Category Archives: workflow

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?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under BIM, collaboration, design professionals, modeling, people, workflow

The Poughkeepsie Principles

pkpsWe are in a race now to produce better and better information, instead of better and better buildings. – Paul Fletcher, RIBA architect

There is a school of thought that contends that BIM is not an authoring tool or software platform or an industry standard, but an approach to creating and managing information.

This way of thinking has blossomed in recent years – from an emerging movement to accepted wisdom – in the AECO industry.

Not that architecture itself is getting the short shrift.

Despite the advent and subsequent diffusion of digital tools in the design process, some of which have a more intuitive design interface than others, we shouldn’t worry about losing our ability to design exceptional buildings anytime soon.

In fact, when it comes to architectural design, there is ample evidence that we are in the midst of a Renaissance (re-Renaissance? Re-naissance?)

Just scroll through archdaily or archinect or archidose or architizer or architonic or archello or abitare – or thumb through this – I think you’ll agree:

Architecture isn’t suffering.

This New Architecture is all about better buildings because we can produce better and better information.

Because we can use this information to convince clients to go along a path that they would otherwise – without the metrics, the benchmarking, the information and data – not take.

But before we can lead owners down this path, we ourselves have to make an important choice.

A Road Not Taken

Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, describes two paths: one well-trodden, the other less travelled.

You may remember this poem from school. The author takes the path less travelled – the one that “wanted wear” – and, for the author, that has made all the difference.

We, too, have the choice before us – to continue on the well-trodden path of practice –

Whether that means designing using our well-worn visualization tools, working in CAD, or delivering projects by design-bid-build –

Or going outside of our comfort zone, exploring a new way of working.

Our industry’s less travelled path.

Taking the less travelled path

A while back on a sojourn from NYC to Albany, due to inclement conditions I was forced to pull over on the side of the road.

Seeing that the rain wasn’t letting up any time soon, I made a mad dash to a lodge on the edge of the woods.

Inside, locals huddled over coffee weren’t in any hurry to head out. Nor was I.

Battened-down into a booth, I composed the following principles on a napkin.

Principles I swore to – and ascribe to – ever since that fateful day. I call these

The Poughkeepsie Principles

1. BIM is not an authoring tool or software platform or an industry standard, but an approach to creating and managing information.

2. BIM puts information in place to coordinate the digital process from design through operations and beyond.

3. That information comes from somewhere.

4. Digital processes in architecture not only enable, but also determine the way we design, construct, and work together – and relate with our tools.

5. Despite the near-constant temptation, don’t put your tools before people.

6. Everything points toward more expansive ways of digital production.

7. Digital processes alter how we work with one another for the good of all.

8. We collectively determine the meaning of the good of all.

9. Digital networks are there to improve communication and to assure that we communicate with one another. So communicate.

10. Those with digital capabilities work collectively, not autonomously, for the highest good.

11. We collectively determine the meaning of the highest good.

12. Those with digital capabilities will find themselves catalysts for a new organization and industry order.

13. Those with digital capabilities will not find themselves catalysts for a new world order.

14. Where you end up in that order will be determined by your capabilities and collaboration quotient (CQ).

15. Call it collaboration quotient, not CQ. Your colleagues will thank you.

16. Designers will continue to author the design of projects.

17. In the new digital workflow, everybody is a designer.

18. Semi-autonomous algorithmically driven design workflows deeply embedded in a collective digital communication infrastructure will continue to create alluring objects.

19. But designers will be needed to determine how these objects look, scale, function, shed water, stand up and meet code.

20. In other words, designers will still be needed to design.

21. The proliferation of advanced digital modeling tools has enabled designers to conceive and create designs that would be messier to do using Koh-I-Noor Rapidographs on mylar, Razor Points on napkins, 2/HB soft/hard black pencil in Moleskines, lead holders and electric erasers.

22. And drafting dots.

23. Digital modeling tools require less cleanup, therefore, save time.

24. There is a time and place to use Rapidographs on mylar, Razor Points on napkins, 2/HB soft/hard black pencils in Moleskines. This isn’t one of them.

25. Go ahead, experiment with algorithmic and simulation-driven design. Just remember your client and users are waiting.

26. They’re still waiting.

27. Computational design is considered to be a design tool, and also a series of instruments that can be applied in the creation of architecture.

28. The previous principle is both redundant and superfluous. It is redundantly superfluous.

29. Computational design enables architects to incorporate performance analysis and knowledge about material, tectonics and the parameters of production machinery.

30. That’s just a fancy way of saying information, alluded to in the first principle.

31. Computational design really needs to say what it means.

32. In the new world of integration, architects become hybrid- – not hyphenated- – practitioners.

33. In other words, hybrid-practitioners, not hyphenatedpractitioners.

34. Architects can counter the traditional model that isolates architects from the economics and construction of buildings by positioning themselves towards the operational center of each project.

35. To do so, architects need to become developer-architects or contractor-architects, (see hyphenated-practitioners.)

36. Architects need to define what it means to be hybrid practitioners without the hyphen.

37. Use nothing out of the box. All software shall be customized. See principle #6.

38. Customizing computational tools can create more responsive designs.

39. Learn how to customize software for your specific needs and the needs of the project.

40. New digital tools are new and shall remain so until they aren’t.

41. Computation is indeed changing the way architects design, only nobody can say how.

42. There are digital design tools and there are results. Focus on the results, and the tools will take care of themselves.

