|David Axt, AIA, CCS, CSI|
Post Number: 1117
|Posted on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - 05:49 pm: |
I had a talk with my boss today. He thinks that the communication and specification production process needs work. He did not give me any specific ideas put put the ball in my court. I know that it seems like I try to make order out of chaos and would try to make things run smoother and in a more linear fashion.
Does anyone have any ideas on how they have successfully managed information and decision making?
|Lynn Javoroski CSI CCS LEED® AP SCIP Affiliate|
Post Number: 1101
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 10:42 am: |
David, absolutely nothing beats face-to-face communication. Armed with at least a table of contents, it's the best way to get information. Checklists based on UniFormat or MasterFormat, shared electronic databases, project information sheets, and the like, only work well if they are used. And in my experience, they are only used as a result of a face-to-face session.
Sometimes, of course, that's impossible - like in multiple office firms. The next best thing is the telephone, whether one-to-one or conference, because you can hear voice inflections. Written communication (email) is next, but you have to be careful to be clear about what you write.
Part of the problem is that design isn't linear. I've often said that the perfect way to do this is to have the people doing the drawings STOP drawing, and then the specification writing would be easier. But that's not going to happen. So be involved in the process, attend meetings, be on the distribution list for meeting minutes, and work in tandem with the designers, planners, and draw-ers.
Perhaps it would help to talk to the teams and get a sense of how they would be able to best communicate with you? And then, based on that, develop a system that will work for all.
And that's my 2 cents - if I've misinterpreted your question, I'm sorry; but my response is based on what I think you're asking.
|Anne Whitacre, FCSI CCS|
Post Number: 1011
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 12:00 pm: |
The design process isn't linear, but someone needs to tell the designers and project managers to put on their big-boy pants and work like grownups. a bunch of years ago, I had a project manager sit down with me for a spec review and he said "I don't really like to read specs so I just made a list of things I want you to make sure are in the specs"". His list was about half-page long. I took that list and stomped off to the partner in charge and said "I cannot work like this and if you don't make the project managers work like practicing professionals, I won't work on their projects".
I document every decision not made. I document every wasted meeting where the architect drones on about the specs and doesn't read for content. I document every "review" that consists of checking spelling and punctuation. I remind the firm that they are paying project managers more than they are paying me, which means they have to step up to the plate and demand performance from them.
And you know what? I've never gotten an argument back.
Don't whine; just be factual about what information you have, or don't have. Keep everyone informed. Give deadline such as "once you make this decision, it will take me 8 hours to finish up the sections". Be business like, but firm, and objective. It is not your job to mind read; and they're probably not paying you to design the job.
Spec review and comment is part of the project manager's job. They don't get to just skip over that part of their job -- at least not without some comment on my part. we're supposed to work collaboratively, and collaboration means "both ways".
And Lynn-- when I first started working back in the 70's, the specs were not started until the drawings were at 90% and it was a linear process -- we just worked through the documents, finished them in 3 weeks and they were pretty well coordinated, as were the drawings because the specs (coming at the end) served as the last overall check on the project.
Post Number: 17
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 12:11 pm: |
Could you tell us a little bit about your current process? And where the breakdowns seem to happen?
I've worked in situations that run the gamut from project managers who won't even talk to a spec writer to teams that were well-oiled production machines.
Every situation has its' own challenges.
Post Number: 18
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 12:13 pm: |
+1 to what Anne said. Always, always CYA - 'cause they'll throw you under the bus if you don't.
|David Axt, AIA, CCS, CSI|
Post Number: 1118
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 12:59 pm: |
Part of work assignment is to interview designated project managers and project architects and do a postmortem on their projects. I am them supposed to solicit ideas for resolving the issues and ideas for improvement.
Then I am to write a report and hand it in to the partners.
I am asking you guys because quite frankly I have no idea where to start.
Thanks for everyone so far, they have given me some ideas.
|Marc C Chavez|
Post Number: 390
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 01:15 pm: |
I second Lynn's answer and Annes too. I usually sit down with a TOC and go over it to start. That usually brings up any number of things they forgot completely! I also make suggestions, for a flat roof - if no one has an opinion - I suggest single ply - this can spark a question about roofing and then we have a meaningfull discussion about the job. You can't just sit there and say "OK what do you want on your building? Please give me a list" I always probe and poke at the elevations and floor plans. "I see you have a trash room. What kind of containers are in it? Do you need wall protection? Do the containers have metal wheels? Do you need concrete hardener?... that kind of thing. It is proactive and engages the bump on a log - Oh! I mean architect.
