Category Archives: people

Too Complex and Fast? Slow Down, But Don’t Oversimplify

oversimplifyTo lead our collaborative future, architects need to decentralize or risk being further marginalized.

Architects know that they need to collaborate to succeed. But how will they go about doing it? How, in other words, will they make collaboration happen? As importantly, how will architects make the changes necessary to become not only more collaborative, but leaders of this effort, amidst disruptive change?

AEC leaders already do a great deal to encourage collaboration amongst their teams, providing vision, collaboration-conducive work environments, collaboration technology, and by removing obstacles – including themselves –when necessary, gladly getting out of everyone’s way. They encourage diversity, discussion – even disagreements – as a basis for moving the project forward. By telling their collaboration stories, leaders paint a picture of what collaboration looks like when it is done well. Most importantly, AEC leaders make sure every team member is making the same project. But AEC leaders cannot assure this happens in every meeting on every project. Who, then, on the team will lead the day-to-day collaboration challenge?

Barriers to Collaboration

We know collaboration is hard and takes time — to build relationships, to clear-up misunderstandings, to listen and to get things done. Past experience can hold teams back, and one of the barriers to collaboration remains organizational silos.

Brand erosion is also an impediment to collaboration. For a designer whose singular voice is her expression through her work, collaboration is equated with joint authorship, to some the antithesis of creative expression, muddying the message of the work, dispersing and diluting the voice and design intent of the creator. This thinking is of course mistaken, as leaders need to make clear. One only needs to compare a Beatles tune with any of the band member’s solo efforts to recognize that teams make better decisions – and importantly, results – than individuals. The real fear in collaborating is that we – and our work – will be mediocre, a race toward the lowest common denominator, and with it, irrelevance: we will be seen as just one more designer among designers.

The truth, of course, is by not collaborating architects become marginalized. Not knowing how to effectively collaborate will lead to their irrelevance.

Complexity and Speed

Of the trends impacting our new world of work – including digital tools, collaborative work processes with attendant blurring of roles and responsibilities, working remotely and together earlier – two trends have made all the others a necessity: complexity and speed. Our technology has an impact on the anticipated speed of decision-making. When still hand-drafting, while facing a construction-related question or dilemma, architects would say: We’ll work it out in the field. This was the architect’s go-to VIF: where the contractor on the architect’s behalf would be expected to Verify In Field. Later, working in CAD, architects would say: We’ll work it out in shop drawings. With little bim: We’ll work it out in CDs. And today, with social BIM, We need to work it out NOW!

In the face of increased project speed, we will be tempted to slow down. And we are well advised to do so. Studies show to make decisions that stick, we’re better off delaying choices for as long as practically possible. According to Frank Partnoy in Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, the best professionals understand how long they have available to make a decision, and then, given that time frame, they wait as long as they possibly can: “we are hard-wired to react quickly. Yet we are often better off resisting both biology and technology.” Since our current technology and integrated work process does not accommodate our waiting – in fact, it discourages it – leaders need to make it safe for their teams to make assured, unrushed decisions.

Likewise, despite construction being wickedly complicated, we should not be tempted to oversimplify. We need to take the complex and make it seem simple – without oversimplifying – resisting the temptation to treat a complex task as simpler than it is, potentially leading to oversights and mistakes.

Decentralize or be Marginalized

Architects continue to see themselves as central to decision-making, whether at the top of the project pyramid or a prominent point of the team triangle. Contracts notwithstanding, architects are not the point. For collaboration to work, architects need to get off the pyramid and go wherever and whenever they are needed.

Decentralization implies the transfer of authority from central to local offshoots who represent the firm and serve as its public face, whether as project manager, project architect or project designer – sometimes any two, or all three. These offshoots – like starfish arms – contain the complete DNA and trust of the organization.

Although collaboration requires the architect to decentralize, it has to start at the top, where firm leaders entrust employees to lead teams. What will it take for architects to decentralize? Successful collaboration requires facilitative leadership. For the architect to take on this role, they must play the part of process facilitators over content creators, becoming in essence co-creators. When each teammate contributes as a co-creator, no single person has to carry the load, including the leader. Decentralization allows architects to join the project – and be immediately effective – midstream. Ideally, the architect is called in before the owner even considers undertaking a building project, but the reality is – due in no small part to their own making – the architect is often called upon when the project is already well underway.

