Featured Video: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Knowledge Management Organizations

“The best thing that could ever happen to you in KM is that you find a business problem you can solve. Start with a business problem, fix it, and then you have the creds to do whatever else you need to do in KM.”

So began Carla O’Dell’s fantastic keynote talk at KA Connect 2016. Carla is the CEO of APQC and is widely considered by the knowledge management community to be one of leading experts in the world. Her KA Connect 2016 talk, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Knowledge Management Organizations,” distilled decades of researched best practices and hard-won insights into forty minutes of pure KM gold.

As Carla would say, I hope ya’ll enjoy it.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Knowledge Management Organizations

Carla O’Dell of APQC at KA Connect 2016.

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Posted: March 6th, 2017 | Filed under: General, Guests | No Comments »

Amanda Walter on Fueling Social Media through Internal Communications

AWalter

By Amanda Walter, Founder, Walter Communications

It’s not uncommon for architecture and engineering firms to assign the goal of “creating a social media presence” to the marketing or communications departments and expect to see great results. When social media is all about sharing and presenting an authentic voice, a centralized approach for an intellectual and technical crowd could be looked at as an obstacle. But, you have to engage. Luckily, you are sitting on a wealth of ideas, knowledge and sources — you only need to look inside your firm. Here are seven internal communications tips to tune up what will be the engine of your external social media program.

1. Find a multi-directional communications tool to use internally.

If your firm uses an internal blog, SharePoint, or other internal social tools, your foundation is already in place. If not, talk to your IT staff about setting up a WordPress or similar free-blog tool behind your firewall. These tools let you post messages and queries to employees and interact with those who comment. Ideally, these tools should allow other employees to initiate conversations and ask questions too. It’s important for this to be a democratic space because, equally important to your role as content contributor; you’ll also need to be an active listener.

2. Survey your staff.

Some of these internal social tools will have a survey function built in. If yours doesn’t, tools like Survey Monkey make it really easy (and free if you keep it short) to survey and monitor results quickly. Get a sense for how many employees have accounts on the primary social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and how often they use these. Is anyone blogging regularly? How do they use these networks?

This information can not only help you identify colleagues who are interested in, or even knowledgeable about, social media (perhaps they could be the initial members of an internal social media community), but these statistics could also be a valuable benchmark for future surveys or data to track your success.

Report the findings and your assessment back to employees and ask for their analysis of the results.

3. Advertise your social media efforts.

Tell everyone about the firm’s new accounts. Ask them to “like”, “follow”, subscribe or join the company pages and accounts – and ask them to refer their industry friends/contacts to the accounts as well.

Make your program objectives clear and include information on how they can participate. (These could be informal or formalized guidelines). Use other internal vehicles, like printed posters hung in common areas or an email blast to promote awareness of the social media program and invite them to participate in the “behind the scenes” efforts that go into creating external marketing content.

Publish hyperlinked headlines and subheads of new external blog posts internally to encourage people to read, comment and forward on blog posts. Share external social media accomplishments with the group. Pass along complements to your contributors through these visible internal channels “Jane Doe’s opinion blog post was picked up by three widely read blogs, drew six thoughtful comments and we saw a 66% spike in blog traffic.”

4. Ask for input.

Let staff know what topics you are researching for future external blog posts and ask your readers specific questions to help you develop these, i.e. “Does anyone know a source for this type of research?” or “Have we used this technology on any of our projects?” You could also make an editorial calendar that sets some preliminary dates for when you’ll be blogging on a particular topic and allows staff to submit projects or ideas to you in advance.

5. Find the low-hanging fruit.

Keep your eyes and ears open for internal mentions of material that could be repurposed. This could be presentations that have been given at events or conferences, articles or whitepapers that an employee has written, general research that was conducted for a project or even popular internal conversation threads. With a little work these can be broken down into singular ideas and repurposed as blog posts, or cleaned up and made available on iTunes or the firm’s YouTube channel and then promoted through Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

6. Identify knowledge centers and groups.

In most firms’ intranets, subgroups are popular activity centers. Collectively these can be a wealth of information and ideas. These very focused units can bring a diversity of scale to your social media content. Big lofty idea posts are great for showcasing big picture visions, but a smattering of focused stories, like how a 3-D visualization helped community members understand and support the proposal for a new development, can show the care taken at each phase of a project.

