Practice Management Member Conversations

  • 1.  What really IS effective collaboration?

    Posted 05-11-2011 11:25 AM
    This message has been cross posted to the following Discussion Forums: Practice Management Member Conversations and Technology in Architectural Practice .

    As expressed in my article posted in the Center for Integrated Practice, I believe collaboration skills can be taught, learned and nurtured-though in the design and construction industry to date we rarely see critical examination of such skills.

    I'm interested in hearing what others are doing both within and between companies to foster effective collaboration. What does effective collaboration mean to you, and how are you doing and teaching it? Do you have valuable resources you turn to regarding collaboration (books, articles, websites, people)? What are they?

    Markku Allison AIA
    Resource Architect
    The American Institute of Architects
    Washington DC

  • 2.  RE: What really IS effective collaboration?

    Posted 05-12-2011 03:27 PM
    This message has been cross posted to the following Discussion Forums: Project Delivery and Practice Management Member Conversations .

    I appreciate the premise that collaboration must boil down to real and specific behaviors and definitive, actionable practices.  Perhaps the question will bear some fruit, buy in my experience the most productive elements of collaboration are really not the same on any give project, so asking people to define them is like asking a professional sports team to describe how they win a game.  You get the same answer every time, but somehow it leaves you unsatisfied.

    Collaboration requires a desire to make decisions in the correct manner, for which I like to use the word "bias."  There are literally millions of decisions made by hundreds of people on every project.  Each decision, small and large, contributes to the varying degrees of success for the project, and each is made with a certain bias toward efficiency, toward value, toward creating or eliminating conflict or problems for the person making them as well as for others on the project.  This bias is influenced by any number of issues including what side of the bed one woke up on, to previous experiences with other design or construction individuals, to more pragmatic issues like project profitability.  Many of these influences of bias are virtually impossible to affect for a client or a project leadership team, so placing emphasis on ones that can be influenced is clearly the goal.  To date, that has been project profitability, which, it is assumed, will translate from behavioral changes in firm management into behavioral changes on down the line.  Trouble is; management has been able to negotiate their project profitability not be tampered with, and in some cases, actually to be guaranteed by the collaborative (IPD) process.  No positive behavioral change is going to begin with management in this manner because no incentive has been created to change behavior.  What ever happened to the captain going down with the ship?

    To really understand what collaboration means, one has to ask; where does the need for collaboration come from?  What problem is it meant to address; not for architects or builders, but for clients?  Clients ultimately drive change, not service providers, so what is it that is appealing to clients in the concept of collaboration?  I think the need is derived from two places.  First is the general frustration that clients feel when acting as the referee between design firms and construction firms.  Second is the cost; or more specifically, the risk that clients are forced to assume due to the division between design and construction responsibility.  The perception is that a collaborative environment where everyone works together will at least diminish these troublesome issues for the client.  I personally think that collaboration of this sort, in itself will only minimally address these concerns which go much deeper and can really only be properly resolved through a major overhaul of the AEC industry and service procurement methods including the Brooks Act/Qualifications Based Selection process, but that is too complex an issue to try to elaborate on here.

    Some seem to believe that the answer to collaboration lies in technology, or at least in a combination of technology and process change.  Technology is a tool; process is a means to accomplish a goal.  The goal must change; technology and process will naturally follow.  Collaboration (or no collaboration) is a cultural issue, and what changes culture?  The economic and political climate change culture (and vice versa to a limited extent).  The fact is that the AIA and others cannot create change; they can only react to it, and they are trying.  They are asking what they can do to accommodate collaboration as a means to solve problems.  So is collaboration the solution or is it only the observable result of the real solution?

    As I see it, there are three major problems in the prevailing project design/construction delivery models.  I refer to them as the three paradoxes of the AEC industry.  These are the problems.  What are the solutions?

    1. The Value Paradox - there is no reliable benchmark for value comparison in design/construction.
    2. The Cost Accountability Paradox - neither the A/E nor Contractor is accountable for cost.
    3. The Mutable Contract (Change Order) Paradox - there is no incentive to minimize change orders or provide fair market pricing.

    Alan Burcope AIA, MBA, LEED AP
    VP Project Development
    HBE Corporation
    Saint Louis MO

  • 3.  Collaboration

    Posted 05-14-2011 09:40 PM

    Collaboration is only meaningful when common goals can be established, and individual goals respected.  Shared goal structure is the sin qua non of effective collaboration.  Profit is an individual goal, and in a construction project all consultants have a profit motive, certainly.  Hopefully, they all work together to produce the best technical and aesthetic result their training and skills will allow, and a collaborative approach can facilitate that end, although in my view, IPD and BIM must still permit the architect to be prime in the design process; first among equals if you wish. 

    Profit must be part of any business goal structure, but I know of no individual or group who markets products or services based on their skill at maximizing their own profit margins.   As for clients, there exist many projects where profit is not an issue for owners, or only a marginal one: private homes; public libraries, museums and monuments; trophy office towers; churches & synagogues; public schools, government office buildings; etc.


    Additionally, although a relationship is often assumed, there is no formula for tracing a direct relationship between profitability and a particular sort of architectural expression.   If there were, all buildings would have by now become formulaic independently of their most common form and systems limitations.  Budgets dictate scale and other cost considerations, of course, and are key to the bottom line, but the bottom line itself does not guide architectural form independently of a client's wish for notoriety or his gamble that a particular choice of architect will add value and outdistance the competition by superior design, thereby raising the bottom line. 


    Clients do not drive specific design solutions nor innovations, although they make important financial and programatic contributions - some with greater panache than others.  On the other hand, when for-profit projects are packaged by bottom feeder speculators, we should expect a banalty of architecture barely worthy of the name.

    Gary Collins, AIA
    Gary R. Collins, AIA
    Jacksonville OR