Given the collaborative nature of today’s project teams, consideration needs to be given to the firm representative’s leadership and communication style. As proxy stand-ins for the firm, each team leader needs to be able to communicate effectively at all times, with all in the room. Architects’ often-unconscious communication habits will be increasingly scrutinized and decreasingly tolerated in these tight-knit groups. Architects, working more closely with others from every facet of practice, will need to become more familiar with their communication style, paying particular attention to the ability to adjust one’s style to those of others from other work cultures and walks of life.

FOCI: Multiple-centered – not centerless – leadership

Architects – seeing that others have helped narrow their options significantly – narrow them further by opting to see themselves as single purpose entities. One example of this is described in Victoria Beach’s salvo in the newly published 15th edition of the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice where she asks architects to see themselves more as design-focused celebrity chefs and less as engineers assuring the health, safety and welfare of the public. For architects, it’s a both/and, not either/or, proposition.

In fact, architects in the coming years will be needed less as content providers of design intent than as facilitators, orchestrators, collaborators and integrators (or FOCI) of this information and process. Architects will have an opportunity to lead this process if they can learn to become better listeners, aggregators and refiners of the information that arises during the various stages of design and construction.

With the blurring of roles brought about by working collaboratively on integrated teams, the architect’s job is to keep decisions – often multiple decisions – in play. Collaboration and digital practice require a formwork on which to base multi-faceted decisions on increasingly complex projects. One such formwork is that of the rubric FOCI: in lieu of a singular central focus of the center, think of the multiple centers of the ellipse. A redefinition of decision-making that takes digital technology and collaboration into consideration creates such a formwork that will help the architect to communicate effectively with multi-disciplinary teams. To move from a circular to an elliptical model, the architect needs to decentralize.

To decentralize, architects also need to move away from the spotlight where they are the central focus. Many architects are introverts and would gladly succumb the spotlight to others. Architects don’t need to be the loudest one in the room to lead, just the one who listens best. To accomplish this, architects need to focus less, and FOCI more, by serving as project facilitators, orchestrators, collaborators and integrators. By decentralizing, the architect is no longer decision-maker so much as facilitator of project information and decision-making process. As facilitative leaders, architects can become experts in knowing how to find information as opposed to what the information is. When collaborating, it is not about how much any one person happens to know: projects today are too complex for any one person to know everything. Knowing from whom – and where – on the team to find information is more important than one’s ability to store and retrieve it. Architects will also serve as strategic orchestrators of large teams from the earliest stages, often made up with primary, secondary and even tertiary players. The C in FOCI is in flux: the C can represent collaborators or creators or controllers or coordinators. Architects, of course, are component and system integrators.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Deutsch’s article How We Can Make Collaboration Work: How architects can decentralize rather than be marginalized in the Jan-Feb 2014 Trends issue of DesignIntelligence journal.

Read and visit DesignIntelligence.

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6 Qualities That Make Architects Ideally Suited to Lead Collaborative Integrated Teams

leadersIn order to effectively lead collaborative teams, architects would do well to downplay possessing specialized knowledge. Knowledge acquired in school and practice should be thought of as the price of admission, not their “Advance to GO” card, as so many on the team in this connected age have access to and share this same knowledge. Along with specialized knowledge, as a professional duty of practice, architects will also need to reevaluate the role of professional judgment, design intent, responsible control, direct supervision, and serving as the hander-down of rulings in the shape-shifting required from working simultaneously on collaborative teams.

Recognizing that nothing incites a non-architect’s derision, ridicule and ire swifter than to start a sentence “The architect is uniquely qualified to…” here are six qualities that make architects ideally suited to lead collaborative, integrated teams:

1. Architects can lead collaborative teams by tapping into their ability to maintain two or more opposing thoughts until an amenable solution arises. Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind, on the problem-solving power of integrative thinking, describes the human brain’s ability “to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension.” Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test of a first-rate intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” architects need to become even more comfortable working with and maintaining two or more opposing thoughts earlier in their careers. Architects famously can simultaneously maintain two lines of thought – e.g. their own and their client’s; their client’s and that of the public-at-large; the paying client and the non-paying client; the 99% and the 1%; the circumstantial and the ideal; science and art; reason and intuition; evidence and the ineffable; HSW and aesthetics; practical and dreamer. In an interview with the author, Phil Bernstein described the difference between young designers and older designers as the ability to manage an increasingly larger set of variables: “When I was working for Cesar Pelli, that was one of the amazing things about him – he could keep so many things in his head and he could balance them and weigh one against the other, and he could edit out what he called the systematic generation of useless alternatives. He would prevent us from going down that avenue.”