As for post mortems - I love them if I can get them. Force the little darlings (Oh! I mean architects) into "lessons learned" ask the CA architects for their posted documents (which they probably have not kept up) you can get a bunch of info from the RFIs and other job related things that can make better specs and make you look proactive not reactive.
go give'em hell!
Post Number: 19
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 01:59 pm: |
It sounds like there is a consensus here: a significant part of a specifier's job is to effectively extract information from project architects and project managers :-)
Seriously, the interview process that Marc and Anne describe is a good way to start.
In my experience, getting the rest of the project team to cooperate consists of getting them to consider you part of the team (and therefore copying you on correspondence and inviting you to meetings) and formalizing the exchange of information.
As Lynn mentions, checklists (especially those based on MasterFormat or a specific building type) are useful.
Another large part of the battle is just getting the project manager to think of you and include you in the process.
Making spec-related deadlines a part of the schedule helps. "Out of sight, out of mind" is the attitude a lot of Architects take towards specifying, and if there is at least a milestone in the schedule, it serves to remind the PA or PM that he owes you an interview, a filled-out checklist, a red-lined table of contents, etc.
I was also able to successfully sell better communication as an efficiency. The argument went like this:
"Mr. Project Manager, you can dump a roll of drawings on my desk and let me figure it out for myself and that will take me X hours, taking up Y percentage of your budget, or you can give me a few hours of your time over the course of the project, copy me on correspondence and meeting minutes, etc., and it will take me only a quarter or a fifth of the time it would take otherwise."
Post Number: 20
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 02:02 pm: |
Also, be the Answer Man (or at least the "I-Don't-Know-But-I-Know-Where-to-Find-Out Man"). If you can quickly find the PM/PA information he/she needs to make a decision or de-mystify some technical issue, they will see you as a resource instead of a necessary evil or, God forbid, a bottleneck in their production machine.
Post Number: 371
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 02:15 pm: |
I include tagged questions/comments in my drafts. These are capitalized and bolded, so they cannot be missed. I use these to focus the attention of the project architect to where I need decisions and answers.
After their review, I schedule a face-to-face meeting and we go over the hard copy drafts page by page. These are intense meetings and can last a couple of days, but they are invaluable for resolving issues and for drawing/specification coordination. I've been using this process for more than 20 years and our clients appreciate it; it reinforces Scott's comment that we are a resource and part of the team.
I have never been an in-house specifier, only an independent, and realize this process may be easier to do as an independent.
|Richard A. Rosen, CSI, CCS, AIA|
Post Number: 77
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 02:29 pm: |
I tend to follow the same process as Anne and Marc. When I ask the questions that Marc uses as examples I either get the deer in the headlights stare or get accused of asking too many questions. In may last performance review our architectural department manager actually said (wrote) that because of my "many years of experience" I tend to interject myself into the PM/PA decision making process during the CD phase too much. If I don't interject myself in the process I don't think I'm doing my job. I think the one thing you have to do is keep asking questions and making suggestions. Someone will eventually get it and appreciate your effort.
|Lynn Javoroski CSI CCS LEED® AP SCIP Affiliate|
Post Number: 1102
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 02:32 pm: |
Anne, that's probably the first time I've ever had a yearning for "the good ol' days"...when they did things the right way! I didn't get into this until the '90s. Oh, what I missed!
|William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS|
Post Number: 822
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 03:48 pm: |
Many good comments here. Most talk about an interview process and use a table of contents as a basis.
I know that many have a greatly enhanced table of contents, or a true checklist. I have a complete checklist that has essentially every question I need answered for every section in our office master. Some of these stop short of the complete discussion - if in some section I ask do you have X, Y or Z conditions, I then let the verbal part of the interview draw out those detailed answers and I write marginal notes that will need to be answered.
But there is more to it than just this. We have a process that has been in place since I set it up in the early 80s.
Every project manager/project architect knows that as soon as they are assigned a project, they need to inform me to schedule it. And must keep me updated of any changes to that schedule.
When they come to me to tell me this, that is when I print out the checklist and give it to them. They can then use it starting very early to keep track of decisions.
The schedule itself for specification purposes has due dates. Everything counts back from a production point.
We produce a draft project manual, including consultant's sections, at the 75% point. I back up from that 3 weeks and have the checklist interview. And 2 weeks before the interview I have a 'check in' date which serves as a reminder that the interview is close.
At the checklist interview, they had me their original. I go through it with them, I mark it up as we talk. I put question marks where they need more information. At the end of the interview, it is handed back to them and they are given 3 days to answer questions or complete areas they did not complete.
When I get that from them, and they can't take longer, the process is that if there are still questions or incomplete areas, those sections will not be included. The draft circulates to the owner/developer as well as internally and to all consultants since it also contains their sections. Right now, the typical draft goes at about 90 to 95% complete status.
