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.



DTS Speaker Spotlight: Jarod Schultz

The Design Technology Summit (DTS) brings together professionals from the AEC industry that have an impact on implementing technology within their firms. DTS has been utilizing small forum discussions since its conception and we are excited to incorporate round tables with BiLT NA 2019 Thursday’s sessions. This format will allow attendees to be involved with the discussion in greater depth and provide a wider swath of topics to be communicated by each attendee.

At DTS 2019 in Seattle, Jarod will be conducting a round-table for DTS, “People, Process, and Technology – Can We Tame the Tornado?” A session that will explore the rapid advancement of our design tools, along with staff, and their workflows, everyone has had to make changes. This disruption, and how everyone uses their design tools to deliver their projects, it has been an ongoing headache in the AEC industry.

Jarod Schultz has been an active participate in shaping the AEC industry since the early stages of his career and will continue to do so in his current role as Director of Research and Development for MasterGraphics.AEC out of their Denver office. Jarod works with a team to develop new solutions that his client’s value: inventing new concepts, workflows, and processes. Collaborating with early adopters and innovators, He has worked on projects that have comprised of; bio-mimicry, sustainability, computational, and generative design solutions. His team also develops software applications which requires him to analyze, plan, implement, and be a scrum master for the project.

Jarod’s personal life even embodies the need for process improvement and speed. Outside of work, Jarod loves anything that is fast, combustible or electric. He appreciates anyone that can take anything and improve it for speed and handling. Even with his mental approach, he is always looking to improve the process. As a Kaizen Event/Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, he embodies a thought process to look at something and make it better; either for himself or what is around him.

As we explore how this disruption impacts the design process, we will be reminded about the impact of ContinousNext and that everyone should be prepared to face and adopt changes in technology, competition and business.

DTS and BiLT NA 2019 will be held July 17th – 20th in Seattle Washington. This is a unique event that is ran ‘by users, for users’, and is a great place to get advice from peers who are knowledgeable yet still wanting to learn themselves. Plan on attending and register today.

Learning Success

DTS this year is shaping up to be a great event! We’re enthusiastic about the topics and DTS speakers we have lined up for our simultaneous roundtables on Thursday and we’re very excited about the agenda we’re putting together for Wednesday’s discussions. As you may have previously read, Wednesday’s discussions are going to focus on a concept that has been getting increasing press “Continuous Next”; the idea that as technology driven change accelerates, we are less and less likely going to be able to maintain a steady state as it pertains to our technology platforms, tools, workflows and processes. Rather we need to be prepared for constant change and iteration and adapt ourselves and our practices to that nature.
So, what does that have to do with learning or success?  I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase fail early and fail often, or as JFK so eloquently put it “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly”, I think these are important philosophies, but I also think that if we are going to be faced with continuous change we need to be able to learn from where we succeed as well. Not so much of trying to get into a routine, or “well it worked before, so let’s try the same thing again” (put another way if I have a hammer, everything is nail), but rather attempting to decipher from any successful outcome, what led to that success. Too often we spend time dissecting what went wrong that sometimes we don’t spend enough time celebrating our achievements and understanding what led to that success in the first place.
In a world where change truly is inevitable, we need to be prepared to focus on failures and successes. We must learn success, because success is going to be crucial and a state where there is always change. This isn’t to say that there won’t be failures, and we should be prepared to fail, but we also need to learn keys to success, we need to develop habits and approaches to thinking that allow for agility, adaptability and recovery; turning a failure into success.
More importantly, the cornerstone of DTS is sharing and discussion, we particularly look forward to people joining us who can share the techniques and approaches they’ve found most successful to implement and deal with change; how do we successfully change attitudes and mindsets in order to give our practices the best chances at success.


Mike Harris, Gartner EVP, Research and Advisory explains the ContinuousNext formula.

As 2019 begins with great anticipation, so do the groans of many team members in despair of what new technology we are going to be trying to force upon them. But as history has shown us, the ability to adapt to change is a key component to surviving in today’s ever changing environment. Recently the research firm Gartner at its annual Symposium commented that the Technology & IT world must ready their companies for “ContinuousNext”- implying that everyone should be prepared “in order to face and adopt to changes in technology, competition and business.”

Mike Harris vice president of Gartner suggested IT executives consider a new formula: (Mindsets + Practices) x Technology = Capabilities. As an example, Harris discussed the changes that have occurred in competitive cycling over the past decade, where shifts in culture, technology, and process have led to much faster results. In each of the cases, Harris and the other Gartner analysts urged attendees to consider “shift, shape, and share” as strategic principles.”

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Industry culture has always seemed to be the biggest hurdle to overcome as new technology gets implemented, and this was also discussed quite a bit by the presenters. In today’s world, updates appear monthly or perhaps even weekly. However, what we must help our staff to realize is that while change may come more frequently it is increasingly incremental. Even Microsoft’s Windows OS is being treated as a service and by and large introducing incremental change with bi-annual releases.  Updates to the Microsoft Office is even more frequent and granular. So we must ask ourselves how to better prepare our staff for the increasing rate of change with our toolsets, understanding that these are not dramatic changes?

Training in this environment is a challenge and different training approaches must be considered for each software platform for staff to be able to adopt new features promising increased productivity. So in the always updating world of project delivery software, training must evolve to make the best use of staff’s time. With this in mind, should our attention be on how to train people to push buttons or should we instead ask ourselves how to train people to learn to adapt to constant application evolution. We need to encourage the desire to know and apply, not simply push button A to get result X.

Setting the Stage

DTS is almost here – in just one week we’ll be getting together – minus the armor, swords, and medieval lighting – and tackling what Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) means to the AEC industry, and how we can best position our firms and ourselves in this evolving landscape.


According to Gartner’s 2017 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle report, ML is just about ready to take a roller coaster-like dive into the ‘trough of disillusionment’. After lots of talk and inflated expectations, there will be a letdown as the realities of early implementation come to light, and the hype gets put in check. So how can we even out this trough in our firms? What can we propose that demonstrates the positive aspects of AI, while keeping the disillusionment at bay?


One idea we’ve discussed in the DTS Committee is to focus our conversations on the next several years, while keeping the longer-term view in the background. Using this framework to think about ‘driverless car’ technology, we know it isn’t mature enough yet to eliminate the need to drive, but today it is useful in providing useful feedback and assistance to drivers.


In the AEC space, two things that come to my mind are Proving Ground’s LunchBox ML plugin, and WeWork’s desk layout automation research.  The former is a tool that can be adopted now, and the latter describes a proof-of-concept that could be expanded to address more complex design scenarios.


So be prepared for an intense, fun, and hopefully satisfying day and a half of conversations. As you’re preparing for next week, keep the following in mind:


* What improvements can we begin over the next twelve months

* How will they benefit our practices, our work, and our lives, and

* How can they inform and accommodate the next wave of technological advancement?


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