Tag Archives: leadership

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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Filed under collaboration, construction industry, design professionals, people, process

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

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.

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Filed under BIM, BIM expert, 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.

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The Surprising Civility of Primal IPD

When we come one by one to the quadrille at the four-way corner, we are who we are at our best, bowing, nodding, and moving on.

Verlyn Klinkenborg

After you. No, please, after you.

Have you ever approached a 4-way intersection at precisely the same time as another driver and played that game of Who Goes First?

That’s precisely what happened the other day at a crossroads just outside of Chicago.

As will sometimes happen, an Architect, Engineer, Contractor and Owner pulled-up in separate vehicles to a 4-Way intersection.

It doesn’t matter what they were driving.

The Architect drove a Porsche 911.

But what they were driving doesn’t matter to the outcome of the story.

The Engineer in a pre-Ford Volvo, the Contractor was in a Ford pick-up and the Owner in a 700 series BMW.

So, as the architect’s custom-painted lobster red 2-door sports coupe Carrera revved its engine…

But it really, really doesn’t matter what they were driving.

Or that the owner picked-up his Beamer in ‘09 for $46,500. [Lucky bastard.]

What matters for this story is that, as would have it, they all arrived at the intersection at precisely the same moment.

And somehow had to come to an agreement on how they would proceed.

Fortunately, all four were present at the intersection – for while three were otherwise engaged with their iPods, two were texting and one was on their cell – they could all nonetheless see each other’s gestures, eyes and facial expressions.

Rules of the Road

Now, the default rule to establish the right of way at intersections – where you defer to the person on the right – doesn’t apply here since they were all right of each other.

The “person on the right goes first” rule would result in everyone moving forward at once. No good.

Normally, whichever vehicle first stops at the stop line has priority.

Rules of the road would tell you that if two vehicles stop at the same time, priority is given to the vehicle on the right.

If three vehicles stop at the same time, priority is given to the two vehicles going in opposite directions.

What about when 4 vehicles come to a stop at the same moment?

This is the really amazing thing.

You ready?

If four vehicles stop, drivers use gestures and other communication to establish right-of-way.

That’s it.

There is no way around it.

Gestures and communication.

Given all of the advanced technology available to us today – the fact that our vehicles are really just giant computer chips on wheels – the only way four people in modern civilization can proceed to move forward from such a situation is to…talk.

To each other.

Ideally, openly. Transparently.

And gesture. Communicating however one can manage.

For this is the new rule of the road:

You’ve got to go primal to proceed.

BIG IPD little ipd

In the past, the A, E and C would have deferred to the Owner to lurch forward into the intersection – to go first.

But that was before everything changed.

For today it sometimes feels like if you were to wait for the Owner to make the first move you might be sitting there, at the intersection, for a long while.

A long, long while.

And so others at the intersection – and this junction in time – are taking matters into their own hands.

They’re finding workarounds.

They’re finding ways to gesture themselves forward even if all the legal and contractual ramifications aren’t all hammered out.

For all four to proceed, it doesn’t matter who goes first, so long as someone does.

That someone has got to make the first gesture.

It’s all about leadership.

Primal leadership.

Move – do something – while keeping everyone informed, and the others will follow.

Call it little ipd.

In IPD, all 4 (AECO – count ‘em) arriving at the table day one of an Integrated Design project are all equals.

At the start – before the contracts are drafted and signed – in order to proceed, in order to move forward, they must defer to their higher selves. Their humanity.

While it is easy for the foursome to get caught up in legal language and a focus on contracts, it is best to think of the arrangement at first as a social contract rather than a strictly legal one, whereby each team member desires to maintain order and so subjects themselves to a higher order – or higher law – in order to maintain this order.

Before the team grows beyond its initial core, and everything gets all complicated, there’s a magical moment at the start of every project when the team members defer to simple etiquette.

Social etiquette.

The Four-Way Team

After the last post was inspired by a Neil Young song, it is only natural that this one references a Crosby Stills Nash and Young live album: 4-Way Street.

