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Business Processes—Intermediate

Courses labelled as tbd are placeholders for future development. We encourage you to submit your comments, proposals for syllabi and details of your ideas about these courses.

How do I decide what to do?

Make good, informed decisions

You will make decisions based on many factors. Some will be internal – What do you want to do? Some will be external – What do your clients need? Some may be for the greater good – What is best for the profession?

The advantage of integrated practice is that you can work with your systems to store all of your data in reusable formats. Your data can make it easier to work with others. Your data can let you provide more value to your clients. You can create a system that allows you to use technology to work smarter and more efficiently. Let’s explore how.

Some of the questions to ask include:

  • Can we work in a way that better supports client needs and concerns?
  • Who will own the information in our database?
  • Who owns the copyright to the model? Does anything change with the design copyright?
  • Who will manage the model?
  • Who will have access to the model database?
  • If BIM is so good, why aren’t more architects using it?
  • Doesn’t everyone use AutoCAD? Or Revit? Or Bentley? Or ArchiCad?
  • If we use cost to manage the process, won’t we destroy the design process?
  • Can we do better design and eliminate the after-the-fact fixes?

Work better with others

The advantage of integrated practice is that you can work with your systems to store all of your data in reusable formats. Your data can make it easier to work with others. Your data can let you provide more value to your clients. You can create a system that allows you to use technology to work smarter and more efficiently. Let’s explore how.

Seven steps guide your way

Pioneers such as Kimon Onuma are producing systems that allow you to work and use rules-based systems in the BIM environment, today. As more of these systems roll out and mature, you will be able to do things that were once only dreams. In order to get the maximum benefit from these tools, focus on changing your business in the following ways:

1. Be self-aware—know and really understand how you work.

2. Embrace the philosophy of “fail-fast.” Move on rather than continuing flawed processes.

3. Engage others earlier in a more collaborative ways.

4. Maximize knowledge and productivity in the front end of projects.

5. Adjust fee structures.

6. Manage liabilities.

7. Improve your bottom line by improving productivity.

These steps define a practice philosophy that enables integrated practice.

Next, we will look at each step in detail.

1. Self-awareness

The fact that you are reading this course likely means that you have realized that it is virtually impossible to catch up to the trends, unless you develop a new practice paradigm.

Over the last century, architects began to focus on the design phase, with some overlap into the other areas. This focus created a very cyclic business process. Working in what is now an antiquated design process, architects are rapidly losing their role as leaders of the built environment. Owners are demanding that architects improve how they design and manage projects, now.

Knowing yourself and understanding how your business delivers services is the first step to successful integrated practice.

First, understand your design process.

Traditionally, planning, design, construction, and facility management were entirely separate tasks in the life cycle of a building. From the perspective of the building owner, separating these tasks often resulted in additional costs and inefficiencies.

To implement BIM methodology truly means understanding your own design process. Much recent discussion about building information modeling centers on architects’ resistance to change. Some see architects as a major factor in keeping these benefits from building owners. Architects are, in many venues, seen as a major impediment to successful deployment and implementation of BIM.

Integrating technology into the design business requires learning to manage change. How you approach staffing, clients, and consultants changes to coordinate with BIM processes and an information-centric world. Implementation requires changes to business and design processes, a commitment to embracing new technologies and a high level of responsibility.

Create a new way to do business. Realize how interconnected you are with others. Make yourself a leader in providing value in this new world. Expand your vision of the world—and your vision of where you fit in the building industry. Move to a process designed for today—and tomorrow.

How you work

First, look at how you set up projects and how you generate design solutions. Understand your skills and deficiencies—your strengths and weaknesses.

Begin by questioning everything and digging into the processes used by others. Break everything down into its smallest components. From these components, you will create processes that really work for you. You will tailor your firm to capitalize on your strengths and to overcome your weaknesses.

We find that Mindjet’s mind mapping software is the ideal medium for documenting and communication this type of process. With MindManager, you process snippets of data about yourself. You organize them to find patterns. You brainstorm and see where your thoughts take you while keeping track and building a map of how you work.

By understanding how you work, you build a framework for integrating technology—in ways that work best for you. By tailoring your processes, you deliver the benefits available from today’s best tools and high-performance processes, today.

2. Fail fast and move on

The world is changing every day. Daily you see new technologies, new ideas, and new ways of doing things. These changes make things happen faster. They put you into direct contact with many more people. They remove the things that divide us from the world.

