Where do we go from here?

In my preparations for the CSI Academies (see below) I got to thinking about how much the AEC industry has changed in the 30 years that I have been a part of it. As the voices in my head tend to wander my thoughts strayed to the top five risks for design firms and how they have not changed since 1973.

  1. Failure to supervise inexperienced employees.
  2. Inadequate project coordination and in-house communication.
  3. Failure to communicate between the prime professional and the consultants.
  4. Lack of quality control on design changes.
  5. Poorly worded contract documents.

All of these musings led me to ask myself, with the lightning speed of change we are seeing in the way we do our jobs, are we keeping up?  My conclusion – not even close!

What have I seen change?

  • I have seen drawings go from Mylar and eraser shavings with a true ‘pencils up’ date to 3D modeling and never ending changes to the design.
  • I have seen traditional project delivery morph into the hubbub that initially surrounded CMGC to the current trend of Integrated Project Delivery with everyone on board from the beginning.
  • I have seen buildings go from having asbestos and carpet with formaldehyde to this newfangled ‘Green’ building to smart, LEED certified buildings that operate according to the behavior of the inhabitants.
  • I started in an office with a word processing typewriter (it was so cool to be able to type a whole sentence and hit enter) and a thermal fax machine. I had to write code in order to underline or make a line bold.  Now, all of my documents are electronic and I can have whole teams of people working in them at the same time from multiple locations. I can, at the click of a button, have information delivered to the other side of the world.
  • My first job in a construction company required tons of paper to copy everything in multiple colors to track the complexities of the project and amazing amounts of time typing things like contracts, change orders and punch lists. Now, we are recording record drawing changes and punch lists right on the job site with an Ipad and they are being saved directly into the model.

I could go on for days about how the work that we do has so drastically changed but that is not what is important. The important question is whether we are changing with it. If the top five risks have not changed since 1973, then the answer is no.

Sure, maybe we are learning the software but are we changing the way we deliver, communicate and collaborate on our projects.  Is that change happening fast enough?

  • Do you know the difference between Design/Bid/Build, CMGC and Integrated Project Delivery? Do you administer your projects differently for each? Do you know the contractual roles and responsibilities for each? They are different.
  • Do you know the difference between Design/Build, Design Assist and Delegated Design? The difference in risk? I hear these terms used interchangeably like they are all the same.
  • Are you communicating the right information to your team so that the project is delivered with all members of the team having the appropriate knowledge of the requirements to reduce risk for everyone? Now that I have gone from construction to architecture to engineering, I know first-hand that this is not happening.
  • Are you sharing your knowledge so that others, outside of your discipline, know what you do, why you do it and how you do it? You know, that helps them do their job better and give you what you need.
  • Are you a manufacturer and still bringing me a paper binder of your materials without an updated website? We don’t even accept those binders anymore so I hope when I need to Google it you have the information I need.

The bottom line is that ‘I have always done it this way’ is rampant in AEC. That is why the top five risks have not changed in over 40 years. We can’t do this anymore!

The biggest issue that is not getting nearly enough attention is that the age and experience of our workforce is grossly imbalanced.  The approximate 75 million Baby Boomers are working their way out. There are not enough of my Generation X (approximately 45 million of us) to fill their shoes.  That means a huge chunk of the Millenials (about 75 million) have to advance a whole lot sooner than they ever have before.

The days of going to work in a design firm and not touching a contract or a specification for years are over. The days of not being involved in the management of the project and the intricacies of delivering it until you have put in ‘your time’ are also over.  The Millenials are starting right out of the gate with no project delivery education and without the benefit of years of trial by fire education before they are handed these responsibilities.

My group (Generation X) are largely complacent (I’m too busy), not learning new technology fast enough (yes, I had to show someone how to scan something the other day) and are not spending enough time and effort getting our young professionals up to speed faster.  Young does not equal stupid. Just because we have traditionally not given them these responsibilities for many years does not mean they can’t handle it. It just means we have never done it.

The bottom line is that they have to step up and they will.  If we don’t keep up with our changing industry, there are plenty of them to take our jobs as we become obsolete.  If we take the time to learn and teach in partnership with them (yes, they have plenty to teach us), we will reap the benefits of young, innovative coworkers with which to work side by side.

The times of waiting for someone else to fix and change things are over. The time for education, true collaboration/communication among disciplines and bringing our young professionals into the fold as equal professionals are RIGHT NOW.

CSI (http://www.csinet.org/) is a great place to start. All disciplines are equal members and every education event has unparalleled depth and richness with all members of the project team in the room sharing information. I joined CSI 3 years ago and only wish I had the foresight to do so 30 years ago.  The quality of my work and my knowledge has increased tenfold.

In my perfect world, this would be required education before you could even graduate from any AEC program or earn your degree and/or licensing but I don’t yet rule the world.

There is NO SUCH THING as too early or too late to get this education. The young professionals I work with know that.  They are doing a better job because of it.  They are helping and teaching their older, more experienced peers know that as well. I earned my CDT at 46 years old after years in the business. Did I learn something? That would be an understatement.

CSI Academies is coming to San Francisco April 16th to 18th.  You can check it out here:  http://bit.ly/1jvVEua

This is an AEC education event offering courses specific to contract administration, construction specifying and product representation.  You learn as much outside of class as you will in class from some of the best in the business in this intimate environment focused on learning and working better. A bonus is that you can skip among the education tracks to really customize the education you want and need to take home and use right away in the work you do each day.

I will be sitting on a panel discussing business ethics, moderating a panel on warranties from the perspective of multiple disciplines and teaching a class on social media for product reps.  A host of courses covering a multitude of AEC topics are being offered to suit your needs.

A beautiful design only comes to realization if you know how to deliver it. Whether you are 24 or 64 years old, you should still be learning every single day. If you are not, you might as well hang it up now because the change is happening too fast to sit on our laurels any longer.




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