Monthly Archives: June 2010

When is BIM TMI? or Death by DataPoint

No one goes into a career in architecture because they love to crunch numbers or deliver hard data.

But once initiated into the tribe, it has increasingly become a reason for many to stay.

This is where we find ourselves today: instead of surviving on our wits – we’re surviving on analytics.

Practicing an art and a science, architects naturally run both ends of the spectrum. Some consider themselves artists first and foremost, unconcerned whether their designs ever see daylight. These paper architects, updated for the conceptual age as digital architects, perform primarily in pixels.

And give architects their not always positive reputation as artists.

At the other extreme are architects for whom it is all about the hard evidence.

For them a day at work is more CSI: Crime Scene Investigation than CSI: Construction Specifications Institute.

Feeding on constraints and ever-changing regulations, design for them is a matter of looking-up and plugging-in information that’s required and, if necessary, trimming off the excess – literally in the trim command, trim tool or by way of value engineering.

So when BIM came along, these hardscrabble architects pounced on it. They love the plug-‘n-play apparatus. They devour the dialog boxes and cannot feed enough information into them.

Rather than being exhausted by the umpteenth request to provide information they’re energized by it. As though to say, hit me with another question.

It’s not that BIM has done away with RFIs; they’re now embedded in the program.

These are the people who grew up watching game shows and love to answer trivia.

I’ll take Creating New Types and Templates for $1000 and Instance Properties for $1500.

The reality is that we need both types of architects. I have argued here that in the best of worlds the two would reside in the same person. Others have argued elsewhere that it’s good for project teams and organizations to have both types of people, to provide flexibility and agility, and to serve as a checks and balances function to assure the work stays in line.

But how much information is too much?

Could there be a fear of too much information (TMI) – too much I in BIM?

For that is the crux – to know how much information is needed and when it is needed.

And while this has been addressed, particularly in some of the better contracts, it’s a mindset and skillset that needs to be developed that we’re talking about here.

It’s like when a sales rep calls on you at an inopportune time – say on your way into a design presentation and you unadvisedly or unwittingly took the call. It’s not bad information that they want to impart – it’s just not the right time for it. A week later that same information may come through for you and help you get your design approved. Just not now.

This ability – to gauge how much information is needed and when – is not a new skill but it’s just never been more important than it is now for individuals, teams and firms to acquire.

It’s not only a matter of knowing where to hit the hammer, it’s a matter of recognizing and acknowledging the context so you can nail the the question: of the project phase, who will use the information, what they will use it for and when they will need it.

And this ability is age-related: it is easier for senior team members than still emerging talent to see the bigger picture.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context: coup d’oeil or court sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations.

Information Intelligence (II)

Call it Information Intelligence (II) the uncanny ability to gauge when, how and to whom to apportion information.

Developing this ability in your staff – and hiring for Information Intelligence or II skillset – will save more time, fee and headaches than any other single move you could make right now.

It takes an understanding of the technology, as well as how buildings come together.

But the higher science of this knack is a people or social skill: understanding how people receive information, how much of it they can consume at one time, what the best format for the information is so that it finds its highest and best use.

We have all had the opportunity to work with people who have the II gene. They possess the uncanny ability to gauge and deliver just the right information, at the right time, to the right person, in the right way.

When LOD becomes LOL

I am not asking here whether you can get to level of detail (LOD) 300 in Revit or ArchiCAD without working in 2D or whether these tools are ready to take-on LOD 400 for fabrication (they’re not.)

While important to know, what we’re discussing here is a higher order matter.

In an interview for my book, BIM + Integrated Design: Strategies for Practice, a BIM manager and project architect described the process thus:

The process should be like an onion where you’re building an onion backwards. You’re putting on the overall scope and slowly putting in each layer inside until you get all the way down. It’s very difficult to do that in BIM because the first time you put in a wall it asks you how thick is your drywall?

Think Lean

What’s the least amount of information that is needed at this moment to get the design intent across?

What’s the role of “hard facts” and just how hard are they?