CSNY, a quartet, with their 4-part harmony. Working together, acknowledging the other players in the band.

CSNY, the first true folk-rock super-group formed by four guitar-playing singer-songwriters from other popular bands.

[David Crosby came from The Byrds; Stephen Stills and Neil Young came from Buffalo Springfield; and Graham Nash was a member of British pop band The Hollies.]

Much like the mix and match make-up of an Integrated Design team where it is more important that team members have BIM experience than the loyalty of a longstanding relationship.

And like OAC, they were originally a threesome: CSN.

AECO, where a quartet is more harmonious than an OAC trio, and the architect and engineer are distinguished and independent of one another.

For, when we come one by one to the quadrille at the four-way corner, we are who we are at our best, bowing, nodding, and moving on.

Afterword

Here I’ll repost in its entirety After You, a short essay from the New York Times and the source of this last quote, by our very own 21st century Emerson/Thoreau, Verlyn Klinkenborg.

Recently, I have been considering the four-way stop. It is, I think, the most successful unit of government in the State of California. It may be the perfect model of participatory democracy, the ideal fusion of “first come, first served” and the golden rule. There are four-way stops elsewhere in the country. But they are ubiquitous in California, and they bring out a civility — let me call it a surprising civility — in drivers here in a state where so much has recently gone so wrong.

What a four-way stop expresses is the equality of the drivers who meet there. It doesn’t matter what you drive. For it to work, no deference is required, no self-denial. Precedence is all that matters, like a water right in Wyoming. Except that at a four-way stop on the streets of Rancho Cucamonga everyone gets to take a turn being first.

There are moments when two cars — even four — arrive almost simultaneously. At times like that, I find myself lengthening my own braking, easing into the stop in order to give an unambiguous signal to the other driver, as if to say, “After you.” Is this because I’m from the East where four-way stops are not so common? Or do most California drivers do this, too? I don’t know. What I do know is that I almost never see two cars lurching into the middle of the intersection as if both were determined to assert their right of way.

I find myself strangely reassured each time I pass through a four-way stop. A social contract is renewed, and I pull away feeling better about my fellow humans, which some days, believe me, can take some doing. We arrive as strangers and leave as strangers. But somewhere between stopping and going, we must acknowledge each other. California is full of drivers everywhere acknowledging each other by winks and less-friendly gestures, by glances in the mirrors, as they catapult down the freeways. But at a four-way stop, there is an almost Junior League politeness about it.

And when the stoplights go out at the big intersections, as they do sometimes, everyone reverts to the etiquette of the four-way stop as if to a bastion of civilization. But there are limits to this power. We can only gauge precedence within a certain distance and among a very small number of cars. Too many, and self-policing soon begins to break down. But when we come one by one to the quadrille at the four-way corner, we are who we are at our best, bowing, nodding, and moving on.

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Leaderless BIM

Are you a starfish or spider? You might be wondering what this has to do with BIM and Integrated Design. It turns out – quite a lot.

While Integrated Design is still a relatively new and untested process for the vast majority of organizations and teams, the trend is catching-on with many owners, traditional design firms and contractors. One of the consequences of this change is the make-up of the Integrated Design team. No longer limited to the Owner, Architect and Contractor, the Integrated Design team expands to include engineers, consultants, subcontractors, suppliers, construction managers and other stakeholders in the design and construction of the project.

In other words, the team has flattened with an inevitable blurring of roles as collaborative teams integrate activities especially early in the design process.

starfishspiderWhat we are talking about here is a Leaderless BIM.

You might think that the transition to BIM and Integrated Design are scary enough without suggesting the removal of a centralized leadership role from an already expanding team but in a very real sense the entire process may in fact improve with the removal of the top-down command and control hierarchy of many already existing project teams and design firms.

Project teams today are often described in industry literature as fragmented, assembled on “just-as-needed” or “minimum necessary” basis, strongly hierarchical and controlled. Integrated Design teams on the other hand offer an attractive alternative – composed of all project lifecycle stakeholders, assembled early in the process, open and collaborative.