Some of these changes are good. Some are bad. Most simply add to the complexity. In this environment, you must be a lifelong learner. Constantly explore and evaluate new technologies and new methods to improve your business.

As a rule, people assume that any new technology should be thoroughly tested and proven before they adopt it. However, this is not always true in today’s rapidly changing world. Today you should explore as many options as possible as quickly as possible. You are searching for the optimum tools and approach to do the best job on each assignment. As you explore, try new things and discard those that do not work.

When you fully test every tool, you may find yourself constantly behind the curve. It is better to create a system that allows you to assess a new tool quickly. If it works, consider the tool for deployment. If not, quickly move on to the next possibility.

You need to make the best and most effective use of your time in this environment. That does not mean that you can push everything off to subordinates. An integrated process requires active and continuous involvement from your most qualified people. You can delegate some of these tasks, and not others.

Develop a solid understanding and the ability to function in any of the core tools that your firm uses.

You do not have to be expert in all parts of any tool. Building detail into models, adding data, and producing bidding documents are all tasks that you can assign to others. Rapid conceptualizing is much harder to assign. This is where the ability to synthesize is critical and experience counts. For this, the designer must use the tools.

There are obviously examples of senior designers who have others create models for them. For most firms, this approach dilutes the value and benefits for the firm and their clients. Others will argue differently. However, you should learn how to do this with your very own hands, mind, and computer.

Today, too many senior architects talk a good game and hope that their staff can figure it out well enough to keep their clients happy. Take the time and learn the tools that will let you conceptualize your designs.

Your tools are a personal decision

We refrain from making recommendations about which bim modeling tool is best for you. This is for several reasons.

First and foremost, your modeling tool is a highly personal decision. Become comfortable in creating in whichever tool you choose. Early decision-making requires that you create usable data early in the process.

To get many of the benefits that integrated practice offers, become fluent in using these tools for conceptualization and design.

3. Engage others

You work with many different people now. Do you sometimes feel a little like the conductor of an orchestra, coordinating consultants, staff, contractors, and a host of others to get projects completed? Is it even possible to be more collaborative?

One of the major requirements for integrated practice are skills called—“knowing and using your resources” and “understanding the group.”

Get a handle on what everyone has to offer. This is what social networking and relationship management are all about. You are a member of networks that can in one way or another help the overall team. Each of us has a group of colleagues that we can depend on to do a good job in a pinch. You know how to charge for their time, know when they might be interested and know how to work with them. Integrated practice lets you bring them even closer. It lets you expand the value of your network.

I hope that teamwork is the basis on which your network operates. By working to find common objectives, sharing information and developing open and honest business standards, you can be a leader in the process.

Communication ensures that you and your network are effective in delivering value. In an integrated practice environment, your attitude is that it is not possible for any of the team to succeed if one of the team has failed.

Encourage everyone to realize his or her full potential to develop creative ideas. By engaging others and focusing on the long view, the leadership opportunities grow exponentially. Successfully moving to an integrated practice means that you engage your staff, consultants, vendors and clients in the process. If you lead the way, they will come to understand and buy into your vision. They will learn to take the long view and together you will be successful.

4. Maximize front end

Understand that you work in a world of highly interconnected processes. Because of these interconnections, you have the ability to impact things far in the future. You can change things in ways that increase the chance of future success. You can create processes that minimize future problems. Alternatively, you can continue to design in a partial vacuum that leaves owners bearing the costs.

Frank Lloyd Wright said, Man built most nobly when limitations were at their greatest.

Letting constraints manage you, rather than being proactive, drives poor documentation, cost overruns, and late delivery. Put aside your fears and concerns. Embrace the broader issues. Use technology to improve outcomes for your projects. Provide better value.

There are many constraints in any architectural process. If you try to manage them all, you probably will end up not managing much of anything. Using concepts from the Theory of Constraints, you will find that if you manage costs, you can control the downstream process, in a positive and owner-centered way.

You have likely used Cost of Change curves to explain how changes made late in projects result in much greater costs than changes made early. It is obviously much more expensive to change after pouring the concrete than when the architect is first conceiving the project.

For architects, the greatest benefits from integrated practice come from tweaking the design and production process to take advantage of the Cost of Change curves.

5. Fees change

As a young architect, I was taught that you had to match the work effort to the available fees, if you hoped to be profitable. When the costs to deliver a project exceed the fee for the project, you are in big trouble.

Architects sometimes forget this simple equation, because they are architects first and business people second. They sometimes value the design process much more highly than others do.

Architects sometimes work their way into traps that get them into trouble.

They spend excessive time refining the design.

