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Posts Tagged ‘Professional Development’

As I sit here next to the ocean I can’t help but think about the fact that the ocean is never the same; the water is constantly moving, but therein lies it’s constancy.  The same can be said of generations, mentors, and the intentional transfer of knowledge.

My first professional mentor was my grandfather who practiced architecture (and ran several related businesses) in Charlottesville from the late 1920s until the late 1970s.  It was he who inspired me at the age of six to pursue the profession that has occupied me to this day.  As one might expect, he introduced me to floor plans and taught me two point perspective drawing.  Fast forward about eight years and he introduced me to the various dimension lumber sizes on the family lumber yard where I had my first job.  On another occasion, he came out to the warehouse with a steel manual and introduced the beam diagrams and formulas in those pre-calculator days.

A few years later, I was introduced more thoroughly to structural design by my future father-in-law who taught structures in the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  This allowed me to bypass introductory statics and strength of materials at Virginia Tech.  During those years in Blacksburg, there were a few professors that I considered mentors.

I was later introduced to specification writing by Thomas R. Wyant, Jr, AIA, CSI who had me writing specs about a year out of school.  He also unknowingly inspired me to join CSI, which brings me to the real subject of this column.  Mentorship involves the intentional transfer of knowledge which is arguably the most important function of CSI.

it is through attendance at CSI events and participation in the CSI Certification Program that knowledge of construction processes and documentation is transferred to the next generation of construction professionals who would otherwise miss the opportunity to learn.

CSI is the one place where architects, engineers, constructors, suppliers, manufacturers reps, and other diverse construction professionals represented in its membership can sit down at the table and talk openly and in a non-confrontational manner about their experiences.  We can’t help but learn from one another.  At some point, down the road, there will be a situation in our careers that will prompt a memory of a conversation that took place at a CSI gathering and perhaps also a phone call that will borrow from the experiences of our colleagues within the organization.

I can’t speak often enough about how my membership has more than paid for itself over the last thirty-one years.  If you’re a construction professional and not a CSI member, I would strongly recommend that you join.  If you are a CSI member, by all means bring a young professional to your next chapter member.  You will not regret it.

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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.

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“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)

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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.

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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.

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I’ve spent this week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week of R&R. While walking the beach, I’ve observed how the forces of nature have left their mark.  There are water marks left at high tide and ripples in the sand deposited by the wind.  The fiddler crabs left myriad tiny footprints in the sand as have the marine waterfowl.  Multiple animals deposit their shells on the sand following their passing.  We are admonished to leave only footprints and take only memories as we leave.

Like the natural forces on the barrier islands, those of us that are design professionals are obsessed with leaving a mark. Hopefully that mark constitutes a beneficial impact on the community that is the world.

We need to leave functional infrastructure, architecture that provides shelter, and somehow with both of these, we need to leave a beauty that users and observers will appreciate. Easy to think of this from the standpoint of monumental architecture, or a Golden Gate Bridge, but something as utilitarian as the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge that connects Hatteras Island with the rest of the US has a certain beauty in the rhythm of the pilings and the stantions that support the guardrails.  The built legacy should survive us and benefit society for generations to come.

In the process of creating the built world, we have a far more important obligation to leave an intellectual mark with the younger folks that work with us through the intentional transfer of knowledge. This takes place through mentoring, networking, associations, and certification programs.  Experienced professionals such as myself need to make certain that when we leave our professions that we don’t create an unfillable void.  Our professional legatees need to be ready step in and fill the space.  It is our obligation to make certain they are.

Likewise, we have much to learn from the younger professionals in our lives. They are full of energy and new ideas.  New ideas are worth our time, attention, nurturing, and even of our championing.  Pay attention seasoned professionals, as your young colleague may provide the idea that makes something work in a new and wonderful way.

So a quick memo to my younger colleagues: I want to spend time with you.  You have the capacity to make me better, and we can make each other better.  The best place to find me on a first Tuesday is at a CSI meeting.  In that venue, we can both learn something new.

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Last Friday, I ran into a couple of old friends at a pre-bid meeting. As the conversation progressed, the topic of Thomas R. Wyant, JR, AIA, CSI came up.  Tom was my first employer after I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1979.  He was a client to my friends who are a surveyor and geotechnical engineer respectively.  We reminisced for several minutes about him.

While Tom was not the easiest individual to work for, I probably learned more about the profession of architecture from him than any other single person. In this vein, Tom was an expert in the technical aspects of putting a building together.  He was very particular about how we detailed things, but would let us draw things up as we saw fit.  On a daily basis, he would make the rounds in the drafting room and would look over our shoulders to review our work.  If we could justify what we did, he would say simply, yeah, that’ll work, and go on to visit with the next drafter.  If there was a problem with what we did, he would help us to solve it.