(To be continued: the napkin on which I was writing was full.)

Published works that inspire – and uphold – these principles include, but are not limited to:

– Digital Workflows in Architecture, Scott Marble

– Digital Fabrication in Architecture, Nick Dunn

– Computation Works: The Building of Algorithmic Thought, Xavier De Kestelier, Brady Peters 

– SHoP: Out of Practice, Shop Architects

– Inside Smartgeometry: Expanding the Architectural Possibilities of Computational Design, terri Peters, Brady Peters

– Material Strategies in Digital Fabrication, Christopher Beorkrem

– Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques, Lisa Iwamoto

– Material Computation: Higher Integration in Morphogenetic Design Architectural Design, Achim Menges

– Digital Manufacturing: In Design and Architecture, Asterios Agkathidis

– Manufacturing Material Effects: Rethinking Design and Making in Architecture, Branko Kolarevic  

– From Control to Design: Parametric/Algorithmic Architecture, Michael Meredith

5 Comments

Filed under BIM, collaboration, construction industry, defining BIM, modeling, Uncategorized, workflow

The Case for CASE

In the Case Study interview I conducted with Kristine K. Fallon, FAIA of Kristine Fallon Associates in my book , BIM and Integrated Design, I asked her:

In the AEC Survival Guide, you wrote that there are three classes of barriers that inhibit the adoption of new technology: technological barriers, organizational barriers, and lack of understanding. Would you say that these are the same barriers to the widespread adoption of BIM and the collaborative work process enabled by it?

Kristine Fallon: These are definitely the same barriers. They’re almost exactly the same as the research I did for the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2007 on the subject of information exchange in the AEC industry. Those were (1) commercial issues (the business and organizational barriers), (2) expectations and change management (the sociological elements), and (3) emerging technology and inadequate technology infrastructure (the technological elements).

Have you found that there’s a hierarchy to these elements?

KF: There’s quite a bit of sociology there, but I really think it’s the lack of understanding. With a computable description of a building we’re dealing with things in very different terms. This is a schema—a framework—that’s totally unfamiliar and people are not taking to it or are not mastering or understanding it. This is what I am seeing even with people who are doing a lot of work on this. I see huge gaps in comprehension of how this actually works under the hood and what’s necessary to make it work well. To make this work you have to get two domains to work hand in glove: people who know how to build a computable description of a building, how to code that up and map it; and the folks who understand how the construction industry operates. The people who get the technology don’t necessarily get the subtleties of those relationships and the fact that you can’t just redefine them on the fly. The folks who are clear on the (construction) responsibilities don’t have a clue and don’t want to know what needs to be done to successfully define the technical aspects.

What would you say is the best method for someone unfamiliar with the technology to learn BIM?

KF: BIM is easy to use. It’s much easier than CAD. It’s pretty complicated under the hood but architects and engineers no longer feel like they need to understand what’s under the hood. I feel that’s a mistake—they do. The firms that are doing well with the technology—it’s because they understand what’s under the hood and they tweak it.

Making the case for innovators of BIM

Kristine of course does all of this and does it remarkably well.

But in making a case for who is a leading innovator of BIM, it would not be an individual but a team.

This would be in keeping with the collaborative nature of BIM, when used to its best and highest use.

The leading innovator of BIM would have to be innovative, not afraid to look under the hood.

Here’s the case for CASE:

To Kristine Fallon’s specs:

CASE understands how BIM actually works under the hood and what’s necessary to make it work well.

CASE has people who know how to build a computable description of a building, how to code that up and map it and folks who understand how the construction industry operates.

CASE gets the technology and the subtleties of these relationships.

CASE is clear on construction responsibilities and wants to know what needs to be done to successfully define the technical aspects of the projects they work on.

Partners David Fano, Federico Negro and Steve Sanderson previously worked at SHoP Architects and established CASE Design in 2008.

Joining them as partner is the formidable Ruben Suare, formerly of 3form.

And with Don Rudder as CTO – which, like Don Draper – makes this already stellar show unstoppable, unbeatable.

Despite their myriad backgrounds, they’re through and through New York, NYers, East Coasters and Ivy Leaguers.

Managing technologies and business practices

Their Twitter profile reads:

CASE is a Building Information Modeling (BIM) and integrated practice consultancy based in New York City

CASE is “a Building Information Modeling and integrated practice consultancy based in New York City” the way that the Yankees are “a ballclub based in New York City.”

Doesn’t say the half of it.

And misses the essence – their real value – altogether.

CASE does so many things so well that it is sometimes hard to tell what exactly they do.

But CASE does something critically necessary in our current working environment:

They help building design professionals – as well as contractors and owners – identify, implement and manage

  • technologies and
  • business practices

that enable more effective

  • coordination,
  • communication and
  • collaboration.

BIM and Integrated Design, this blog and my book, share a basic belief with CASE that BIM is not “a single model or software, it is the process.”

BIM is a process of managing geometric elements and the associated data in order to accomplish specific tasks.