2. Architects are problem identifiers. Not only problem solvers, architects recognize that identifying the right problem to solve is often 80% of the solution. Frequently, the problem assigned is not the one that truly requires addressing. Architects work to make sure that everyone is focused on the most pressing, pertinent problem.

3. Architects see the big picture. Solution-oriented engineers sometimes have a difficult time seeing the forest from the trees. Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context coup d’oeilcourt sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations. Architects, by the end of their formal training, have begun to develop this ability, by thinking laterally and simultaneously – not linearly. Neither exclusively right- nor left- – architects are whole-brain thinkers. In the midst of prolonged analysis, architects can help to keep things whole.

4. Architects draw by hand, mouse and wand. Creatively ambidextrous, flexible and agile, architects are not stuck on any one means of communication or delivery. Architects make the best use of available technology to get the point across. Because architects envision what is not there, they help bring nascent ideas to life. Today, we cannot talk of leadership without the technology. We lead from the technology and the tools we use. In this way, architects lead collaboration from the middle by leading from the model.

5. Architects can lead collaborative teams by thinking like other team members, anticipating their concerns and questions before they arise. Architects see through other’s eyes, empathize and understand what is important to others. They have both deep skills and wide wingspan breadth. Architects are the only entity who serve not only the paying but non-paying client (society-at-large.) In trying to predict the consequences for any course of action, the architect needs to anticipate the responses of each of the integrated team members. To do this, an architect must know enough about each discipline to negotiate and synthesize competing demands.

6. Architects don’t lead collaborative teams because of their specialized skills, technology know-how, or privileged knowledge, but rather because of their comfort with ambiguity and uncertainty. Architects are best suited to lead collaborative teams by being able to extrapolate from incomplete information, and won’t let the lack of complete information stop them from moving forward.

The architect leading collaborative teams has implications for education in that independently trained professionals are inclined to remain independent in practice. According to NCARB’s contribution to the NAAB 2013 Accreditation Review Conference (ARC), over 80% of architects rated “collaboration with stakeholders” as important/critical, yet only 31.5% of interns and recently licensed architects indicated they had performed collaboratively prior to completion of their education program. This would need to change.

Let the Team be the Architect

The single most important issue confronting AEC leadership is, as Michael Schrage asked, how to pose problems and opportunities in forms that will elicit and inspire a collaborative response. Consultant Ed Friedrichs describes this as the ability “to inspire an entire team of participants to collaborate, to contribute the best they have to offer, in order to bring value to a client.”

Concerning collaborative teams, leaders need to ask of themselves – as well as prospective hires – are you the glue or the solvent? If architects are to be respected as leaders, their challenge is to communicate with their collaborators as equal partners in design.

In his book Architecture by Team, CRS’s William Caudill wrote: “The so called ‘great man’ approach must give way to the great team approach. From now on the great architects will be on great interdisciplinary teams.”

That was written in 1971. Buried on page 288 is the title of Chapter 109:

“Let the team – designers, manufacturers and builders – be the architect.”

So let the team be the architect, and the architect be the facilitative leader. And act soon, for we may not have another 40 years to see this out.

This post is an excerpt from Randy Deutsch’s article How We Can Make Collaboration Work: How architects can decentralize rather than be marginalized in the Jan-Feb 2014 Trends issue of DesignIntelligence journal.

Read and visit DesignIntelligence.

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Filed under collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, education, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, process

What Will You Do That’s Extraordinary?

onelifeArchitects and others in the AEC industry are well-aware of the forces at work changing the way they go about their business.

Forces brought about primarily by the advent of the computer.

When in all pares down, there are three approaches you can take to participating.

You can work by hand, collaboratively with machines, or allow machines to do most of the heavy lifting.

In other words:

1. Analog

2. Man-machine collaboration, and

3. Machine

While in 2014 it is still possible to design a building and complete a set of documents by hand, you can also add, subtract and multiply on an abacus.

Doing everything by hand is a legacy from a bygone era.

While hand drawing is still a desirable skill to have in one’s toolkit, it’s an unrealistic proposition if you are going to compete in an industry where the only hand drawing is done primarily on tablets.

Working without the tools that are available in our era is an act of protest.