Probably the most important thing Tom did for us was to introduce us to specification writing, arguably an unusual thing to do with a couple of first and second year interns. He taught us to use MasterSpec and SpecText and in doing so, indirectly taught us CSI SectionFormat.  Also, in using both master systems, he demonstrated that at that time, some sections of each were better than the other.  In so doing, he gave us the opportunity to exercise some critical thinking about which component or system was more appropriate for the project(s) at hand and how best to communicate the information to the construction team.  I cannot think of a better way to mentor.

Tom is also responsible for my joining CSI, although he was never aware of it, as I joined five years after I left Tom’s firm. In this regard, he led by example.  Through him, I learned that CSI is the place to go for building information.  His mentoring led me to connections with literally thousands of experts nationwide.  For that I will always be grateful.

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I was disappointed to read a recent local newspaper article about the settlement of a lawsuit surrounding a local project that is the winner of multiple awards.  According to the article, there were more than 400 RFIs (requests for information) submitted by the contractor.  The article also states that there were several design features that were poorly executed or simply didn’t work as intended.

I have to say that the building in question is quite beautiful and has been honored as a green structure, but 400 RFIs?  In my mind, 400 RFIs on a project this size is an inexcusable number and makes me question the adequacy of the construction documents (which I haven’t seen, by the way) to convey the design intent.

Successful, timely, and cost-effective construction relies on appropriate communication of a project design by the design team to the contractor and supplier team on behalf of the ownerFrom project conception through design and construction to facility management, effective communication of the project requirements depends largely on having complete and coordinated construction documents.”

The quote above begins the introduction to Chapter 11 of The CSI Project Delivery Practice Guide (PDPG).  The PDPG is the primary source document for the CDT exam.  The CDT is the gateway credential into the CSI Certification Program.  All CSI certified professionals (CCS, CCPR, and CDT) hold the CDT credential, as it is a prerequisite to the certification exams.

Holders of the CDT have a working knowledge of construction documents and procedures.  They are aware of steps in the facility life cycle, have some knowledge of the legal issues associated with construction, and can assist an owner with the construction procurement process.  As holders of the credential, they know what information should be included in a set of construction documents and, more importantly, can recognize when it is missing.  Including pertinent and appropriate information in the CDs will minimize the number of RFIs on a project.

Registration will be opening soon for the spring certification exams.  Because of the time necessary to absorb the material, candidates should begin studying now.  Study materials are available from www.csinet.org/certification .

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I spent this weekend attending the CSI Middle Atlantic Region Conference in Gettysburg, PA. My time was well spent, as my membership once again paid for itself.

How so, you might ask?

The conference included a slate of excellent technical seminars. This in and of itself is a good value. More to the point, getting up and into a seminar at 8:00 AM on a Saturday resulted in my picking up a bit of information which will result in a revised detail on an upcoming project. The owner is thrilled that this subtle change will add value by saving maintenance costs in future years with little or no additional up front cost.

That said, we need to think out of the box in terms of how we do things. A professional standard of care is normally met when we do things the way we’ve always done them, particularly when it comes to keeping water out of our buildings (assuming we did it correctly in the first place). This alone should keep us out of court. This kind of thinking is about the same as saying “we’ll build it to code”, which is often touted as quality by some members of the construction industry. It is also the crummiest construction that is legal. So what happens if you do just a little bit more and, in the process, add value?

This is exactly what came to my attention because of the efforts of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter who hosted the conference. I would have missed this had I not been a member of CSI.

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I have frequently been asked about the value of the CSI Certification Program over the seven years since I first served on the CSI Certification Committee. Those that know me are aware that I’m all about recognizing people’s accomplishments, particularly in regards to their professionalism. What better way to do this than to credential someone.

The Construction Documents Technology exam is administered during a four week window each spring and fall. The CDT is an entry level certificate that is by no means basic. Holders of the CDT demonstrate a high level of competence and professionalism. They know their way around a construction contract and are familiar with the major model contract documents. Without this knowledge, they would not have passed the exam. There is no prerequisite for this exam, so students in design and construction related curricula are eligible to sit for it, and I would encourage all to sit for it. In this day and age when jobs are rare, students graduating can use any leg up that exists, so if this opportunity knocks, jump on it and demonstrate your competence by showing up for your first job interview with a professional credential in hand.

The Certified Construction Specifier (CCS), Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA), and Certified Construction Product Representative (CCPR) exams are the means to an advanced certification and are more specialized than the CDT. There is an experience prerequisite for these certifications and candidates must sit for a rigorous exam. The result is that holders of the advanced CSI certifications are experienced, competent professionals. This is useful in that upcoming job interview or marketing for those owning their respective practice.

That said, Being a CCS has helped me in landing several consulting gigs for other architects, and has helped land other work. More importantly, the knowledge that is behind the certification (necessary to pass the examination) allows me to better practice my profession.

Information on the CSI Certification Program is available at www.csinet.org/certification

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