Here are just some of the tasks CASE undertakes on any given weekday (or often, weekend)

CASE innovates – comes up with new software, systems, processes, tools, services, sites – almost daily. Here are just a few:

DesignByMany is a sponsored challenge-based design technology community.

 (Or an addictive, crowdsourced design site depending on whether you won an HP Designjet T790 24” PostScript ePrinter or not.)

WHObyYOU is the best way to find service professionals from your network.

Sfter provides content on your terms.

These are just 3 of (nobody knows how many exactly) innovations produced by CASE.

Then there’s their influential blog DesignReform

DesignReform is a digital design publication created & maintained by CASE exploring parametric design through 3ds Max, Revit, Rhino and more.

They recently relaunched the site with a whole new look and feel consistent with their brand.

Read about all things BIM and BIM workflow.

But truthfully, most go to DesignReform for the authoritative yet scrappy and free tutorials.

No innovation stagnation with CASE

As David Brooks in the New York Times writes,

“The roots of great innovation are never just in the technology itself. They are always in the wider historical context. They require new ways of seeing.”

 In making the case for CASE, it is easy to see that they do this. And do it well.

 One can only hope that their serial innovations continue to keep people – the end user, human needs and interface – top of mind, front and center.

Do you  agree? Who would you propose making a case for? Let us know by leaving a comment.

4 Comments

Filed under analysis, BIM, BIM expert, BIM instructor, BIM trainer, collaboration, Content Creation, modeling, workflow

Is BIM in 10 Words or Less Still BIM?

Recently I was asked to summarize my 240 page book in a single sentence.

It’s the sort of reductionist thinking that can lead to some less than satisfying outcomes.

Analogically, new software is being introduced that promises to be the AutoCAD LT version of Revit. 

Interested in testing and providing feedback for a technology preview of a lighter version of Revit?

Thought so. Go here.

Or see A Revit LT-ish Product Available for Download from Autodesk Labs.

In other words, when you pare Revit down, what’s lost in translation?

Actually, very little.

That is, unless worksharing is important to you.

Then you’re out of luck.

Have no need for photo realistic rendering?

Good – because it doesn’t support it.

Nor view filters, groups, in-Place families, massing, analysis, trusses or shared coordinates.

Nor point clouds, sun path, API, parts/assemblies, design options, adaptive components, simplified export, links, content, phasing or materials.

To reach that agile level of lightness and simplicity – and pare the program down to essentials – much of value is lost along the way.

The whole emphasis on lean practices is to reduce waste and increase value. Right?

What is lost is this:

Communicating, sharing and collaborating.

In other words, what makes BIM BIM.

The same can be said of most reductionist definitions of BIM.

The focus of a recent Linkedin BIM group challenge asked:

Is it even possible to describe BIM in TEN words or less?

Is something lost when you try to pare BIM down to its essentials?

Are 10 words enough to meaningfully describe, explain or justify BIM?

50 words, maybe.

For 24 definitions of BIM in 50 words or less look here.

14 words?

Possibly.

But restricting a working definition of BIM down to 10 words means that people only describe what is important to them.

Not to each other.

Does BIM need to be enabled by bloated software?

If by ‘bloated’ you mean that it also communicates, allows for sharing and collaboration?

Then afraid so.

Here’s a smattering of the 10-word definitions. You decide if any capture the magic of BIM.

In terms of software:

BIM

“generates and manages building data throughout the building lifecycle”

“provides coordination to the nth degree”

“is a federated data models of an asset throughout its life cycle”

“creates, develops and manages all building information digitally”

“3D + Data + Relationship”

“is an acronym for construction utopia”

“forces people to communicate throughout the building process”

 “is the digital representation of a facility’s physical and functional characteristics”*

 “is 3D coordination before construction prevents surprises in the field”

“is everything you need to know about your building, forever”

“is the bridge between design and close-out at your fingertips”

As an activity

BIM

“is building a building twice: first in 3D, then real life.”

In terms of a process

BIM

“is the process of gathering and managing building lifecycle information”

“is a process that federates information for a buildings lifecycle”

Some are contrived

BIM

“digitally builds the facility before gets built”

Some are downright tortured

BIM

“prebuild virtually with end-user mentality, incorporate product data, add value”

In terms of information

BIM

“is complete information about building and that can be repossessed anytime”

In terms of knowledge

“is structuring and relating data to maintain information and generate knowledge”

Some unnecessarily obfuscate

BIM

“is an ontology based knowledge management infrastructure for virtual construction based on standardized business process workflows”

Some define BIM in terms of what it is not:

BIM

“isn’t Software it includes people, processes, standards and methods”

“IT’s NOT SOFTWARE, it’s process, methodology and collaboration”

My favorite

I like this (albeit a compromise at 14 words)

“Regardless of the tools you use BIM requirements enforce that you collaborate with others”

But for BIM to succeed, perhaps a little compromise is in order?

* a reworded version of the definition provided by the National Institute of Building Sciences.

5 Comments

Filed under BIM, collaboration, construction industry, definition, workflow

Taking BIM and IPD to Task

Making BIM Beyond Boundaries Actionable

In my recent piece in DesignIntelligence, BIM Beyond Boundaries, I argue for widening our outlook and reach as we deepen our skills.