And regret, for living in an age dependent on all things digital. So going analog is no longer an option.

At the other extreme, firms like Aditazz recognize that computers can be put to use to help design projects – and discern the best alternatives – in less time, using less manpower.

An approach that can be especially useful when addressing complex building assignments.

Most architects, engineers and construction professionals today fall somewhere between the two extremes of analog and machine.

They recognize that computers have helped them to become more effective at what they do.

But that computers can’t make all the calls – ethical, contextual – at least not yet.

Working digitally today is a given, even if the AEC industry itself hasn’t become more productive or effective since the 1960s despite the introduction of computers into our workflows.

Computer Aided Drafting/Design (CAD) never lived up to the hype or promise to make architects, engineers and contractors more productive.

In many ways, CAD just became a digital version of what architects had long done by hand.

Even with BIM, when I ask architects how they are being more productive or effective working in BIM, they’ll mention that they create templates for repeatable portions of their projects (for example, in housing, kitchen and bath templates – with rules of thumb, building code and ADA constraints indicated.)

Which is great. A process that should be automated in the near future.

But one wonders if this is just the digital equivalent of the “sticky back” boiler-plate details we used to attach to mylar sheets in our documents back in the 80s?

As the saying goes: Measure twice, draw once – and use it over and over if you can.

Thomas L. Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times discusses Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s new book, “The Second Machine Age.”

Authors of Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, their new book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives our economy…and our industry.

The book focuses on three massive technological advances that recently reached their tipping points, advances they describe as “exponential, digital and combinatorial.”

A commenter at the Times website wrote:

A time is coming when most routine tasks can and will be done by computers.

This is really how computers can best support design and construction professionals.

Becoming an architect, for example, was never about aspiring to address routine tasks.

Routine tasks – whether running prints, drafting bathroom or column details – were in the past taken-on by architectural interns.

Today, due to their considerable smarts and technological know-how, these same emerging professionals are working on entire buildings.

They’re the first lookers and early responders inside digital building models.

All the more reason that routine tasks ought to become automated.

Freeing-up design and construction professionals to do what they do best.

The article commenter continued:

What happens then to the average people in the world? Extraordinary people will find ways to take care of themselves, but not everyone can be extraordinary.

Not everyone.

But you can.

You can be extraordinary. In fact, for those who want to work in the AEC industry, it’s a requirement.

Being extraordinary at what you do doesn’t change due to the technology you use.

Being extraordinary is all the more important in the workplace and at the jobsite today.

To distinguish oneself.

To differentiate yourself.

What will you do that’s extraordinary?

Bringing your weaknesses up to a level where they’re not so glaring, where they can no longer trip you up and undermine your career ascension, will only get you so far.

Working on your weaknesses will only make you ordinary.

Not extraordinary.

This year, identify a strength and develop it.

Take it as far as you can.

Seek help. Get training.

Track your progress.

Share your results.

Most AEC professionals today who are gainfully employed are already extraordinary people who are extraordinary at what they do.

The trick is in remaining so.

Heed the words of poet Mary Oliver, and ask yourself:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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An Integrated Design Strategy for Every Man, Woman and Child

“The concept of integrated design is key to a sustainable future and ultimately quality of life,” 
Laura Lee

Just as Finith Jernigan’s Makers of the Environment envisioned the average American benefitting from building information modeling (BIM),

Professor Laura Lee’s vision for South Australia reads like an integrated design strategy for every man, woman and child throughout the world.

While her publication was prepared as a series of recommendations to the South Australia government, upon reading it, it soon becomes clear that she had more universal applications in mind.

With her report, “An Integrated Design Strategy for South Australia – Building the Future,” Lee envisions a framework for uniting sustainability, behavior, materials and the external environment into a whole that satisfies the needs of people, environment and place.

I’ve read the report from beginning to end a couple times now and am happy to share my, however haphazard, impressions.

The excellent introduction acknowledges the potential – and urgency – of the state of the world today: the perfect set-up for what’s to come.

It answers why anyone would want to read this report – and, as importantly, why now.

Instead of just writing about design, the booklet (as a product) itself is a perfect argument for the value of good design.

Little touches – such as the global quotes in blue and local quotes in orange – and larger ones: that it is so well written, edited, illustrated and like all great works of art, all-of-a-piece.

Like the integrated design process itself, the report contains myriad voices (a strategy and conclusion I also came to for my own book on Integrated Design.)