And as to the checklist, its big. Currently runs 52 pages. Lots of white space to markup though, and it also asks for catalog cuts where I need those, and that they be marked for what is really needed. They are told be aggressive with a broad pen. X out what you don't need/want. Not a small x by the title, cross the whole thing out.
Even interiors when they need to do a project manual use the same checklist, and I tell them, just toss the page if it does not have anything they are using.
No one has a problem with this, everyone uses it. Sure, some need special 'encouragement', but the process is understood as 'required'.
When we move to the production of the final, I again have due dates. There is the final production date, there is a 'cut off' date that is 3 weeks before the final (anything give me after that date may not make it in - usually it does, but no promises) and there is a 'check in' date. The check in date states that on that day I need all the information to write the hardware completed - plans and door schedule. The rest of the information, comments, their review of the draft, etc. I want as a single package. They can give it to me No Earlier than the checkin date, No Later than the cutoff date. A single package, not a bunch of loose dribbling sheets and marks. The PA is required to compile comments from others into a single document of requirements. The PA is the one that is supposed to really know the project, its simply part of their responsibility.
All that happens, we go out the door, addenda are typically few and minor, and mostly drawings.
I have a timeline chart that I present about every 18 months or so that goes over all this.
Very important, I also have a web site calendar that includes each projects checkin, checklist, Draft publication, final checkin, final cut off, and final production dates. All PAs and PMs and principals have access to this, its used for project due date coordination. All know that if a due date conflicts with another or does not have 3 blank working days before or after it, its a conflict that needs to be resolved. Something has to give, and that's how its presented. Of course sometimes it can't be avoided, but this keeps it reasonable and its worked out ahead of time before promises are made. So true conflicts only come up 2 or 3 times a year.
When I set up the milestones and due dates for a project, it is put on that web based calendar, and the calendar notes include all the requirements. In addition, I email out the complete milestone listing at the time it is entered, and at any time that it is revised.
All specs for our DC and our Dallas office are written out of DC. For the interview process with Dallas, its done by email - which means their checklists and packages need to be much more complete, but its never been a hardship. What they collect for the spec is what they should be collecting anyway.
At the same time, I do materials research and act as the answer person as recommended above. if you are a resource as opposed to a data sink, you are welcomed into the team at all levels. Don't become the person everyone has to give stuff to - sure, they really do have to do that, but become the person that is fully interactive with everyone.
William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS, SCIP Affiliate
WDG Architecture, Washington, DC | Dallas, TX
| (Unregistered Guest)|
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 12:32 pm: |
You say it so well and I mean that sincerely. I missed your insights when you moved to SoCAL. Welcome back.
Anne is correct and said it clear and concise.
I have tried all sorts of means and methods for communication but at the end of the day the specifier is the only one communicating. Is that linear? You inherited some of my methodologies at Media Five Limited.
I started writing specs in 1973. Profesisonals in those days were responsible practicioners. Working drawings were done by hand and a product data binder was maintained.
I have held hands, taught how to fish, caught the fish, said "decide now or forever hold your peace", been rude, been polite, been obnoxious, facetious, flippant and discourteous, etc.
Some of the above work some of the time.
2 in 10 will cooperate and buy into the process and practice due dilligence and care about coordination. Others have risen to their level of incompetence and should be a bureaucrat. Some want to "SaveAS" and move on.
|C. R. Mudgeon|
Post Number: 65
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 04:49 pm: |
William, I don't recall you being seven feet tall and weighing in at 380 pounds. How did you manage to get that system going? Here's my life, and that of many specifiers I know:
Mid-Monday morning two weeks ago, an architect sat down at my desk with a few sheets of drawings, saying "Here's the latest for Project X" (which I had not heard of before that moment).
"Should I assume, that because you're here, you need something by Friday?"
"No - CDs are going out Wednesday."
Today, while trying to get a project manual to the printer by noon, three people from a different project team stopped by to ask when their DD specs would be ready. This project is one I did know about, but the only schedule I have shows the CDs being issued a week from tomorrow - at the same time as two other projects.
I know all of you independents have a tough time with your clients, but in-house specifiers have the same problem - and, we have to work with our clients every day; it's extremely difficult to say "Go away and come back when you can answer all my questions" or "Go away, this isn't on my schedule." The powers that be take a dim view of such comments. ;-)
|Kermit Mudgeon (Unregistered Guest)|
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 04:58 pm: |
Hence, the futility of asking about a way to improve the process.