No doubt, a somewhat unpopular stance today.

In the article I am not suggesting that designers, architects and managers abandon their expertise:

  • Project designers can always deepen their skills.
  • Project architects can always improve their technology chops and knowhow.
  • Project managers can do the same for their leadership skills.
  • And others can improve their specialties.

What I am suggesting is for you to spend the next 90 days branching out.

Looking at new ways to work and practice effectively with your teammates.

So often these thought pieces remain just that – saved in our hard drives or on our nightstands – but seldom put into use.

Here, in this post, I unpack some key points from the article BIM Beyond Boundaries.

And make some suggested next steps that you can take based on the prescriptions made in the article.

Think of it as a way of taking the article to task – by making the content actionable.

Avoiding the typical response to feel good articles by answering the question: What now?

What follows are some suggested resources, activities and links to use as action items as you build your breadth as well as depth.

Skim the bullets below, find one that captures your attention and start expanding:

  • Form an informal group. Meet to discuss ways your firm can collaborate and partner
  • Bring other professionals into the office for lunch-and-learns – not just sales reps
  • Form a mastermind group in your firm and hold each other accountable for change items

“Opting for depth over breadth of expertise is a false choice that will lead individuals, organizations, the profession, and industry in the wrong direction.”

  • Apply the concepts from Daniel Goleman’s bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, into your workplace
  • Assign chapters and meet at lunch to discuss the book
  • Start here then apply it to leadership EQ
  • Read a book on social intelligence such as Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships or Social Intelligence: The New Science of Success

“Several forces are converging to create an unprecedented and timely opportunity for organizations that have embraced building information modeling (BIM). These forces — including the rise of the expert, the growing complexity and speed of projects, and BIM’s increasing recognition as an enabler, catalyst, and facilitator of team collaboration — also present significant challenges that can be overcome with the right approach and mindset.”

  • Expertise today requires change and growth, not retention of facts. Read Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success for a thorough understanding of the difference between a fixed and growth mindset
  • Identify those within your organization with a fixed mindset and determine their likelihood of working towards one of growth
  • Aim to make all of your key personnel those with growth mindsets
  • Consider applying ideas from Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement to your organization’s learning initiatives
  • Consider joining  and participating in discussions on what it means to be an expert, among others, at the KA Connect LinkedIn group.

“At one time, being an expert meant knowing more than one’s competitors in a particular field. Firms that reinforced their expert culture hoarded information, which resulted in silos of expertise. Today, many firms are looking to hire people perceived as building and software technology experts, shortsightedly addressing today’s needs at the expense of tomorrow’s.”

  • Not all positions require the applicant to be an expert. See, for example, Why I Will Never, see Ever Hire A “Social Media Expert”

“Due to the speed and complexity of projects, we do not have time to acquire knowledge the old way — slowly, over time, through traditional means.”

  • Familiarize yourself with  the concept of “wicked problems”
  • Familiarize yourself with the concept of ‘design assist’ and other ways to tackle fast, large-scaled and complex projects
  • Access answers and best practices through online discussions and social media

“Being an expert is no longer about telling people what you know so much as understanding what questions to ask, who to ask, and applying knowledge flexibly and contextually to the specific situation at hand.

“Expertise has often been associated with teaching and mentoring. Today it’s more concerned with learning than knowing: less to do with continuing education and more with practicing and engaging in continuous education.”

  • Read the important new book, A New Culture of Learning. By exploring play, innovation, and the cultivation of the imagination as cornerstones of learning, the authors create a vision of learning for the future that is achievable, scalable and one that grows along with the technology that fosters it and the people who engage with it.
  • Give copies of the book to key colleagues and meet to discuss concepts and ideas with the intention of applying them to your organization.

“Social media presents the would-be expert with both opportunities and challenges. Working with the understanding that somebody somewhere has already done what you are trying to do, design professionals, like agile technology experts, can find what they’re looking for by tapping into their networks and aggregating the responses. Conversely, due to the rise of social media, virtually all anyone has to do today to be considered a technology expert is to call themselves one. Because social networks allow people to proclaim themselves experts, it can be hard to know who to turn to, resulting in the rise of otherwise unnecessary certifications.”

  • Apply what you’ve learned via ideas from the book The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media.

“To grow one’s professional reputation, expertise in BIM counter-intuitively requires unlearning, detachment, collaboration, and developing both deep skills and broad interests.”

“We tend to cooperate conditionally, responding to the behavior of others.”

  • If you haven’t done so already, read the blog post ‘Unlearning to Collaborate’
  • Take a look at Why We Cooperate by Michael Tomasello for a better understanding of how we all start out as collaborators and unlearn these behaviors along the way  

“As we grow in our careers, we tend to focus more on people issues and less on technology.”

  • When you consider your own career, does this sound accurate? What implications might this have in terms of how you focus your attention and time in the future? What can you start doing now to prepare?

“Achieving higher levels of BIM use — including analysis, computation, and fabrication — requires skills and a mindset that allow us to work productively and effectively in a collaborative setting.”

