Chairman’s address 2019

Its here! Digital Built Events Week is upon us and I’m so excited for the Design Technology Summit and all our sister events. There have been a number of posts in the last month as a lead up to DTS and I wanted to recap all of them and provide links for anyone coming to DTS this year, or for those of you who are just hearing and learning about DTS now.

The theme this year at DTS is Continuous Next, the idea that change is not only constant, but accelerating, particularly in the realm of technology and its impact on the practice of architecture, engineering and construction in general.
We talked about Continuous Next, where we got the idea and how we think it applies in this blog post: Continuous Next
We’ve broken Continuous Next into five topic areas based on what Gartner outlines as the part of the continuous next transformation:

  • Assistive Intelligence
  • Culture
  • “Product” Management
  • Business Management
  • Professional Development

To help set the stage for our discussions some of the posts in the last few months have taken on topics and issues related to these five areas of discussion.
In early June, we discussed “normalization of deviance” this touched on an important aspect of office culture and how it can lead to practices and behaviors that ultimately have a negative effect on the organization. One can see where if we expect to deal with constant change, a culture that accepts deviance normalization could create a higher level of challenge in keeping up with change.

In mid-June we brought up the challenge of communication and why is it that important messages are so easily ignored. This topic is closely related to culture, but it also directly impacts project work, so we can see where “cultural” topics ultimately spread out to all other topics in some way.
In March we touched on the topic of Assistive Intelligence (or Artificial Intelligence) and a rather major issue we face as an industry; good data to feed these new, thinking tools. We shouldn’t fear AI, and we shouldn’t think that somehow computers will start designing buildings, but perhaps more importantly we need to realize that if we want any AI tool to be helpful, we need to do a better job of wrangling our data to feed the machine.

Lastly, we most recently discussed a concept for how to frame a discussion, we’ll talk more about this when we open DTS on Wednesday, but we want you to consider the “Six Thinking Hats” a way of looking at and discussing a challenge from different perspectives in order to help avoid “Group Think” or simply everyone agreeing.

We can’t wait to see you at DTS, and if you’re not able to make it this year, we encourage you to register your interest with secretary AT

Six Thinking Hats

As we put the finishing touches on this year’s (sold out!) DTS program, I wanted to share some of the ideas we have on how to have a productive and useful event.

Several months ago I came across the De Bono Group’s Six Thinking Hats, a system designed to help facilitate discussions among groups. The underlying concept is that humans think in several distinct ways, and approaching a topic with this in mind can help structure conversation. Participants are encouraged to think about the topic at hand through these different lenses by wearing different colored hats that correspond to the different ways of thinking. The end result is – hopefully – a well-rounded conversation that takes many factors into account.

The colors, or ways of thinking, are as follows:

Blue Managing the thinking process – what’s the end goal? How are we going to get there? Look at the big picture!

White Information-centric – What’s available? What’s needed to make a decision or move ahead?

Red Emotional – gut reaction, hunch-driven, emotional

Black Judgement-oriented – practical, realistic, often plays devil’s advocate

Yellow Optimistic – seeking value, benefits, looking for ways to ‘make it work’

Green Creative – looking for new possibilities and opportunities; exploratory.

Take, for example, one of next week’s topics: Business Management. One of the questions posed is “how can we make use of data while maintaining client trust?”

The green hat (or “Green”) might start the conversation with a provocative statement, perhaps throwing out the beginning of an idea to develop. Red might have heard of a similar suggestion, but is concerned of its applicability in AEC. White might start searching for statistics that support (or refute) Green’s initial statement. Black will be scouring her brain for the exception that might invalidate the idea. And so on.

As you prepare for DTS, keep in mind these colors and the perspectives they represent, and be prepared to share your thoughts. We’re looking forward to a day filled with your thoughts and ideas!


At the sold out Design Technology Summit July 17th, 2019 in Seattle Washington, there will be discussion of Artificial intelligence (Ai). Ai is something that will surely feed the accelerating phenomenon of perpetual innovation our industry is experiencing. You will know from previous articles that the AEC Industry is seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of tools available to us and an increasing number of firms developing their own tools through scripting in-house. Before Ai really gets into the mix, there’s an important step that needs to be made in any industry to prepare it. Data collection. As dry as that might be, is critical for any sort of intelligence, even human intelligence, to be effective. In the case of Ai, any data we will want it to rely on will need to be collected and in a format it can “ingest”. Simple concept perhaps but if you look at current sources of data common in firms, the organization is highly varied. The outputs are inconsistent. Tying systems together is challenging at best.

Ai will need to be “spoon fed” data in digestible chunks to be effective. The information it uses is critical. Garbage in, garbage out applies. But for the AEC industry, and for AEC firms, where will this information come from and how is it best composed? The answer to these questions all depends on what’s being asked. For example, if a designer wants to know how annual wind patterns might affect a 200-foot high-rise, then she would want data from NOAA. If a Project Manager wants to know how to most efficiently staff a large multi-phase project then she would want project staffing, productivity, project change order data, bill-rates, and related data collected within her firm from past projects. The results of each of these are reliant on the quality of the data input. The recognition of the potential cost savings mined using Ai may be profound. It may be the proponent of significant change to how buildings are delivered. It’s uncharted territory.