Owners see data this way: the facts, pure and simple.

Constructors and design professionals know better, because they know more.

This is where things get more complex and uncertain.

Contractors put their own spin on the data when they indicate other contributing factors to consider – adjacencies, impacts to schedule, availability of labor, codes, etc. They see the data within a larger context.

Architects are wont to bring up the sociological impacts, the social impacts, psychological impacts and not mention the equally important aesthetic impacts of the decision-by-data point.

Death by Data Point

Statistics are definitely in. Evidence the evidence-based everything.

The New Yorker’s June 7 2010 issue lists the top jobs for the coming decade. Most involve information, metrics, data analytics or statistics.

But last time I looked architecture remains an art and a science.

And while it is foolhardy to justify subjective, aesthetic predilections by any other means than by invoking hard data – it will make you this much, it will improve quality, it will get the project done on time – it does nothing to stop an underlying and critically human need for subjective, aesthetic predilections.

Still, there’s a point when TM is definitely TM.

Just as “Death by PowerPoint” is a criticism of slide-based presentations referring to a state of boredom and fatigue induced by information overload during PowerPoint presentations, Death by DataPoint is the state we feel as design professionals when relegated to feed the beast by plugging-in infinite streams of information.

So let’s put an end to TMI and work towards just enough, just-in-time information.

Start with Seven Simple Questions

Before imparting our infinite wisdom, before sharing or over-sharing, start by asking these seven simple questions:

  • What do I need to know?
  • How can I get this information?
  • How reliable is it?
  • What do they need to know?
  • When do they need to know it?
  • Can I help them get this information?
  • How can I best communicate this?

By doing so we’ll do everyone, including ourselves, a favor.

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Filed under BIM employment, Content Creation, design professionals

Being Perfectly, Completely and Utterly \Tran(t)s-ˈper-ənt\

Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: [shouts] You can’t handle the truth!

A Few Good Men, 1992

Transparency is your only option, because the tribe will smell artifice.

Seth Godin, in an interview with copyblogger discussing Tribes.

Doc: You know what they say: People in glass houses sink sh-sh-ships.
Rocco: Doc, I gotta buy you, like, a proverb book or something.

The Boondock Saints, 1999

Have you ever been in a situation when someone just comes out with it and tells you exactly what they want?

Me neither.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

It was just funnier than writing “I have.”

But I’m just being completely transparent with you.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Entertaining you is more important than informing you.

But only here, in the opening of the post.

That way you’ll stick around – without realizing it – until you’re informed.

Gotcha!

That’s admittedly not being transparent.

But I’m only being transparent with you.

Being transparent – perfectly, completely and utterly transparent – can be like the magician who gives-away his tricks.

It might be informative – but not as much fun.

Let Me Make One Thing Perfectly Clear

This post is about transparency.

But if I was perfectly transparent with you I would inform you that it’s also about selling books.

But first a bit more about transparency.

Not transparency as a dominant consumer sensibility –

We all know when others aren’t being transparent with us,

And sense when we are being sold a bill of goods –

But as a way to build trust in integrated teams.

How Much Transparency is Too Much Transparency?

Do you, for example really need to know that there’s that hidden (t) in the word \Tran(t)s-ˈper-ənt\?

I could have lived without that.

[Though I will be sure to pronounce it hereafter.]

Isn’t transparency just a trendy term meaning trust or integrity or honesty?

Yes. It was trendy in 2004.

Transparency was the business buzzword du jour back in 2004.

Back when people said things like du jour.

And even at that time it was recognized that blogs and wikis were tools for transparency.

So where have we been all this time?

As with so many things, the AEC industry is only catching-up with transparency now.

In addition to perceived inefficiencies in the current delivery model and renewed scrutiny on costs and budgets some of the most significant drivers of change in the construction industry include lack of trust, too much conflict and a desire for transparency.