One can eliminate the silo mentality of the centralized firm by collaborating early on with stakeholders and others on the project team by meeting with current and potential owners, construction partners and suppliers to determine how to work more effectively together. In other words, by being more starfish than spider.

The many-legged creatures mentioned above allude to the title of an astonishing book from several seasons ago, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Stanford MBAs Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, a book that addresses the differences between starfish and spider organizations – which analogically describe design firms and their project teams.

A spider, of course, has a head and legs coming out of a centrally positioned body. A centralized firm or team has a clear leader who’s in charge. Get rid of the leader and you paralyze the process.

A decentralized firm or team is a starfish. Since the starfish doesn’t have a head, the major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm.

Though a starfish and a spider generally share the same shape, their internal structure is dramatically different—a headless spider will die while a starfish can survive by regenerating itself from a single amputated leg.

Integrated Design offers the possibility of a truly decentralized project team. It turns out that the gains and outcomes are huge – without having to sacrifice leadership. It’s the type of leadership that changes.

The book provides both new and old vivid examples of decentralized organizations – such as the internet and eBay, and the self-policing Wikipedia and Craigslist. The authors go on to describe a decentralized organization as one that stands on five legs. As with the starfish, it can lose a leg or two and still survive. But when you have all the legs working together, a decentralized firm or team can make a great deal or progress and profit. These five “legs” include:

Leg 1. Circles: small, nonhierarchical groups of people with each group maintaining its own particular habits and norms.

Leg 2. The Catalyst: the person who initiates a circle and then fades away into the background.

Leg 3. Ideology: the glue that holds decentralized organizations together.

Leg 4. A Preexisting Network: infrastructure or preexisting platform to launch from.

Leg 5. A Champion: a relentless promoter of the new idea.

A particularly insightful chapter titled “The Hidden Power of the Catalyst” contains a chart summarizing the different tools that the (centralized firm’s) CEOs and (decentralized team’s) catalysts type of leader draws upon:

CEOs are The Boss, who Command & Control, are Powerful and Directive, operate In the Spotlight, thrive on Order and Organizing,

while

Catalysts tend to be Peers, who operate based on Trust, are Inspirational and Collaborative, working mostly Behind the Scenes, comfortable with Ambiguity and effective at Connecting.

The Integrated Design process is led by catalysts.

Perhaps most pertinent to this discussion is the role of the catalyst to activate leaderless teams and firms. “Catalysts are bound to rock the boat. They are much better at being agents of change than guardians of tradition. Catalysts do well in situations that call for radical change or creative thinking. They bring innovation, but they’re also likely to create a certain amount of chaos and ambiguity. Put them into a structured environment and they might suffocate. But let them dream and they’ll thrive.” (p. 131)

So how does this all play out in Integrated Design?

“There will be architects who chose not to change their current process, just as there will be owners who prefer traditional methods. The global demand for buildings will continue to support both approaches to architecture for the near future.” Both approaches: Starfish and Spiders.

As Autodesk describes the integrated design process in their wonderful workflow diagram, integrated design enables project teams to use the BIM information “in an integrated environment, increasing efficiency and enabling new ways of working that inspire more creative and sustainable designs.”

How do you determine if your own firm or project team is a starfish? By asking the right questions, including: Is there a single person in charge? Is there a clear division of roles? If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed? Are knowledge & power concentrated or distributed? Is the organization flexible or rigid? Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

If you’ve answered “no” to each of these questions, we’re looking at a starfish – and you’re onto the right road (and by that I mean the most effective, the most profitable, the most enjoyable to work with firm and team.)

Smaller firms have the same opportunity as larger firms since small firms tend to be agile, reacting quickly to change, and as described by the AIA, “moving independently to adopt new processes and technologies, and their close one-to-one relationship with clients and suppliers give them an advantage.”

For those still concerned about going leaderless – or score a few no’s and some yeses – the authors describe many successful hybrid firms that share qualities of both concepts. As we know from sustainability, there’s much to commend the hybrid – whether automobile, firm or team.

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