What to Say

Prior to our December staff meeting I wrote this to key colleagues helping me to prepare for the meeting. Sometimes we need to just put it out there. The feedback I got was so meaningful and led to a great meeting and connectivity.

“You know me, normally I have much to say. But I’ve been so deep into the dirt and operations, and I am so fatigued mentally, that I am struggling to even have or organize a message. It’s not often we can all meet in staff meeting, so it’s critical that any message is clear and delivered well. So I need to lean on RS, DP, GR, and you for insight and input. If I could say what I want to say, I am not sure if I would say:

1. Thank you. Thanks to everyone on staff and all our colleagues. Companies are only as good and as happy as their people. Thank you all for everything you do day to day to care.

2. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Enjoy your family. We are not our work, it’s just what we do and how we try to bring value to the world.

3. Have Debra to tell everyone what we’ve distributed in 401k match this year to help people in the FUTURE to have an income stream after they retire, and to update on any benefits.

4. Let everyone know we have 6 people in NC and they just celebrated year 6 anniversary.

5. That we need their inputs and engagement in all of their realms to make the company better and to improve service to clients.

6. That I value and care about each person

7. That 2018 can be our best year ever

8. That transparency and vulnerability is some of the magic in bringing strength and connection to relationships

I don’t know what to say. Maybe all of the above or maybe none. You all tell me and we will all come together prior.”

This dialogue opened the door for such good inputs, and a really good meeting. I love our people. We are all in the same boat. We all have to row together.

What’s your message?

Solution Sets 

Schedule & budget are also determining factors in a solution set and in providing problem solving and deliverables to clients. It’s not “provide solutions at any cost and for as much time as they take.” Also speed of response, speed of performance, and prompt project delivery almost always win, and are typically the top or near the top priority for clients.

It’s hard as technical professionals sometimes to consider budget and schedule as equal variables or boundary conditions with other more direct technical issues.

We’ve got to ask ourselves “how can I get this done in the allotted time frame and budget” and use that as part of the boundary conditions around the solution and deliverable.

When we do this on every project and task within the project, it mitigates loss, makes the potentially marginal job profitable, and makes the good one really great.

Every person, on every team, at every level should have this reality in mind. They should be accountable, and also empowered, to call timeout and to take action with the project leaders and principals.

And it means not being a slave to the defined technical and software processes when there’s an issue slowing us down. Remember, procedure and technical tools are supposed to serve us, not the opposite. These days that often gets reversed, spending more time on the process and software functionality than we spend on the problem or creative aspect of the solution.

Provide serviceable solutions while staying in business.

Drawing the line 

One of the constituents on a project I’m working on recently established an extreme position in regards to a proposed solution; very extreme. Their position and proposed consequence has impact on a large, broad body of people, user groups, and businesses. The goal from the  owner was collaboration and shared solution. What they got from this particular group was the opposite.

The problem with an extreme position is that when we make a statement and proposed consequence, we’ve got to be willing and able  to back it up. “If you don’t do this, I’m going to do _________ (fill in the blank.)” 

Are you REALLY going to do that?

Sometimes a clear line needs to be drawn. Think and be mindful about where you draw it. You’ll have to back it up when someone challenges you on it.

Dissent

Allow dissenting voice in meetings, especially around strategic discussions and direction. If  dissent doesn’t define this idea clearly, call it “allowing opposing viewpoints.” Some will say “I’m playing the devil’s advocate for a moment.” Phrasing aside, I find it good to appoint someone to state the “cons”, to point out the roadblocks, to take the opposite view, to articulate the worst case scenario. I’m not always excited about the opposing view. In fact for many years I didn’t think it necessary to hear, nor did I advocate for it. It made me uncomfortable. It still does at times. This is good. It allows freedom for all to vent their perspective and be heard. Collaboration in decision making wins. I’ve made many mistakes alone or in isolated decisions. Again, collaboration wins. Dissent and opposing viewpoints are one key part of that process. All stakeholders must voice input. In the end, the leader makes the decision, but  it’s harder to make the wrong one when all the facts are on the table and we are fully informed.

