Discovering Value in the Design/Build Workflow: New conversations for better relationships with Clients and Collaborators
Join us at the BE Bottom Lines Summit to explore this together
What should we “plan" to “build?" Design & Construction. We need the two to fit hand in glove. Yet I’ve been learning just how badly the goal of integrating them keeps falling short. We seem to be casting each of these roles in different versions of the same movie: Thrillers. Horror Stories. Slapstick Comedies! Maybe its time to recognize and value the roles designers and builders each play and figure out how to reward the value each of them provides to what turns out to be a rather complex equation. Let’s get them both acting together with a screenplay for a feel good film.
I facilitate one of the three BE Bottom Lines Networks (the others are facilitated by John Abrams and Paul Eldrenkamp). Twice a year ten NESEA member businesses gather at a host’s business location to learn together about our triple bottom lines. We focus on the host’s business and provide insights about their strengths and challenges. Between those meetings we correspond online.
One of the many strengths of this process is the opportunity to share business challenges with trusted colleagues and get their perspective and guidance in close to real time. From the start the same stories were being told over and over in each of these networks about failed relationships between designers and builders and their communication with each other and their clients. Confusion about budgets, scopes of work, systems of markup, and tales of betrayal, mistrust, mission creep, and unfortunate misunderstandings fuel these narratives. The more I listened to these stories and felt the frustration of these earnest business people the more interested I became in seeing if we all might find a way to do better. I will be facilitating a session with that intent at the upcoming BE Bottom Lines Summit at Smith College in Northampton on Nov. 4. If any of this resonates with you, in whatever role you may play in the process, please register and attend to join this conversation.
At a network gathering this spring we did an exercise together to map the design/build workflow, from first client contact to project completion. The goal was to reveal all the ways in which value is created and people are engaged to assure success. Once we had it mapped, we identified who served each action best and where collaboration between the designer and builder benefitted the process. We noted important milestones and where the client needed to respond to essential information. This was an eye opening experience for everyone. It was clear that each step in the process deserved the full attention of a collaborative team, whether or not those roles were served within a single company or by professionals with discrete responsibilities to design or build.
It became apparent that our actual experiences of this process were too often blind to the opportunities to collaborate. Poor communication and entrenched industry practices were undermining our ability to work together. This seems especially true of the still pervasive design/bid paradigm and the ways in which builders are cast as subservient, probably untrustworthy, and in need of strict supervision in order to “protect” the client. On the other hand, designers were being second guessed by builders who were short circuiting communication with their clients. Designers, while eager to work with good builders, and builders frustrated by some designers, were each often unwittingly setting the stage for the adversarial positions each party can become prone to adopt. Aggravated clients generated finger pointing and lip service to collaboration gave way to blame. Yikes!
A common response to these frustrations is to contemplate becoming a design/build company. While offering both services under one roof has many compelling virtues, most firms are equipped to do one or the other well while lacking the staff or experience to excel at both. For this reason I have a particular interest in inviting those folks with strengths in one domain to discover how to integrate their contribution to the total value proposition with those with strengths in the other without necessarily becoming full service design/build firms.
The foundation of design practice is not to start with a solution, but instead to observe the behavior of the system in order to learn enough to discover the means most likely to effect desired change. This is my premise for this journey (and I consider this a long term project and this session just one learning lab in that quest). What does an integrated design/build workflow require and what business models work to deliver that value? I’m hoping this session will serve those who should stick to what they do best (design or build) but want to collaborate better as allies, as well as those committed to delivering both together (design/build).
So let’s unfold and examine the complete design and construction workflow. Let’s identify the value provided in every step. Let’s ask who can best provide that value. Then let’s imagine the variety of roles to be played and how their collaboration increases value. In the light of what we observe let’s then ask two things: Which company structure best suits the value you provide, and how we can better organize the relationships and communication to produce the most satisfying result for everyone involved?
Join me and other Bottom Liners in Northampton to tackle these questions and imagine a better way to do business together.
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