From now on, all Integrated Design books really ought to be crowdsourced.

In fact, Lee had 15 partners (represented by 24 people) in the residency, only 4 of whom were designers, which if it was a challenge, doesn’t show.

The report leaves you with the impression that it was created by a singular sensibility in that it has one, compelling voice throughout.

Stevie Summer’s diagrams are intelligent and truly mesmerizing: the perfect accompaniment for the text.

The natural imagery of many of these diagrams – conch shells, DNA – are intertwined & interrelated with the book’s theme and text. Stunning.

Professor Lee invested so much time in the diagrams because she is interested in raising visual literacy.

Interestingly, it soon becomes apparent that the process in conceiving the report served as a model for those she worked with along the way for the integrated design process itself. What an effective way for those she worked with to ‘get’ integrated design.

One of the most appealing attributes of the report is that the overall tone and word choice is strangely non-academic. This is a report anyone could love.

Lee, for example, quotes Dan Pink where she could have quoted Roger Martin. In fact, the report verges on being populist were it not for the fact that the whole thing is so smart.

Because this does not read like research, one can see how it will be implemented (and not – like so many reports – sit on the shelf.)

By the time the reader gets to the end, they’ll recognize that the very tenets of integrated design went into the making of this brilliant and beautiful document.

The tone throughout is optimistic, forward-looking: exactly what it needs to be. No need to threaten readers with impending apocalypse (it doesn’t.)

Most reports and books fizzle out near the end – having spent all their ammo in the first half (if not the first chapter.) Here, some of the best, freshest information and diagrams occur in the recommendations section of the report, near the end, what Professor Lee calls “the heart and the future of the work.”

Many, many more people need to read this report.

Professor Lee is in the process of making an Integrated Design Strategy guidebook with roadmaps for each recommendation along with best practices, weblinks, and case studies and a website with PDF downloads that hopefully will be available soon.

Read the final report of Professor Laura Lee, Adelaide Thinker in Residence in 2009.

Read about Martin Seligman and other thinkers in residence http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/ including Prof. Laura Lee http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/thinkers/lee/

Read more about Laura Lee, FAIA http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/thinkers/lee/who.aspx

Check out these videos featuring Laura Lee, and also this and this video

And look into the integrated design work of other thinkers and makers, including Renée Cheng, Daniel Friedman, Frances Bronet, Ann Dyson, Billie Faircloth, Kiel Moe and many more.

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Two Books to Transform the AEC Industry

This past week I had the opportunity to read two significant AEC industry books – one of which I had been meaning to read for several years, the other just having been published.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) are central to each of these books, whereas they were relegated to a single chapter in Barry LePatner’s otherwise excellent book, Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry.

I’ll start with The Commercial Real Estate Revolution: Nine Transforming Keys to Lowering Costs, Cutting Waste, and Driving Change in a Broken Industry, by Rex Miller et al, a quartet of construction industry professionals.

The Commercial Real Estate Revolution

I didn’t read this book when it first came out (July 2009) for one reason and one reason alone: it cost $40.

And for a second reason: I was writing my own AEC industry book ($75!) and didn’t want to be influenced by its findings.

And a third: I found a few words in the title (Commercial Real Estate + Revolution) off-putting. Sounded more 2006 than 2009.

And a fourth (I’ll get to that in a moment.)

Looking back, I should have ignored these reasons and read the book when the ink was still wet.

Observations

The foreword by Metropolis Magazine’s Susan S. Szenasy alone is worth the price of the book  $39.95  ($12 used)

The book grew out of a wide-ranging group of dedicated industry players called The Mindshift consortium (the name was my fourth reason. It sounded vaguely un-construction-like.) That the consortium (not a think-tank but a “do-tank”) grew out of weekly discussions over pancakes (the Pancake Roundtable) at a local diner grounds the book in real people with real concerns.

This book has a big heart. It’s the kind of commercial real estate book that’s not afraid to quote Joseph Campbell on the power of metaphors to induce change.

Unlike LePatner, Miller and his cohorts are not only looking to fix what’s broken in the industry, but transform it. That alone distinguishes this book.

Read Chapter 2: What Every Executive Needs to Know About Low-Bid Contracting, and you’ll never use Design-Bid-Build as a delivery method again.