  • Many firms that have adopted and implemented BIM software solutions have not used the technology or process to their greatest advantage. To do so not only requires familiarizing yourself with these higher uses – but working more collaboratively with others on the team.
  • If you – or your organization – have not already done so, make the commitment to take-on BIM’s higher uses in the next 6-12 months.
  • Invite local experts who have used BIM for analysis, for sustainability, for fabrication to come to your office to give a demonstration. Or better yet, request and invite and make a visit to their operations to see how they are utilizing the tools and work processes. A simple visit such as this can spark a future teaming or partnering opportunity.
  • Follow-up by discussing how you can go about implementing this higher use of BIM on your next project.

“With BIM, technical expertise should not be considered more important than increasing one’s social intelligence, empathy, or the ability to relate well with others.”

  • Re-familiarize yourself with the concept of attaining and developing T-shaped skills.
  • Consider placing primarily T-shaped people on your project teams
  • Read-up on the subject in ‘T-Shaped BIM’ as well as here.

There is so much more we can all do to become well-rounded professionals.

These suggestions are only a start.

At the risk of overwhelming you, I’ll stop for now with these.

If you know of other sources – or have other suggestions or ideas of your own – please let us know by leaving a comment.

Leave a comment

Filed under BIM, BIM expert, BIM organizations, collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, process, workflow

Building Model Client-Designer Relationships

You don’t need to be a designer to benefit from the best practices espoused in this magnificent new book. A must-have for designers, those in design management and anyone who works with designers on integrated teams.

What does a book on design strategy have to do with BIM and integrated design?

It turns out – a great deal.

For it turns out that today designers of  all stripes emphasize co-creation, communication, mutual benefit, respect and trust in building strong team relationships.

These qualities are no longer the sole province of those participating in Integrated Project Delivery.

Based on over 100 interviews with designers, researchers and educators, The_Strategic_Designer by David Holston provides an overview of the design process and designer’s best practices.

The Strategic Designer: Tools and techniques for managing the design process, published by F+W Media and HOW Design, is billed as a Strategic Graphic Design Thinking book.

Despite this categorization, the subject matter transcends graphic design and can be universally applied to any of the design trades and professions including architectural design.

The book description will sound familiar to anyone working in architecture and related design professions: on integrated teams

As designers look for ways to stay competitive in the conceptual economy and address the increasing complexity of design problems, they are seeing that they must not only be experts in form, but must also have the ability to collaborate, to design in context and be accountable through measurement. By adopting a process that considers collaboration, context and accountability, designers move from makers of things to strategists.

The book focuses on the designer’s workflow, ideation techniques, client relationships and methods for measuring the success of their projects.

But it doesn’t stop there.

An excellent foreward by Shawn M McKinney, alone, is worth the investment in the book.

Each chapter covers a specific design phase emphasis, providing a practical step-by-step approach, complete with tools and techniques.

  • The Conceptual Economy – where those who have the ability to collaborate and manage the increasing complexity of design will have greater opportunities
  • Overview of the Design Process – a process rife with opportunities for misinformation, dead ends, and divergent tracks, as well as amazing outcomes
  • The Value of Process – the benefits of having a well-defined design process
  • The Collaborative Designer – emphasizing co-creation, communication, mutual benefit, respect and trust in a strong client-designer relationship. This is a particularly rich chapter, addressing and answering such questions as: What makes a Good Designer? What Makes a Good Client? and Clients to Avoid. There’s a wonderful sidebar on: Seven Principles for Managing Creative Tension.
  • Empathic Design – explaining how research provides a path and imperative for moving forward
  • Understanding the Business – includes a breakdown of basic strategy techniques and an explanation of the purpose of business analysis as understanding and defining goals of the client
  • Designing with the End User in Mind – with an emphasis on facilitating and moderating participatory and collaborative work sessions. The Designing for People chapter focuses on research as a valuable tool for gaining insight into the organizational needs of clients and their prospective audiences.
  • Managing Ideas – especially when ideating with others in a participatory or collaborative setting, relying heavily on the experiences and knowledge of people involved.
  • Making Strategy Visible – how the designer takes an empathic approach to design that connects business goals with user needs.
  • Design Accountability – asking: Why is design hard to measure? And answering by sharing significant research findings and metrics. Salient quote: “The price for a seat at the decision-making table is accountability.”
  • Planning in a Turbulent Environment – the days of using a linear design process are over. Strategic designers face increasingly wicked problems. A helpful framework offered by project management.
  • Refining Your Process – so it can provide a common understanding for “how things get done” mitigating wasted efforts while creating value for the client and user alike.

Holston’s text anticipates your questions and concerns and places each topic in a larger context. He is clearly in control of his subject.

The author places the book and subject squarely in Dan Pink’s Conceptual Economy, a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context.

In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink explains how the economy is now moving from the information age to the conceptual age.

Later in The Strategic Designer, Rotman School of Management dean Roger L Martin says that the world is moving from the Information Economy to a Design Economy. A small distinction, but one that unnecessarily complicates matters. I would look to a book such as this to clarify the playing field, at the very least to acknowledge that the labeling of epochs and phraseology are still a work-in-progress.

The book’s strength is not in creating new knowledge – but in repackaging what is largely already known, experientially by every designer – in an easy to carry tome.