BIM streamlines the design process by really encouraging transparency, which encourages coordination, which reduces RFIs and waste. Likewise,

IPD is a clever solution to the tough organizational and contracting problems faced in today’s market, relying on careful participant selection, continuing dialog and transparency. And finally,

Lean construction tries to increase transparency between the stakeholders, managers and trades in order to know the impact of their work on the whole project while PMI doesn’t consider transparency in its methods.

So Why Are We Still Talking About It?

It may seem obvious, but even on integrated design teams we want different things.

We may have signed an agreement stating that we’ll all work for the good of the project, sharing in profit or loss, gain or pain.

For better or for worse.

But the contractor is hard-wired to still want easy-in/easy-out of the jobsite.

And the architect – bless her – doesn’t want the design intent to carry through to the completed project.

Screw intent.

Let’s be perfectly transparent. (What’s with this “intent” anyway?)

She wants the design to carry through.

Period.

Not to mention there’s a long history of distrust and aggressive behavior between the various parties.

What You Need to Know

You need to know that you can trust your teammate.

That you’re all here to serve the project – in service to the owner.

That you have – first the project’s, then the owner’s, then each other’s and lastly your own  – best interests in mind.

You need to know if you’re going to pull your pants down behind the garage that they’re going to pull their pants down too and not just stand there pointing and laughing.

In public ridicule and shame.

You need to know that.

Open Book, Open Door

If you go open book, you need to know that they’re going to do the same.

And that their use of the phrase “open book” matches your definition – and understanding – word for word.

It’s really quite simple.

To restore trust, talk straight.

And carry a big stick.

To level the playing field, be accessible, accountable and don’t exaggerate, overstate

or conceal.

And don’t say you have an open door policy because your office doesn’t have a door.

7 Habits of Truly Transparent Professionals

1. The Truly Transparent know what they want.

2. The Truly Transparent are immune to artifice.

They hear what is meant, not what is said.

And they say it back to you in their own words.

Until you hear it.

And they’re not concerned about appearances.

They’re concerned about being understood.

3. The Truly Transparent are direct.

They’re bold without being off-putting.

And remember, being bold isn’t the same as being blunt any more than being direct is the same as being offensive.

Transparency isn’t the same as saying everything that pops into your head irrespective of your audience and their feelings.

We couch our impressions, observations and feelings in terms that we judge others can understand and handle.

It’s one of the ironies of our times that you can be more transparent by couching what you say than by just letting it all hang out.

4. The Truly Transparent appear to be fearless.

Especially in situations where they have to show all their cards.

5. The Truly Transparent say it like it is.

They don’t hold back.

They don’t mince words.

They pull no punches.

Or try to pull one over on you.

They don’t obfuscate with professional language.

They don’t use words like obfuscate or tendentious (especially tendentious.)

They don’t say “fenestration” when they mean “window.”

They don’t speak in academic talk.

They choose their words carefully.

But you only hear their meaning not the words.

And understand, along with Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., that a word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.

They understand that.

6. The Truly Transparent are upfront with you.

They hide nothing.

Because they have nothing to hide.

7. The Truly Transparent don’t muddy the waters.

They’re crystal clear – don’t use double entendres.

Wouldn’t know a double entendre if it hit them.

They don’t tell stories and anecdotes where a “yes” will do.

They listen more than they say.

Trust – But First Conduct an Incredibly Technical and Detailed Background Check

In an interview for my forthcoming book (there he goes with his book again) I asked:

What would you suggest to an architect, when offered an opportunity to work on a project utilizing an integrated design platform – with shared risk and shared reward –  and their reaction is along the lines of “No way! Why would I risk my profit on someone else not making mistakes?” As in, “Why sign on to a project whose payoff relies on the other guy not screwing up?” Does it all come down to their comfort with risk – or is there something else going on here?

