeX | RIS Format