In this sense, the book is not a product of the Conceptual Age, but instead is a well-designed, convenient and accessible agglomeration, aggregating both explicit and, perhaps the greater achievement here, tacit knowledge on the subject.

The design world – including the universe of BIM and IPD – is a much better place for having this book at its disposal.

The Strategic Designer is a must-have book for designers, those who manage design projects and those who work with designers in a collaborative setting. It will benefit anyone participating in integrated teams by placing them in a multi-disciplinary mindset. Highly recommended. 

Leave a comment

Filed under BIM, BIM organizations, collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, IPD, people, process, workflow

The Value of Versatility

The DesignIntelligence website just posted an article I wrote, also published in the May/June technology issue of their printed journal, entitled BIM Beyond Boundaries.

The hard copy of the journal will cost you $365. And while this also gets you a Design Futures Council membership with the DesignIntelligence subscription, most of their articles are available for viewing 24/7 free.

Marjanne Pearson read this piece and suggested to me on Twitter that the article goes beyond a discussion on BIM, by touching on what she called the value of versatility in being an expert. (Follow Marjanne on Twitter @NextMoon if you want to be in the know on anything important happening in the architecture/design/business world.)

While I consider this piece my summa, or summary statement on a topic that is very important to me, it is really too long for a standard blog post.

I would really like you to read this post on the DesignIntelligence website. The reason I am posting it here is because after reading it I would like you to leave a comment. And you are only able to do that here.

Tell me if I am off the mark or if you agree with what is said here. Tell me what you think.

I’m in this to learn from you so please consider taking me up on this chance to provide some constructive feedback. Thanks!

BIM Beyond Boundaries

by Randy Deutsch

Opting for depth over breadth of expertise is a false choice that will lead individuals, organizations, the profession, and industry in the wrong direction.

Several forces are converging to create an unprecedented and timely opportunity for organizations that have embraced building information modeling (BIM). These forces — including the rise of the expert, the growing complexity and speed of projects, and BIM’s increasing recognition as an enabler, catalyst, and facilitator of team collaboration — also present significant challenges that can be overcome with the right approach and mindset.

At one time, being an expert meant knowing more than one’s competitors in a particular field. Firms that reinforced their expert culture hoarded information, which resulted in silos of expertise. Today, many firms are looking to hire people perceived as building and software technology experts, shortsightedly addressing today’s needs at the expense of tomorrow’s. While architects have always been trees with many branches, our current economic climate has discouraged them from being anything but palm trees: all trunk, no branches.

And yet things change so quickly that those who went to bed experts are unlikely to wake up experts in the morning. Due to the speed and complexity of projects, we do not have time to acquire knowledge the old way — slowly, over time, through traditional means. Even when we supplement our book learning with conferences, webinars, and continuing education, it is impossible to keep up with the flow of new information in our industry.

Expertise today is a much more social, fluid, and iterative process than it used to be. Being an expert is no longer about telling people what you know so much as understanding what questions to ask, who to ask, and applying knowledge flexibly and contextually to the specific situation at hand. Expertise has often been associated with teaching and mentoring. Today it’s more concerned with learning than knowing: less to do with continuing education and more with practicing and engaging in continuous education.

Social media presents the would-be expert with both opportunities and challenges. Working with the understanding that somebody somewhere has already done what you are trying to do, design professionals, like agile technology experts, can find what they’re looking for by tapping into their networks and aggregating the responses. Conversely, due to the rise of social media, virtually all anyone has to do today to be considered a technology expert is to call themselves one. Because social networks allow people to proclaim themselves experts, it can be hard to know who to turn to, resulting in the rise of otherwise unnecessary certifications.

An expert today is someone whose network, community, or team deems him or her so. Such acknowledgment from one’s community can be considered a form of social certification. To grow one’s professional reputation, expertise in BIM counter-intuitively requires unlearning, detachment, collaboration, and developing both deep skills and broad interests.

BIM Expertise Requires Unlearning

As we grow in our careers, we tend to focus more on people issues and less on technology. We also tend to cooperate conditionally, responding to the behavior of others. This has huge implications for design and construction professionals who might be naturally collaborative — through sharing knowledge, learning, mentoring, and teaching — but are otherwise conditioned and tempered by the culture of the firm where they work.

Working in BIM provides an unprecedented opportunity to learn: how buildings go together, how projects are scheduled, cost implications of decisions, and impact on the environment. At the same time, there is a great deal we still need to unlearn with BIM. We can start by asking some questions: Which aspects of the traditional design process change with BIM and which stay the same? What knowledge, methods and strategies must be abandoned due to BIM and what is critical to keep? And perhaps most important: What, while learning to work in BIM, needs to be unlearned?

While unlearning habits we picked up working in CAD would seem like a good place to start, there’s also a great deal we need to unlearn in order to return to our original sharing attitude and cooperative ways. These include bad habits we’ve acquired since we left the cocoon of school and embarked on the hard knocks of a career in architecture and construction, where we may have learned to be mistrustful, skeptical, competitive, secretive, and working independently in silos. In doing so, we’ve unlearned many of the critical natural habits, attitudes, and mindsets necessary to work effectively and collaboratively on integrated teams.

