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I just love deadlines, especially the sound of them whooshing by” – seen on a refrigerator magnet

As we near major deadlines on multiple projects, our staff is working long hours to get the work done. I have two comments for our team response to this:  1. I appreciate your effort toward producing excellent work, and 2. Take care of yourself while you work hard.

The first of these two statements is more than an exercise of good manners. Expressing appreciation for what people do is good for their mental health.  We all need to be appreciated.

The second statement is not so obvious, but is none the less true.

First of all, when we work ourselves to exhaustion, we often make ourselves susceptible to illness due to lack of rest. Studies will back this up, and I have observed it empirically over the years.

I also have found that when we keep our noses to the grindstone, we often miss the obvious. My best empirical evidence of this comes from my own experience about 30 years ago in the early days of being in practice.  In those days, when still a one man firm, I would often find myself struggling to solve a design problem – it simply wasn’t coming to me.  With no colleagues immediately available to bounce ideas off of, I would put the pencil down and go outside and mow the lawn or do some similar mindless chore that would consume an hour or two.  I would find that when I went back into the office, the solution to the problem would pretty much bounce off the drawing board at me, and I would be able to complete my task.

As a practitioner of a profession that is notorious for abusing its employees, I make a deliberate effort to safeguard the mental health of the people around me. When we sit for hours on end in front of a computer screen, and the temptation is there to do exactly that, we lose perspective.  In the effort to solve a problem so we can move on, we find ourselves tempted to settle for a mediocre solution to the problem at hand at the expense of good design. This can be avoided by balancing our hard work with a deliberate period of rest – whether twenty minutes or the occasional three day weekend.

So to my professional colleagues out there, I offer this piece of advice: work hard, but balance it with a due portion of rest, relaxation, prayer, meditation, humor, or whatever it takes to get you through the day.  It will keep your axe sharp and your product worthy.

I’ve seen a fair amount of twitter traffic over the last couple of days regarding the documents that are handed to specifiers by architects. The principal complaint has to do with lack of detail in the drawings.  This is in step with complaints I’ve heard (and sometimes uttered) over the years about unprepared graduates coming from our architecture schools.  I was once one of them.

I’ve stated before in this forum that I was more fortunate than many in that I had an excellent mentor in Thomas R. Wyant, Jr., AIA, CSI. He filled in the many of the gaps that my professional education left void.  He also introduced me to CSI.  Tom paid attention to detail, both in terms of the documents we produced and in terms of the constructed result of our work.  For the 30 years that my practice has existed, I have made a concerted effort to pay this forward.

In spite of our best efforts, however, there is no such thing as a perfect set of construction documents. So the sketchy sections that initially go to the specifier should only serve as a conversation starter.  An experienced spec writer will see immediately what is missing and start asking questions.  It is this dialogue that results in details being fleshed out.  Assuming that there is enough time in the owner’s timetable for this conversation to take place, the construction documents should be adequate to allow the project to be built.

That said, we need to be educating all of the parties to the construction project – including the owners. Owner’s expectations should be realistic in terms of both budget and timing.  The A/E should be able to have enough time to produce the documents and make a reasonable profit in the progress.  Likewise, the contractor should have adequate time and funds to do his/her job appropriately; again at a reasonable profit.  In the end, the owner should have a facility that meets his/her needs that also provides an environment that is functional and meets the needs of the end user.

It boils down to communication, which is essential for a successful project. Such communication is possible through a common language which is facilitated by CSI formats and proper use thereof.  Individuals who hold a CSI certification or certificate will be well versed in the use of the various formats and will benefit the construction team on which they serve.

As we begin a new year, many have established new year’s resolutions for themselves, usually geared toward self improvement. A substantial portion of those resolutions have already been broken, and it’s only January 3rd.

Picking up on my last post, I would encourage construction professionals out there to make one of the following resolution:

a.  I will pass the CDT exam this year

b.  I will pass the CCS exam this year

c.  I will pass the CCCS exam this year

d.  I will pass the CCPR exam this year

You will note that there is not an option “e. None of the above”.