Here’s what the interviewee said:

 If I were advising them, I would tell them as part of the advisory board to conduct an incredibly technical and detailed background check of every person who’s going to be on this team. A complete due diligence: all the way back to what they were doing in college. Find out from other projects they’ve done, other owners they’ve worked with, other developers and architects they’ve worked with, how many suits they’ve had, what their story is. If there’s a red herring or a red flag, I’d want to be all over that initially. Would they be able to work together? If everyone sees it as a benefit to everyone involved, if it’s a requirement for my getting the job, then I’ll have to weigh it against other projects I may have going at the time and the market outlook. It seems like less of a headache if I can make it easier on myself and sign a contract that says this is what I’m responsible for, the heck with the rest of you. On paper, it looks fantastic. Get everybody to sit at the same table, hammer out all the details, so we can avoid some of the hassles that normally arrive later. I see tremendous advantages for being able to do it, if everybody trusts everybody at the table; you can save yourself a lot of trouble.

How to be Perfectly Transparent without People Seeing through You

My life is like a glass of water, transparent. – Skakira

How to be perfectly transparent?

Know your audience. Understand their needs – what it is that they are looking for. Then try to give it to them.

Be direct – no indirections – this is not the time for poetic license, metaphors or similes. Be concrete.

As Pablo Picasso said: Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.

That’s a good quote. Don’t use quotes where the truth will do.

They’ll appreciate you for it.

And trust you for it.

And to be perfectly transparent, being transparent isn’t always a positive thing.

As when Dean Koontz wrote that the manipulation that all politicians use on one level or another is so transparent.

So keep in mind that even bad behavior can be transparent.

“I don’t know if I can trust you.”

When someone says “I don’t know if I can trust you” – or more directly, “I don’t trust you” – what they are really saying is

I don’t believe you.

I don’t believe you’re being straight with me.

I don’t sense that you’re telling me everything.

What is it that you’re not telling me?

You’re not walking the talk.

Or the walk.

Not practicing what you preach.

It’s an alignment problem.

Your action and words don’t align.

How often do you take your car in to get its wheels aligned? Every 10,000 miles?

Interestingly, you don’t align your wheels at set increments of time.

So how do you know when to align your wheels?

It’s something you just know – and have to pay attention to.

You will know you need an alignment if your car pulls to one direction or if your steering wheel vibrates at any constant speed.

So look for signs that start to tell you that you’re pulling in one direction.

Believe me, people will let you know.

You might be inadvertently driving your team – and teammates – off-course, off the road, or – worse – under the bus.

So look for signs along the way. They’re there.

Is Complete Transparency Even Possible?

In a word?

How about 27?

Being transparent with our motives implies that before I can expose to you why I am doing what I do, I need to acknowledge it to myself.

That’s hard to do.

For instance, I was recently asked by a journalist why I blog (journalists talk with him – now will you buy the book?)

If I were completely transparent I would say I blog

  • To build an online platform – with followers – who will continue to visit my blog, prompt others to do so and when the time comes buy my book.
  • Or, to be completely transparent, I write my blogs to leverage the internet to move more books. But why move more books?
  • To be completely and utterly transparent – to get the next book deal. Oh, and a few speaking engagements in interesting places. Move up from coach to business class. And an honorarium…

This may be transparent – but none of this is entirely true.  These are the reasons I write and they are

  • To entertain
  • To inform or teach
  • To learn – from others, from the experience of delving into new topics
  • To inspire and motivate
  • To help
  • To express myself
  • Discover meaning, purpose
  • Because I am compelled to share

But how much do you really need to know?

With transparency are we at risk of TMI?

And as important, how much do we know about what drives us to do what we do?

In Drive, Dan Pink says we’re motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Does that ring true for you?

You in the end have to judge whether I deliver on any of these bullets.

In other words, my being transparent about my motives may be immaterial to your take-away.

Your being entertained and informed.

In exchange for the time you spent here with me today.

I hope it was worthwhile for you – and that I lived-up to my promise.

Let me know (transparently, not anonymously.)

Who is to say that any of us know why we do what we do?

Malcolm Gladwell certainly demonstrated in Blink that few of us know what makes us tick.

And Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness certainly proved that we have no idea what makes us happy.

In other words, trust – but keep your eyes open.

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Filed under BIM, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people