BIM Expertise Requires Detachment

From Japanese martial arts there’s the concept of shuhari: First learn, then detach, and finally transcend. As consultant Ian Rusk has explained, shu, ha, and ri are considered three phases of knowledge that one passes through in the study of an art. They can be described as the phases of traditional knowledge, breaking with tradition, and transcending it.

Working in BIM, we need to address all three steps to meet our goals. Of the steps, the second (detachment, or breaking with tradition) is the most important. Detachment requires that we remain flexible and agile while learning, not holding on tightly to our ideas, agendas, or prejudices, so that we can move beyond them.

BIM Expertise Requires Collaboration

While we as an industry have now lived with BIM for more than two decades, most firms have acquired and implemented the technology primarily as a visualization and coordination tool in the past several years. We appear to have reached a standstill in the software’s use, with many firm leaders wondering how to make the leap to more advanced uses. Further mastery of the application through traditional means won’t help us get there. If we are to achieve our personal, organizational, professional, and industry-wide goals of fully participating in public, community, creative, and economic life, something more needs to happen.

Achieving higher levels of BIM use — including analysis, computation, and fabrication — requires skills and a mindset that allow us to work productively and effectively in a collaborative setting. Working with BIM enables but doesn’t necessarily lead to collaboration. We each have to decide whether or not to look beyond BIM as a tool and embrace it as a process. When recognized as a process, BIM can be a powerful catalyst and facilitator of team collaboration.

BIM Expertise Requires Depth and Breadth

It would be a mistake to assume that expertise in BIM as a technology alone will lead to greater leadership opportunities on integrated teams. In this capacity, BIM requires attention to acquiring skills that, while easy to attain, can be overlooked if we focus primarily on the software tools.

With BIM, technical expertise should not be considered more important than increasing one’s social intelligence, empathy, or the ability to relate well with others. Additionally, the conventional window for achieving technological expertise is too long. Better that one achieves a high level of BIM competency motivated by passion and curiosity. Having competency in one subject doesn’t preclude you from addressing others. In fact, it can be a determinant for doing so.

Being versatile flies in the face of current thinking that to succeed we should bolster our strengths over our weaknesses. The answer to Should I be a specialist or generalist? is yes. There must be people who can see the details as well as those who can see the big picture. One gift of the design professional is the rare (and underappreciated) ability to do both simultaneously. As with any hybrid — generalizing specialist or specializing generalist — one’s strength provides the confidence to contribute openly from many vantage points and perspectives.

It is critical for “T-shaped” experts to reach out and make connections (the horizontal arm of the T) in all the areas they know little or nothing about from their base of technical competence (the vertical arm of the T). T-shaped experts have confidence because of their assurance that they know or do one thing well. Their confidence allows them to see as others see by means of — not through — what they know. Their expertise doesn’t color their perception so much as provide a home base to venture from and return to with some assurance that they’ll maintain their bearings when venturing out across the table.

Broad-minded design professionals often find themselves in the role of “anti-experts,” approaching challenges from the perspective of the outsider. To this Paula Scher of Pentagram said, “When I’m totally unqualified for a job, that’s when I do my best work.” Once we balance, own, and ultimately realize our expert and anti-expert selves, we (as a community, profession, and industry) will do our best work.

What Do We Do Now?

Firms want to know how to optimize their work processes to become more efficient at what they do best, to remain competitive by leveraging the competitive advantage of BIM and integrated design. One of the ironies facing the industry is that in order to master BIM, don’t learn more BIM. Instead, do other things.

What will bring about greater efficiencies and effectiveness, increase productivity and deliver value, is not additional technology knowledge but our ability to communicate, relate, work together, think like one another, have empathy, understand, and listen. If design professionals want to lead they will do so not by increasing their depth but by benefit of broader capabilities involving their reach.

What do we do now? Go wide and deep. Go against common wisdom and fortify your soft skills, your reach and wingspan. To master BIM you have to transcend BIM.

We need to develop both sides of ourselves in order to move beyond our own and others’ biases and anticipate consequences for courses of action before they are acted upon. We need to develop the ability to put the project first, navigate iRooms and packed conference tables to get our ideas and points across, be able to read people for overt and subliminal responses, have the confidence to ask questions without feeling threatened and be asked questions without becoming defensive. It is as though we have placed so much emphasis on the bricks we’ve forgotten the mortar that allows us to communicate genuinely, to relate well with one another and integrate.

Having to choose between depth and breadth is a false choice that heads our profession and industry in the wrong direction. Rather than focusing on one over the other, we need to develop simultaneously vertical deep skills and horizontal soft skills, to work on our strengths and weaknesses, to be expert and anti-expert, specialist and generalist, to design from evidence and from intuition, to be task- and people-oriented, to have mastery over one thing and be a jack-of-all-trades.

As one blog commenter recently asserted, “In order to practice architecture well, you need to understand a lot of things that aren’t architecture.” BIM technology experts know one thing. To flourish and persevere, we need to know and do many things.