In support of your efforts to pass one of these CSI Certificate/Certification exams this year, I will be facilitating a CDT study group for members and friends of the Central Virginia CSI chapter who are preparing to sit for the CDT. In the past, I tweeted quotes from the CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide on an almost daily basis in advance of upcoming exam windows.  They can be found by searching #CSIcertification and #CDT on Twitter.  My intent is to pick up where I left off with that practice.  My Twitter Handle is @Ray_Gaines_FCSI.

Other study materials are available at csiresources.org where you can sign up for the exam, and download various study materials. You can also sign up for the CDT One Day at a Time daily e-mail study program at specguy.com.  Check with your local CSI chapter to see if they are hosting a study group.  Absent a local study group, there is a lot of material available on YouTube from various CSI chapters.

In the interest of professional self improvement, I would encourage you to resolve to do this in 2017.

“Designing and constructing buildings, civil structures, industrial facilities, interior design projects and other structures and facilities is one of humankind’s most difficult endeavors in spite of the fact that it is a common activity” 1

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed the importance of construction document coordination and the importance of mentoring relative to the construction process. The time has come to consider the logistics of project delivery.

Arguably, the best source of knowledge on this topic is the membership of The Construction Specifications Institute. The best tool for measuring this knowledge is the CSI Certification Program which grants one certificate to and three advanced professional certifications of construction professionals who have demonstrated a high level of expertise within the construction industry.  The CSI Certification Program dates to the 1970’s with the establishment of the Certified Construction Specifier (CCS) program.  Since that time, the CDT Certificate Program and two other advanced certifications have been added for product representatives (CCPR) and construction contract administrators (CCCA).

With this post, I will focus primarily on The Construction Documents Technology (CDT) Program. The program is aimed at anyone who writes, interprets, manages, or otherwise utilizes construction documents.  The CDT is a prerequisite for CSI’s advanced certifications, but is an important accomplishment on a stand-alone basis.  The certificate is a useful tool to all parties to the construction process including, but not limited to, designers, constructors, material sup[pliers, product representatives, and more.  The program is useful to owner’s representatives as well, particularly if they are responsible for developing multiple projects.

In general, a CDT has knowledge of project delivery methods, design and construction processes, and construction documentation. With this knowledge, a CDT is able to perform his or her job more effectively because he/she understands the roles and relationships of the participants in the construction process and also understands what constitutes effective construction documents.

By understanding what is required by the construction documents, a contractor who holds the CDT delivers a project more closely resembles what the designer intended. Design professionals who hold the CDT are more likely to produce cohesive and coherent construction documents.  Product representatives and material suppliers are more likely to propose products that are compliant with the drawings and specifications.  The result? A better project for all parties.

It is for this reason that I prefer to do business with individuals who hold the CDT.

 

  1. The Construction Specifications Institute, Project Delivery Practice Guide (John Wiley & Sons)

With my last post I spoke of the necessity of members of the AEC industry to sweat the small stuff; to consider all of the issues related to putting a project together. This week, I will explore the best way to accomplish this.

We often hear about how graduates from architecture and engineering programs have very little practical/technical knowledge in their field. The complaints seem to be loudest from seasoned professionals such as myself.  In response to this, I concentrate on mentoring young professionals in an effort to pay forward the mentoring I received in the late seventies and early eighties as a young professional just getting into the field.

That said, new graduates and young professionals come armed with the most recent thinking on theoretical issues and solutions to some of the issues we all face. They have so much to offer, that we need to listen to what they have to say.  We need for mentoring to be a two way street, as we can all learn from one another.  Example: the seamless transition of our practice from hand drafting to CAD back in the nineties was made possible by a young professional with knowledge that I didn’t have.  She made it possible in a two week time span to have our electronic drawings look like our hand drafted work.

The best way I know of to make the two-way intentional transfer of knowledge happen is through CSI. In order for the two way exchange of knowledge to take place, we have to make certain that we get the young professionals to our meetings.  The invitation needs to be made on a personal basis, regardless of how the invitation is delivered (face to face, e-mail, social media, or even (gasp) a phone call.  The future of the industry depends on it.

We’ve all heard the expression “Don’t sweat the small stuff” which is good advice for daily life, but is it appropriate for us as design professionals to apply this to our professional lives? I would argue that this advice can’t apply to our work.  All too often, documents are released for construction with dimensions missing, slopes that don’t work for one reason or another, unsupported loads, or poor coordination in general.