Working in a Box 

Our customer has articulated a goal to us. The mission and problem is clearly defined. So we run off in search of a solution. We work like crazy to make it happen. We can feel it coming together. We’re getting excited to share the solution with the client. Then, indeed, the moment comes. We’ve got it. It’s time to share the victory with our client. Our victory. We can’t wait for the moment. The unveiling. We come back with a presentation showing them that we achieved what they wanted….or so we thought…

But it wasn’t their solution. There’s a fail. What’s the fail? We forsake context and parameters. We never really engaged them in the process. We run with what we THOUGHT  we heard. Its like we’re working in a box without communicating. What the solution lacks is context. Maybe they didn’t want those boundary conditions. Maybe they couldn’t install it that way. Maybe they didn’t want those items listed as collateral. Whatever the case may be, if we don’t engage our customer to come up with a solution within a proper context, we have not delivered. It’s like we’re working in a box. This happens way too often. And we’d think with modern communication tools it would be better, but that doesn’t make it a guarantee. 

Good Solutions require integration and communication. They require collaboration. Keep the lid off the box while you’re working.

Inclusive or Exclusive

So are you inclusive or exclusive?

Most of us like to think we’re inclusive. Our opinion, however, doesn’t really matter in this regard. What matters is the opinion of those who are on the other end of the experience with or around us.

Most of us are far less inclusive than we think, and that’s stating it kindly.

Do you know who’s responsible for being inclusive? Everyone. But it needs to be, as a minimum, the person who is, or is becoming, a leader. It’s easy to take the simple route by excluding people. It takes effort and intention to be invitational. Leadership is intentional. Leadership is inclusive.

We’ve all felt the pain of being excluded. When we take that experience and become inclusive with the folks that may not crack into our group, our perceived social structure, our meeting, or our inner circle, we are reversing the pattern.

When we share with other people for their benefit, information we’ve learned at work, that’s being inclusive. When we invite into any space a person that we don’t always understand, don’t know well, or that is different from us, we are being inclusive.

Are you and I being more inclusive or exclusive? Try going outside the comfort zone and extend an invitation. Broaden the circle. When circles get larger, they capture a broader area. Sometimes they overlap with other circles. The overlapping space can lead to something special. We might be surprised at what happens.

Collaboration – Part 2

Collaboration – Part 2:

This is my second post on collaboration; that attention-grabbing, value-driving, process-improving approach to project design and engineering. The context to which I am referring is the DESIGN-ASSIST collaboration process, where outside parties from different firms, each representing their various interests in the process, are working together to create. I am seeing more recognition as to the value of collaboration from those with experience in design, engineering and construction. Solving problems and working through issues concurrently with the engineering and construction teams can eliminate a great deal of waste, re-work, misunderstanding, poor interpretation, risk and more. Here are a few of my experiences in helping to facilitate and improve the collaboration process:

1. Use face to face meetings at the start. Schedule them 2-3 weeks apart. Have a specific agenda and goal accomplishment for the meetings set up in advance. Set a specific start and stop time. Bring in lunch. Make sure to have internet access, wireless, and appropriate access to drawings, resources, etc.

2. Create an action list as you proceed. Before adjourning the meeting, make sure all action items have an appropriate follow-up activity, and a person or group assigned to them.

3. Use the time between each face to face meeting, to follow-up and work through the action items. Create an email group and keep communication flowing.

4. Use WebEx’s, Go-To’s and other web-based meeting platforms between the face to face meetings. Make them 1-hour in length and have 1 per week. Have a designated person to drive the meeting, organize it, and who can control the screen or give control to others.

5. Have the right stakeholders involved. In my space of specialty engineering for cladding and curtain wall systems, the stakeholders include the G.C., architect, engineer of record, specialty engineers (me/us), owner’s representative, cladding consultants, and sometimes the mechanical engineer and BIM representative (don’t forget BIM.) Design meetings for cladding or curtain wall systems often just need the GC, architect and specialty engineer.