As our industry pioneers into this new territory with platforms unknown, it makes sense to begin thinking about the questions that we will want answered and almost more importantly, the data with which it will be informed. Perhaps that data collection should begin now. How translatable is our data?

If interested in participating in next year’s Design Technology Summit, please send your meesage to [email protected]

Communications:  Are They Listening 

The Design Technology Summit will kick off July 17, 2019, in Seattle Washington. I hope you were able to get your application submitted in time before all the spots were accepted and filled. Yes! We did sell out this year, and we anticipate a lively, thought-provoking discussion. I look forward to seeing everyone.

If you are wondering, “How did I miss this opportunity to participate?” then I would like to ask you the same question, “How did YOU miss the opportunity?” In an industry where communication is the primary function, why do we struggle daily with electronic communication and follow-up?

“Communication” (or lack of, or too much) is one of the most popular complaints that staff members have about their workplaces. We are constantly attacked with emails, text messages, instant messages, phone calls, and intranet posts and updates from various platforms, along with personal pop-ups that seem to be on everyone’s multiple devices. Replying is not the problem—we all respond quickly when we care. It is those messages that are deemed less important that causes the issues. But, someone determined the message to be significant enough to take the time to author and send it to you. Culturally, it is rude to not listen, so why do we not read the information presented to us?

“Culture is the most powerful tool for creating value that an organization has, because it directs behavior,” said Kyle Brost, Principal of Choice Strategy. “Company culture is comprised of the learned (or assumed) behavior patterns within an organization. A key element of these behavior patterns is that they are built on deeper assumptions. So, the three important components of company culture are that they are learned, they are patterns, and there is an underlying assumption driving them.”
Since culture can be learned, and culture help drives our communication skills, the changes that must be implemented to drive a cultural change in today’s technology environment must be ever revolving.  The initial experience the end users have will impact the success of adaptation.  Technology implementations must create the right experience to assist in encouraging change and not just change the process.  Culture must be fostered to encourage new experiences and training should be designed not only for the new technology, but the thought process needed to adopt change.
In Seattle this July we will be creating a great experience at DTS 2019 to start the process of learning how to help overcome cultural barriers to positively effect change within your organizations. Hope to see you there.
While DTS 2019 is sold out, we bet now that you won’t miss the next opportunity. Stay tuned for announcements regarding DTS 2020. We’d hate for you to miss that email.

Applying Lessons from Columbia and Challenger

January 28th, 1986 – Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart a little over a minute into flight.i 


February 1st, 2003 – Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the atmosphere.ii 


A total of 14 astronauts died as a result of these tragedies.
Many of you are asking yourselves, “What could possibly be the connection between these two national tragedies and my office’s performance?”  We will get to that a little later in this blog post.


Here is a quick synopsis of the mechanical causes of these failures:
During liftoff, an O-ring seal in one of Challenger’s solid rocket boosters failed and hot gasses burned a structural support and caused the booster to veer into the large external tank.  This led to a chain of events culminating with extreme aerodynamic forces breaking apart the shuttle.


During liftoff, a briefcase-sized chunk of insulation broke free from the external tank and hit the fragile leading edge of Columbia’s left wing.  This went unnoticed for the entire length of the mission.  When the extremely hot plasma of re-entry melted the internal structure of the wing, the shuttle experienced aerodynamic instability and the orbiter broke apart.  All 7 astronauts perished.


The root cause of these failures was an Organizational Breakdown within NASA.  A sociologist, Diane Vaughan, describes this breakdown as a “normalization of deviance”.iii  She defines this as an unsafe practice comes to be considered normal if it doesn’t immediately cause a catastrophic event.
Again, you’re asking yourselves, “Why is this relevant?”  Normalization of deviance is present in every phase of every one of our lives; family, social clubs, government – usually to a much less catastrophic level.  However; without exception all office cultures experience this on a regular basis.
My goal in writing this is to help us all notice when anomalies occur within our office cultures and speak up about them.  We often refer to these anomalies as “exceptions”.  Some basic exceptions may be; “He always does it his way, so we just let him do it”, “She seems to work on her own schedule”, “He never seems to come to important internal meetings – he must be busy”, “We don’t need the complete 800 series of drawings, we will let the contractor figure it out”.   When we see any sign that a deviation is causing a negative effect on our projects or office culture, we need to be confident enough to bring it to the attention of those it affects.


A robust office culture will always benefit from a keen understanding that we, as humans, have a natural tendency to allow a “normalization of deviance”.  And with this understanding we can choose to reduce the anomalies and improve the quality of our service as well as our deliverables.
We have just scratched the surface on this topic.  We’re looking forward to the interchanges during our  “Culture” discussions at the 2019 BUiLT Design Technology Summit in Seattle.