Within the last hour, I’ve been asked to review center line dimensions on a foundation plan and elevations on a site plan related to accessible slopes. Both are easily overlooked, particularly within a profession that has a reputation for being more concerned with aesthetics than functionality.  Overlooking these issues can result in unnecessary expense during construction or liability on the part of the design professional.

Over the years, I’ve seen multiple coordination errors between disciplines such as site plans indicating backfilling against a framed wall, slopes that do not comply with accessibility guidelines, pavement that is too flat to adequately drain. I have also seen multiple cases where structural drawings didn’t reflect what was indicated on the architectural and similar issues with HVAC, plumbing, and electrical.  In other cases, headroom over stairs and similar issues have been ignored by designers not thinking the design through in three dimensions.  And I haven’t even mentioned the project manuals produced by repurposing the previous project’s specifications that may or may not be appropriate for the project at hand.

Granted, it is not at all easy to manage the competing priorities of the various design criteria. For example, it is essential to maintain accessible slopes on a site.  This is difficult to do in rolling terrain, but designing for runoff is relatively easy in these locations.  On a flatter site, designing for accessibility is easy, but in grading parking lots, avoidance of birdbaths because design slopes are too flat becomes a problem, especially in freezing weather.  Ensuring the integration of ductwork and plumbing with the structural system becomes an issue when the budget requires a low floor to floor height.

Use of BIM as a panacea for document coordination is not the answer. The model/documents still have to be checked and carefully coordinated by an experienced professional.  All of this is further complicated by the fact that Owners often do not want to pay sufficient fees to support this level of detail, but better to spend the money on document coordination than on demolition and replacement of components in the field.

Bottom line is this, every one of us on a project team needs to be diligent in coordinating the documents. I would encourage design professionals to do their due diligence in coordinating the documents to minimize RFIs.  Constructors, if you have questions, I would encourage you to issue the RFI or ask the necessary question(s).  Attention to detail on the part of all parties will result in better communication of the design intent.

Recently, a product rep friend of mine posted a tweet with the hashtag #justasalesperson. Because this individual is a CSI member and a CDT, the hashtag should have read #TrustedAdvisor.  She exemplifies what a product representative should be, and therefore, qualifies as a Trusted Advisor.

What qualifies a product rep as a trusted advisor? To begin with, a product rep that holds a CDT or CCPR knows what the design and specifier communities are looking for: expertise.  They know their product, construction documents, and they understand the construction process.  A good product representative makes the effort to know her/his competitor’s product as well.  They meet regularly with their clientele and thus forge an ongoing relationship.  Occasionally, they may need to advise that their product is not the appropriate one for the job and need to send me to their competitor.

It is out of this long-term relationship that trust emerges. As a design professional and a specifier, if I don’t know the product I’m specifying, I will contact someone I know that has experience with the product.  Preferably, this would be the company’s local representative, but I don’t always know who this might be (shame on you absentee reps that never show up).  Chances are that I know someone with a connection to the product I am looking at through my connections made over twenty-eight years of CSI membership.  Often, that contact may be in another part of the country.  I know I will get a correct answer through this network.  Additionally, they will usually put me in touch with the local rep and I am able to forge yet another relationship.

In general, if someone comes to see me with CDT or CCPR on their business card, I make an effort to make time for them. They will usually be knowledgeable and know where to find answers that may not necessarily be on the tip of their tongue.

So, for those readers that are product representatives that are not CSI members, you need to join. Being active in the organization puts you in contact with a large and professionally diverse pool of potential customers.  You can further step up your game by sitting for the Construction Documents Technologist (CDT) exam during the examination windows each spring and fall.  Obtaining this credential indicates that you possess knowledge of construction delivery methods and processes, construction documents, and building life cycle activities and needs.  The CDT is also a prerequisite to all CSI certifications including the CCPR (Certified Construction Product Representative).

All of these things qualify you as a trusted advisor, and assuming you are active in the organization, you would likely be the first one I would call for product information and advice. With that said, when registration for the Spring Certification Exams opens in January, I would strongly encourage you to sign up.  After all, you don’t want to be just a salesperson.