6. Create a “hot-list” –  a specific descriptive list of action items and a space in which you can assign whom is responsible for each.

7. I really like Blue-Beam as a software tool to show drawings on a projected screen, make mark-ups and comments as the meeting proceeds, and then share with everyone when complete.

8. Use tools that can allow for central storage and access to all involved. Tools like SharePoint, or simply a specific project website or server where everyone can access information and download to their site is useful.

There are certainly many more approaches, tools, observations, and means in which to approach collaboration. This is just one example and is a simple format to use and to put out on the blog for discussion. Remember also, that the process is not always easy. Its can get tedious and painful. It has to be honest and respectful. But in the end, typically it will yield better results. Do not give up too early. Don’t give it “lip service.” Change-up meeting types, length, formats, and contexts if it stops being useful. Work it through to conclusion. I hope to hear some comments and observations from blog readers so we can keep the conversation going.

Happy collaborating….

Curtain wall Engineering

Curtain Wall structural engineering, often referred to as “providing calcs” or “doing calculations” is far more. I started as a structural engineer in the cladding and curtain wall field in 1984 and I’ve been involved ever since, focusing on facades in total, expanding from structural engineering outward to all aspects of exterior wall systems.

Providing curtain wall structural engineering “calculations” vs. providing value-based structural and systems engineering are related, but are two different things. Properly performed, value-based structural engineering of curtain wall systems involves optimizing metal, assessing viability and ease of installation, looking for benefits in system performance that can save installer’s and fabricator’s time and money, minimize risk and more. “Good” structural engineering involves more than cranking out a set of calculations from a set of shop drawings. The work should be collaborative (there I go again with the collaboration theme) and if properly done, can save many times more than the cost of the fee. I can name many examples where clients saved tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in material, in shop and field labor, in shipping, project management time, and more. I also want to point out that minimizing risk and providing thorough, vetted, experienced, due diligence structural engineering pays dividends down the road, which lowers insurance costs, improves performance, and makes a subcontractor’s or fabricator’s work and business more desirable and profitable.

I’ve got buckets and chapters and truckloads more of observations, experiences, insights and technical inputs to write about in subsequent discussions and blogs on this topic. Remember, never did such a “small” line item in a bid, have such a broad impact as design and engineering. It is the point through which all other work flows and takes place. “Good engineering” can make a job better. “Bad engineering” can break the job beyond the point of repair.

For now, choose your engineering firm wisely, and be collaborative.

Collaboration

My space is professional services; design, engineering and consulting for the built environment; specifically building Facade systems and building enclosures – the “curtain wall”. My observation though, is much of what I will be writing about on this topic applies to other realms, systems, spaces, whether building, product or otherwise. This is the first in a series of posts on the topic; sharing my experience, questions and observations.

My position is simply this: the best value to the end-user or owner, and to all constituents in the supply chain & process, is generated in collaboration. My struggle is that the “old mentality” of “throw it over the wall” is still used by many. What does one expect in design of constructed systems and products when working in silos and in a linear manner? How about “less than optimal results.” Clients and businesses that “get it” are increasing their level of collaboration and using technology to leverage interaction. Too often in  our work, tyranny of the urgent is the rule of the day. However, investing the time proactively in ongoing, seamless, real-time, shared collaboration yields better results and lower costs downstream.

Collaboration takes place in different ways, but one key is driving integration. We must pull each other into the space of a shared reality to really collaborate. This creates empathy, understanding, fewer assumptions, lower risk, better results. It gets to the finish line quicker. In a fragmented, and disruptive supply chain in the building industry, even within specific areas of expertise, value generation can be as simple as driving real collaboration.

I will continue to post on this topic and I welcome comments, feedback, & dialogue.

In the meantime, start or keep collaborating.