The Nine Keys

The second two-thirds of the book present The Nine Keys of Mindshift, including Four Principles, Four Tools, One Hidden Revolution

Key 1: Trust-Base Team Formation (Principle) – How you select your team, whom you select, and the process you use to form them into a team is the most important component of a succesful project.

Key 2: Early Collaboration (Principle) – Clear channels of communication and efficient ways of working together must be established to ensure ultimate success.

Key 3: Built-In Sustainability (Principle) – Sustainability becomes a natural result of better design and the elimination of waste.

Key 4: Transformational Leadership (Principle) – Leadership must be flexible, trusting team members to work together and empowering them to solve problems.

Key 5: Big “BIM” (Tool) – Building Information Modeling is a game-changing technology. It facilitates early collaboration and allows the team to rehearse and resolve issues in a virtual environment that carries over seamlessly to real construction.

Key 6: Integrated Project Delivery (Tool) – The “siloed” hierarchy of Design-Bid-Build becomes a round table in IPD as the planning, design, and implementation process integrate all team members’ input and participation. Lean Construction is an increasingly important tool for team members to identify waste and measure performance.

Key 7: Trust-Based Agreements and Client-Centered Incentives (Tool) – All team members assume an equal degree of shared risk and reward, and profitability is inextricably linked to the success of the project.

Key 8: Offsite Manufacturing (Tool) – Fabricating materials offsite and in advance provides an opportunity to change the nature, quality and future of construction.

Key 9: Workplace Productivity (The Hidden Revolution) – When buildings are uniquely designed and constructed with the end-user in mind, the space created can enhance the quality of life and work for those using it and will deliver higher value to the owner. Alternative workplace solutions are one example of the mindshift model that stresses long-term strategic value over short-term transactional returns.

The authors write: “Building, at its essence, is a relational practice. It is creative. And, when done well, it is restorative.” I believe, if you haven’t already done so, that reading this book will be an equally restorative experience for you.

You can find a good summary and background here http://www.haworth.com/en-us/Knowledge/Mindshift/Pages/The-Consortium.aspx

An article providing some background by the author in DesignIntelligence here

And read chapter 1 (“The $500 Billion Black Hole”) here http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/65/04704574/0470457465.pdf

Makers of the Environment

Don’t be alarmed if you haven’t heard of this book.

Makers of the Environment: Building Resilience Into Our World, One Model at a Time, by BIG BIM little bim author, Finith E. Jernigan was released December 15, 2011 ($9.99 Kindle, though you will want a hard copy of the book so you can scan the QR code-like tags. I’ll get top those in a moment.)

Billed as “the first information model in a book” (where BIM = book information model,) Makers of the Environment is a true 3D reading experience.

You can read the book straight through or, using Microsoft TAGs spread throughout the book, link to the book’s website for richer data, videos, related articles and a deeper look into the subject at hand.

You can imagine my surprise while scanning one of the codes to find it lead to one of my own blog posts (i.e. a surreal experience.)

Read more about it here.

Observations

The book presents straightforward short chapters on various topics. These are followed by scenario plans that take place in the near future – or the recent past – and are populated by characters devised by the author. Here’s how it is described:

Makers of the Environment shows how an organization in a small, depressed rural county can pull together to take advantage of the opportunities to become a world leader in the management of information to change our world. With systems and processes such as Makers describes, we for the first time in history can define and manage real-world assets. The book’s central design future forms the backbone for three scenarios show how to use the information to improve the world.

Three of these scenarios are presented in the prologue, even before you hit the first chapter (which opens with another scenario.) It’s admittedly a bit rough-going, but well-worth the journey when you arrive at the expository writing and tags. That’s when the book really transforms (some, such as the tag on Georeferencing, are spectacular.)

The book presents a world of making or makers that is wholly inclusive and democratic. The book presents an industry where laypeople – real people – are participants who engage creatively and productively in the making and preservation of their world, and in doing so receive value directly from their involvement.

Technology is leveling the field for everyone. No longer must we rely on experts talking at us as we find solutions to today’s most vexing problems. We can all participate directly in the decisions, with real data, to get greater certainty of outcomes.

That said, one wonders if the title ought to have been Stewarts of the Environment or Makers of the Built Environment?