Let's face it, we've been bitc...saying these same things for a generation, at least.
| (Unregistered Guest)|
|Posted on Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - 05:40 pm: |
It appears that the attitude of the principals of firms towards their specifiers had a huge affect on how information is gathered.
Some specifiers are well-paid principals at their firms and have the respect of their entire office. They therefore, hold sway over the design processes of their firms and can make demands as to what project architects and consultants are required to supply for specs.
Other specifiers are teated as though they are nothing more than spec manual machines (equivalent to CAD drawing producers) that exist only because Architects don’t want to be bothered with the unwanted, but unavoidable, task. They are often treated like low-level employees and have the respect only of the select few architects that are very intimidated by specs and admire anyone who is not similarly affected. These specifiers hold minimal sway over project architects, are not told about meetings, schedules or changes to projects without constantly begging for them, and consider themselves lucky even to catch the project architects in the office when they need information.
| (Unregistered Guest)|
|Posted on Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 06:14 pm: |
The principals' attitude is important, of course, but aren't we specifiers utlimately responsible for the way our efforts are perceived? I can't help but compare the authority & competence evident in a post like the one by Mr. Pegues to the apparently downtrodden Mudgeon brothers. (I know you guys are half joking -- or are those your real names?)
I would advise David to make sure there is a consistent & thorough information gathering process in place -- there are several good suggestions above -- then use persistent and gracious follow-up procedures to make sure team members know what's needed and when.
I'm guessing the characteristic the boss is seeking and can't quite put into words is "leadership." Effective use of the skill sets that are particular to specifiers will get us the respect we deserve.
|J. Peter Jordan (Unregistered Guest)|
|Posted on Friday, September 17, 2010 - 10:34 am: |
"The Plan tells all... except when it doesn't."
I do have some clients who I can almost produce a complete and final Project Manual for the type of building that they normally do. And when we decide to take that approach, we always get bitten on the ass. I find that it is easy to focus on what is the same and difficult to focus on what is different. And it s what is different that will bite you on the a**...hard.
Communication is the key; conversation is good, drawings are good, but there is still a lot of SICS (Stuff I Can't See). If you have "Work Result A", then you are going to have "Work Result B"--which you told me about--and "Work Result C"--which I can see on the Drawings--and "Work Result D"--which you have neither told me about or appears on the Drawings, but I know has to be there. A good example is the ladder and waterproofing at the elevator pit. I recently had a client delete the elevator pit ladder from two different review sets, and I had to explain to him that there was a ladder and, although it had been noted as a "ships ladder" on the Drawings, it was going to be a straight ladder that conformed to the elevator code.
If you have fire-rated partitions, you probably will have fire-rated doors and frames as well as penetrating firestopping.
Interesting to have Media Five Limited (Honolulu design firm) pop up on here from time to time. There are at least 3 specifiers actively posting here who worked as spec writers there. I was the first; and I still use some of the techniques I developed there 30 years ago.
|William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS|
Post Number: 823
|Posted on Friday, September 17, 2010 - 11:22 pm: |
When I first came to WDG, I was neither 7 feet tall, nor did I weigh 380. I was also not hired as a principal. I was hired simply as head of specifications to implement a program/system for writing specifications for the firm. At that time, I was also not a fencer, so I wasn't even likely to be carrying any weapons around.
The firm had a long history - founded in the late 1930s. When I started in 1983, the founding principal was still there, but not actively practicing. The other principals had been there for some time. And the usual situation of each doing their own project manual, cloned from the last version of the project manual was how they proceeded. Consultants for structural, civil, MEP, landscape, and any other specialty consultant wrote their sections any way they pleased, they were just bound in as is.
1983 was a turning point for many firms. It had been a rough economy for a few years and those turning round in 1983 were ahead of the curve. Many firms, some very large ones locally and nationally, were still in the doldrums. WDG with its varied client structure was gaining momentum and doing well. But they knew they could not keep up the pace and continue with a quality product - and realized that what they had been doing was getting by.
I was not the first one they tried. They had a person in and it simply had no worked out. We had 2 conversations, and I talked about a need for scheduling, avoiding conflicts, and that for any given project the supreme person was the project architect. That he is the only person that knows (or is supposed to know) everything about the project. And if that was the case, that person had to give me what they knew, and can't live inside their head. I might realized some A, B, C connections that they don't, and I will suggest it, but they need to follow through.
At the same time, I had also implemented a personal process as an experiment - is it possible to write really good quality specifications and not look at the drawings in any detail. The answer is yes, though it handicaps you a bit. So to show what the intent really was I explained this process. With a really good checklist, completed conscientiously and as completely as possible. A 2 to 3 hour interview process with that checklist the project architect and the set of drawings at that time, that's what we set up. The PA is responsible to get everything off the drawings and into the checklist. If I am sitting around with a set that is not current the instant it is printed, no one is going to tell me something is added, revised or removed. And later with a newer set, its going back through the whole thing all over again.