They undercut their ability to do the detailing and construction documents.

They focus on the aesthetics and forget to answer the mundane questions of how and how much.

They delude themselves into believing that they understand what drives the owner and what makes construction efficient.

The traditional five-phased process minimizes architects’ abilities. The process is fraught with disconnected tasks, repetitive work and mundane processes. In theory, the process moves from gateway to gateway, building detail as you progress. In reality, it is inefficient and unwieldy.

If you step back, look at the character traits of a good architect, and compare them to the character traits that would get the most from the traditional process—there are major misalignments. The traditional process is much like an assembly line—getting high volume from a large contingent of semi-skilled laborers.

Integrated practice is a very different approach.

  • It more closely aligns with the characteristics that we associate with architects.
  • It reduces or eliminates mundane and repetitive input.
  • It works best for those that can synthesize complex data.
  • It reduces the workflow problems that currently plague architect’s offices.
  • It makes it possible for creative designers to focus on design, supported transparently by knowledge captured in the tools.

Look at how you allocate fees in the traditional process. You allocate your fees differently in an integrated process. In both you estimate the actual work effort on each project and allocate the fees based on the work effort. In an integrated process, you focus much more attention on the earliest steps in the design process.

Adjust your fee percentages to match the work effort. This makes the fees heavier on the front end.

Overall integrated project fees have proven to be less than or equal to the “normal” fees. They front-load, however.

Experience has shown that owners highly value processes that front-load decision-making. These processes make owners more confident and certain about where their project is heading.

By structuring your process to take advantage of this perceived value, you have the opportunity to create additional services. As a minimum, you have the opportunity to focus the project’s direction. You also have the opportunity to ensure that you are basing your services on the most accurate scope and project scale.

6. Manage liability

In the perfect world of the future, architects will be able to design and problem-solve without a care in the world. Architects and builders will not argue. Lawsuits will be outdated. Everyone will work in perfect harmony, sharing data with no concern for intellectual property rights. Nothing is wasted.

Yes, right! It is probably not going to happen.

The reality is that you have to work in an environment where traditional delivery processes, your software systems and your approach to contracts all contribute to distrust and adversarial relationships. Architects have to watch what they do all the time. Each project phase is independent of those that precede and follow. Everyone focuses on avoiding risks.

There are risks in any new process.

If you are going to avoid them, approach integrated design and BIM with open eyes. The construction industry is changing, like it or not. You can either proactively change with it, or you can find something else to do.

Harold Wilson, a British prime minister said, He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

You are likely already wrestling with this change. Otherwise why read this course? Figuring out how to protect your assets, your good name and your family, are important considerations as you move forward.

7. Improve productivity

The majority of architects work in small firms.

The American Institute of Architects in its 2006 Firm Survey Report, found that 58.3% of total architects’ staff worked in firms with fewer than fifty employees.

Yet, the focus of most of the attention on BIM and integrated practice is on the largest firms. Because of this, many smaller firms question the value of the integrated process. The process seems far removed from today’s small practices. It is an attractive idea, but for many small firms it is hard to see profitable applications today. If you believe the hype, it seems as though it works only for large, high-value projects. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Integrated practice offers benefits for firms of all shapes and sizes.

The trick is to tailor the process to your firm. Do not depend on any “one-size-fits-all” approach. Do not depend on integrating everything at once. You do not have to integrate with construction or operations and maintenance to provide benefits to owners. You do not have to wait until someone else works everything out.

Large firms may have the workforce and financial resources to integrate everything. They may have the prestige to convince multinational software developers to use them as “test-sites.” You probably do not have the same backing.

That should not keep you from doing the things that you can do now. It does not keep you from using the technology and improved processes to be more profitable or keep you from doing a better job for your clients.

You have started to get a feeling for why BIM and integrated practice will improve your process. When owners understand the value of integrated practice, it becomes a marketable and profitable addition to your repertoire. Planning and predesign are where integrated processes offer immediate results. Using bim tools and changing your process workflow is the foundation for everything else.

One-step at a time is usually the best way to integrate your practice.

Improve your bottom line

There are several other interesting statistics in the AIA survey. Did you know that most architects consider planning, predesign, and construction to be the least profitable parts of their businesses? Did you know that non-architectural design services are rare in the business?

Moreover, basic design services are the most profitable. Does your firm fit this profile? If so, integrated practice offers many opportunities for you to improve your bottom line. You can think of this as a process that makes early phases profitable and improves your construction phase results.

It lets you focus on design.

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