Some caveats: There is a great deal of repetition (whole sentences and even pages: p. 21-22, for example, are mysteriously repeated at length on p. 23-25) and the book, self-published, could have benefitted from some heavy editing and copyediting. Why, for example, are some chapters in grey background and others not? Some of the technology discussions come across as infomercials. Some of the scenarios sound as though they are taking place next week rather than in 10 years (this can be disconcerting for the reader who is constantly being asked by the text to place themselves in time.) The book’s sentences – that make up the paragraphs – don’t have a great deal of variation or differentiation in length. In this sense, the book sometimes feels as though it was in fact an information model in that it can feel as though it were written by a computer. This is a book that has enough valuable information to recreate the world – but, nonetheless, is still in search of a heart.

Kudos to the author for taking the innovative and creative route – it is always the more difficult to be a trailblazer.

It is very hard in a brief review to summarize what comes across as a comprehensive worldview – a view of the near-term future. Here’s how the book is described:

Makers of the Environment merges storytelling with everyday reality to offer a moment where we can rethink our expectations to understand how technology can and should be used to improve our world. The book makes the extraordinary ordinary, offering a vision on how society can take advantage of new and emerging technology to create a better, more sustainable world for our children.

I’ve barely touched on some of the major themes and ideas presented. You truly have to read the book for yourself to fully grasp it’s breadth, potential impact on your thinking and vision of the near-term future: the next steps for our industry and planet.

Forgiving some of the book’s more experimental and editorial shortcomings, I highly recommend Makers of the Environment for anyone and everyone working in – or around – the AECO industry.

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Filed under BIM, business model, construction industry, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people

MoneyBIMball

With Moneyball in theaters, the playoff season in full swing, and the 2003 book by Michael Lewis climbing in standings, data geeks are all the rage.

This fact cannot be lost on architects and others in the construction industry.

In the movie and book, the 2002 Oakland Athletics overlook the former criteria for player selection (brawn, looks and stature) in favor of data and information.

Doing so was unorthodox to say the least. The equivalent of design professionals proceeding with a design based on data over visuals.

But in doing so, the Athletics managed an all-time record winning streak and made the playoffs with the major’s smallest budget.

Which leads us to ask of ourselves two questions:

  • Is it time we honor our inner geek?
  • Is it time we get creative with our data?

Information and Process Builders

In his brilliant undated letter to the profession entitled “BIM ball,” Kimon Onuma’s focus was not on the 3D nature of BIM, but almost entirely on the “I” of BIM:

“Information and data integrated with 3D” models.

Due to the threatening ‘evolve or dissolve’ resolve of the subtitle, this fact was lost on the average reader.

A few cogent lines from the letter tell the story:

  • We charge our clients 6% plus of construction costs to assemble information into documents
  • Most of the knowledge and information that is assembled for a project goes into the lines of a CAD file that essentially has only one use
  • The value in architectural services rests in the knowledge and experience to assemble information and execute projects
  • The only possible solution is to solve this using the technologies available in Building Information Modeling, standards and interoperability.
  • Architects are positioned at the center of the design and construction process not as the “master builder” integrating and organizing all the disparate pieces of the building but now as the information and process builders and coordinators in this process

From this we can deduce that information is at the heart of our evolution as a profession and industry.

Which leads us to ask:

What will we do with the information available to us?

To continue the base hits of visualization and clash detection or home runs of analysis?

Reevaluating Strategies that Produce Wins on the Field

Just as Moneyball 

  • focused on the general manager – our story ought to focus on the BIM manager
  • focused on the team’s modernized, analytical approach to assembling a competitive team – our focus ought to be on the BIM analytics
  • has done wonders for unorthodox analytics – our use of BIM ought to do the same for analysis
  • team used statistics that are relics of a 19th century view of the game – our industry continues to use methodologies for estimating cost and anticipating schedules and predicting accuracy that are relics of centuries past.
  • central premise is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (players, managers, coaches, scouts, front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed – our focus ought to be on the fact that our own collective wisdom has not led to increased value or productivity nor reduced waste
  • isn’t really about baseball or statistics, but about challenging conventional wisdom with data – our understanding ought to be that BIM isn’t about technology, but rather challenging design and construction professionals to use information available to them to increase productivity and reduce waste.

Like the general manager in the movie, it’s time we give the data a long hard look.

Like the 2002 Oakland A’s, we as a profession and industry ought to be re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field.

Anything but a Field of Dreams

There’s a fear that BIM does away with design in favor of data.

This of course couldn’t be further from the truth.

As long as architecture remains an art, it will always maintain the element of the will.

Architectural design is an essay in willfulness.