Often overlooked in mutual mentoring of computer technology and building technology by senior and junior staff are basic people skills: listening, questioning, negotiating, collaborating, communicating. The concern is that the emerging design professional — adept at BIM tools while learning how buildings come together — won’t learn the necessary communication and people management skills to negotiate a table full of teammates on an integrated team. These skills need to be nurtured, mentored, and acquired as assuredly as computer and building technology skills. These skills require the same amount of deliberate practice and feedback as the mastery of technology skills. Developing complementary, collaborative skills is as critical as becoming competent with the technology. As Ernest Boyer anticipated, “The future belongs to the integrators.” And that future has arrived.

Succeeding in practice today is a both/and, not an either/or, proposition. Design professionals must be both BIM technologist and building technologist. Those who accept this model will lead, persevere, and flourish in our new economy.

Last year in DesignIntelligence, Stephen Fiskum wrote, “One thing is certain: The solution to the current malaise in our profession is not for us to go broader but to go deeper” (“Preparing for a New Practice Paradigm,” January/February 2010). This is a new world: By going wider and deeper we provide owners and our organizations with the most value and increased productivity. Working effectively and collaboratively in BIM will help us transcend our current state, bridge the gap, and cross over to more advanced uses.

The Multidisciplinary Mindset

It is not just that the integrated team is now multidisciplinary, but we each must become multidisciplinary. Doing so requires a multidisciplinary mindset. This entails empathy, a genuine appreciation for others’ ideas, seeing from many perspectives, and anticipating possible consequences to any course of action. An industry representative recently stated in a public forum, “I don’t want the architect to think like a structural engineer. I need for him to think like an architect!” To leverage our technology tools and work processes, being an architect today means that we think like a structural engineer as well as a contractor and owner. Doing so doesn’t take away from architects’ role but increases their credibility by making them more effective and influential at what they do well.

Working in BIM — inward focused, object-oriented, filling-in dialog boxes — discourages this mindset. It is a mistake to think that those who work in BIM are technicians and that a firm principal or senior designer who sees the big picture will mediate between the model and the world in which the model operates. Leaders must see to it that their teams look outward, keeping an eye on the model while seeing the horizon.

The Technology/Social Continuum

Working in CAD, there are those who focus on drafting and those more adept at communication, negotiation, and persuasion. With BIM, technical understanding and people know-how must exist in each and every design professional.

The majority of BIM-related literature has been focused on the technology, not on the people who use it. People issues and attitudes are the main impediment to the collaborative work processes enabled by the technology. Human issues, issues of communication and collaboration, firm culture, motivation, and workflow — all exacerbated by the advent of BIM into the workplace — are an even greater challenge than the admittedly considerable software application and technical problems associated with BIM’s use.

Leading from the Model

Working in CAD, a senior team member would redline an emerging employee’s work. Leadership was decidedly top-down: Someone senior designed or detailed, and someone less senior drew it up. The problem was that the senior team member never knew whether the emerging employee understood what was being drawn.

Working in BIM provides a completely different work flow — one we have yet to leverage fully. Because those on the front lines are not only the first to discover clashes and inconsistencies but also to visualize what something looks like and how it might function, BIM allows our emerging talent to lead the process — to learn on the job while recognizing their power from their privileged position of the first look in the model.

The new leadership mandate in this process is for architects to lead from their involvement in the BIM environment. Leading from the model can be likened to leading from the middle in that BIM requires and even enables followership, and servant- and situational-leadership, as opposed to top-down or command-and-control. While leadership historically has been top-down, working in BIM and on integrated teams changes that. Leading in BIM and integrated design is more similar to followership, in which middle managers lead from within the organization. Thus with BIM, the top-down and bottom-up approaches converge, where leading from the middle becomes leading from the model.

BIM and the Master Builder Team

Architects who find themselves on increasingly large teams must find a way to lead and regain their voice in the design and construction process. If architects learn how to design buildings that are optimized to give owners, contractors, and other team members what they need — of high quality, low cost, sooner, with less waste, while acquiring the mindsets, attitudes, and skills necessary to collaborate with others — then architects will be trusted, newly esteemed, and return to their desired leadership role. What is critical is not that we linearly help emerging professionals move from technical experts to leaders but to be technical experts and project, team, and process leaders at the same time. Expertise is cultivated by creating the right conditions for experts to flourish; people cannot be forced to learn and grow.

Many A/E/C professionals are stressing the role of the team over the role of any one individual mastering any one subject or technology in advancing practice. The general consensus is that appointing any one individual as master of the project is largely irrelevant. Instead, the architect who works in BIM serves as master facilitator or strategic orchestrator on integrated teams. By working with as well as through others, we get the most out of fellow teammates.

The concept of the composite master builder is the brainchild of visionary environmentalist Bill Reed. The term recasts the historical single master builder (or virtual master builder) as a diverse group of professionals working together toward a common end: the master builder team. The intention is to bring all specialists together, allowing them to function as if they were one mind. A better prescription for what ails our industry would be hard to find.

Randy Deutsch is an architect, speaker, educator, and author of the book     BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice http://amzn.to/jSguAi (Wiley, 2011.) He is cofounder of Deutsch Insights, an innovation and collaboration consultancy, and blogs at www.bimandintegrateddesign.com and www.architects2zebras.com.

2 Comments

Filed under BIM, BIM expert, collaboration, Integrated Design, Integrated Project Delivery, people, process, workflow