That's just plain silly and a total waste of time.
You set up a really good checklist, you get people on board starting at the top level, you implement a program where you show the results in a fashion that provides fewer revisions and glitches over the construction process and actually stops money from going out the door, and you get true respect, not begrudging participation or, 'here's my project drawings, I need the spec by mid-week'.
Just remember the quote from the Dean hearings during the Nixon scandal when the lawyer said, "I am not a potted plant". You are not a potted plant, and you should refuse to act like one. If you let them put you in corner, water you, and they expect (and you perform) shedding specs like seeds, you will be unhappy, they will get a poor product no matter what, an no one will respect anyone.
Just say no. That advice is for a not dissimilar situation.
We have hired many new project architects in at that level, and some higher than that over the years. The process is explained to them. Its never an option to do it 'the way they are used to doing it'. There is only the standard office process - no options.
I am still not 7 feet tall and still don't way 380. I am a Fellow though, and I am also now a principal (I do fence fairly well but I don't bring my swords to the office). But for the first 19 years with the company, I was not. Maybe the managing principals at WDG were an especially enlightened group or maybe I just got lucky. But I don't think so.
The only thing I can say is that up front, you have to have a process, you have to explain it before you start working there, and you have to have buy in at the top...and the first few projects you do need to be about the best you have ever done even if you bend the process to make it happen.
If not, they don't deserve you. Go somewhere else - be confident in your abilities and by golly you can.
William C. Pegues, FCSI, CCS, SCIP Affiliate
WDG Architecture, Washington, DC | Dallas, TX
|Tony Wolf, AIA, CCS, LEED-AP|
Post Number: 23
|Posted on Friday, September 17, 2010 - 09:52 am: |
My office is the beneficiary of some people in the firm putting on their big boy pants 25 or so years ago. As I understand it, some of the leaders watched as job production flowed 'around' the specifiers, like river around an island. Whether or not that was what initiated it, the decision was made to make the project team, including the architects and project managers, responsible for editing their own specs. Naturally, this was a very difficult transition, and one I'm glad I wasn't around to see. Of course there were architects who threw up their hands and fought it, but now it's just SOP. The benefits have been more than worthwhile. Not only is coordination of drawings and specs not an issue, the specifying skill and knowledge of the architects is very impressive. Architects who join us either learn how to use specs as a real and useful part of the documents, or get out of the way. The specs generally won't win CSI awards, but they work, and it's hard to argue against that. It's amazing what people will do when you expect more from them.
|Anne Whitacre, FCSI CCS|
Post Number: 1012
|Posted on Monday, September 20, 2010 - 01:19 pm: |
To add a little here -- in my first real job (for a big firm with a spec department of four people) I made a gazillion mistakes on my first several projects and my boss was reassuring: he explained that it was the project manager's job to review the specs and if my specs had so many errors, it was a sure bet that the drawings had more. Invariably -- I have found over the years that the specs end up being better coordinated and more complete than the drawings. if there are big coordination problems with the specs, there are typically bigger coordination problems with the rest of the documents.
I make a practice when I'm in an office (which I'm not right now) to project a sense of calm, order, and competence. If there are deadlines for information coming up, I remind people and I keep the partner in the loop regarding information that I have or don't have. I help solve problems, and I feel it is part of my job to teach younger staff how to think about construction issues. I have been rewarded several times by younger staff saying "when you work on the project, you make us all better architects". at this stage in my career I see that as my primary task -- not only to make better buildings, but to make my colleagues better architects.
The buy in at the top is crucial -- and isn't that common. (I had a boss 25 years ago who was asked to prepare a "quality control process" and when he submitted it to the partnership, he said it "went into hyperspace" and was never seen again -- this firm doesn't have a very strong spec department).
Unlike the folks above, I don't use a very detailed checklist and don't do a page by page walk-through of the specs I write. but -- I do use a lot of emails as I edit the projecs and ask questions (in italic) when I submit a draft. I think people do better when they have something to react to -- rather than just looking at a long list.
And yes, to agree with William -- you have to be certain (to yourself) that you bring value to the project. I think its appropriate to come into the job with quiet confidence in your abilities and value to the team. Don't be the ogre in the corner who natters on about formats and type faces.
|Lisa Goodwin Robbins, RA, CCS, LEED ap|
Post Number: 90
|Posted on Monday, September 20, 2010 - 01:32 pm: |
Thank you Anne, well said.