Design work that is described and then either justified (with information) or rationalized (with pedagogue and agendas.)

Or post-rationalize out in the field.

This last option – our industry’s history up until now – has been anything but a field of dreams.

In 1896, Louis Sullivan asserted:

Form Follows Function

In 2011 (and beyond) in order to reach home:

Firms Follow Information

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Filed under analysis, BIM, BIM manager, BIM organizations, modeling, people, process

For AEC Industry, Is Trust the Killer Mobile App?

An online discussion asks: What is the mobile killer app for the AEC industry?

Mobile Apps for the field and jobsite appear to be where the industry is headed.

It’s only a question of which ones and when.

In the discussion, various technologies are proposed:

.

  • a Navisworks-like app with an ability to mark up the model
  • ruggedized iPads and Xooms
  • Artra, a FIELD-BIM & 3D CAD Facilities Management solution for AEC & BIM
  • virtual desktops to run 500MB models in the cloud

While others are rejected:

  • I don’t see people walking around on the site wearing goggles
  • There is nothing you can do to ruggedize iPad

The consensus is one of people walking around, viewing the model, taking pictures on site, adding notes and comments, setting attributes and syncing that with the model on the server in the trailer.

Or is the consensus doing what we’ve always done: scribble down notes and sketch?

There’s the commenter who has been working in the future for some time now and doesn’t see anything new.

Implying that the rest of us ostensibly have been living in the past with our heads under a rock.

Inevitably, one commenter accuses another of promoting an app they represent.

And it’s monkeys at a tea party.

There’s technology,

There’s just no trust

We’re all worried about how we’re going to build buildings when we ought to be focused on building trust.

In discussions about IPD we’re all for sharing risk and reward.

But when it comes to putting yourself on the line to support someone else

(the very definition of sharing risk and reward)

Where is everybody?

With BIM, you team with those with experience.

With IPD, you team with those you know and trust.

Right?

You don’t need IPD experience to do IPD,

You need trust

Yes, you need an owner who asks for IPD.

But you can’t deliver what they ask for, when they ask for it, without first building trust.

Trust is the real integrated project delivery method.

Trust is a prerequisite for IPD.

Others attest that trust in integrated design and teams is a result but not a prerequisite.

“It’s not about trust—it’s about process,” says Scott Simpson. “If the process is set up properly, trust will follow.”

With IPD, you do need to find others who:

  • Can work with you, and
  • Want to work with you

Selecting the right people to work on IPD teams.

And who are the right people?

Those who have trust in each other.

Trust is an achievement. Trust takes work.

To build trust requires an investment of time.

And not everyone will see this investment as worthwhile.

Who will take the first step?

Trust can be a difficult subject for those in the AEC industry to discuss.

Especially when there’s the implication that one party—or their work effort or product—cannot be trusted.

One thing is certain—trust speaks to the need for meaningful social relationships among people who work together.

So who will take the first step?

Some believe the owner has to set the stage for a trusting working environment and process:

However you define it, trust is one key to working collaboratively.

Without trust, there’s just coercion in one of its many forms.

Trust is the Killer Mobile App

In the book, Love is the killer app, Tim Sanders believes love is the crucial element in the search for personal and professional success.

Sanders sees “business love” in clear, behavioral terms: “the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles with your business partners.”

And what are those intangibles? Sharing

  • knowledge, with as many people as possible
  • our network, our rich web of working relationships
  • compassion, to reach out to others authentically

Before you build the building model, build the trust model

Another book takes a different approach to building trust. Building the High-Trust Organization: Strategies for Supporting Five Key Dimensions of Trust, provides an easy-to-administer model and instrument for measuring and managing trust in organizations.

The five critical dimensions from the title are Competence, Openness and Honesty, Concern for Others, Reliability, and Identification.

Creating an environment of trust is at the very heart of team success.

High-trust teams have increased value, accelerated growth, enhanced innovation, improved collaboration, stronger partnering, better execution, and heightened loyalty.

This book answers the question: how do you create and build trust in your team?

Trust crash

As one commenter put it:

In a time of unprecedented mergers, government sponsored buy-outs, the collapse of financial institutions, organizational restructuring and layoffs has resulted in a “trust crash” among employees and stakeholders.

So, before investing in mobile Apps for the field and jobsite,

Invest in building trusting relationships.

Because trust appears to be where the industry is headed.

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Filed under BIM, collaboration, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, modeling, people, process