7. Reach out to active voices.

Take stock in the people who are most comfortable engaging internally and the topics they gravitate toward. These could be subject-matter experts with knowledge to share or simply people who are comfortable sharing feedback and extending conversations in social forums. Contact these people individually to consider ways they could be helpful outside the firewall as well. Encourage them to contribute a blog post, submit a comment, man the Twitter account or even just forward interesting data and articles that are worthy of tweeting or posting.

There is a component of ego in the design professions. Tap into this by aiming the spotlight on individuals or their work can pay off in their loyalty and interest in helping you the next time around.

After all, the culture of social media is about engaging and sharing. It only makes sense to start with your own community of employees. By leveraging internal communications tools to grow your network of resources and ideas, the social media program you create makes the most of the ambitious and authentic personalities within.

About the Author

Amanda Walter founded Walter Communications in early 2010 to help design and planning industry leaders and firms to hone ideas and share them with the right people. Through her prominent roles at AECOM as the Director of Media Relations and, prior to that, at EDAW leading communications across the firm, she played an integral role in mergers and acquisitions, operational reorganization, brand consolidations and rebranding.

Amanda is currently co-authoring a book to be published this fall by ZweigWhite, Social Media in Action: A Comprehensive Guide for Architecture, Engineering, Planning, and Environmental Consulting Firms. Join her on Twitter, @waltercomms, or on Facebook at AEC Idea Exchange.

Posted: April 20th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Guests | Comments Off on Amanda Walter on Fueling Social Media through Internal Communications

Ryan Smith on moving from Service to Product Theory

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By Ryan E. Smith, Director ITAC School of Architecture, University of Utah

Personal Motivations

I don’t remember exactly when I decided to write Prefab Architecture[1]. There were altruistic motivations such as an obsession with the subject matter for nearly a decade and the love of research (not to mention a looming tenure case in which I had to show my validity to a group of otherwise unforgiving faculty). What I do clearly remember is that I was having thoughts concerning mass customization, taking advantage of productivity of mass production and the seeming flexibility of customization desirable by architecture’s thirst for uniqueness, when it made me question, “how might a full time educator and researcher in an architectural school be able to take advantage of the financial incentives implicit in mass production?”. How might one provide a service once and benefit many times over? How can one make money while sleeping? I must admit that this is a very unorthodox way of thinking in architecture, and for professor at that.

I compare the motivations of writing a book to the ethics I was raised on in architecture school. Every single one of my classmates and I thought we were going to be the next Howard Roark, featured on the cover magazines, wearing black, having just landed an incredible museum commission. Most of my classmates are working for decent offices or have hung their own shingle offering architectural services to clients day in and day out. The long hours and underpay becomes unglamorous very quickly. And yet, there is still something in me that loves this work, this readership is committed, and architecture schools continue to be overrun, so I am clearly not alone here. Perhaps the perpetual problem with architecture not living up to its hopes and aspirations of creating unique buildings and making a business of it is that we see the profession primarily as a service and not a product enterprise. Let me explain.

Peculiarities of Construction

Design and construction can be viewed as a series of activities, where some add value and others do not. There are numerous time-consuming, non-value-adding actives in the design process, such as correction of errors and rework, the physical handling and organization of documents, and transportation, inspection, and movement during the construction process.[2] Construction is essentially the design and assembly of objects fixed-in-place. Therefore, buildings are site-produced goods, unique every time, and employ temporary teams – this triad might be called the peculiarities of construction, distinguishing it from other production industries.

To make this process more efficient we can remove the site, not make the building unique, and keep teams in tact from project to project. Removing the site altogether is clearly not possible – every project has unique site conditions, from natural forces of climate, soil and topography to man made forces of zoning ordinances and CCR’s. Keeping teams in tact is an idea that has brought success to design-build entities and architects who continually engage with the same engineers, contractors and subcontractors. But these are discussions for another time. This discussion focuses on the uniqueness of the building design and production as a variable that may in fact be controlled, adding value and removing waste in the process.

In order to take advantage of the opportunities associated with production technologies architecture and building needs to:

1) claim from construction what actually belongs to product manufacturing utilizing the latest in digital design and fabrication thus minimizing the peculiarities of construction thereby (the crux of my book) and

2) the remainder that is not able to meet the first claim, place within an integrated framework (a social unity) of management and apply product theory, to the process of design and construction.[3]

Service and Product Industries

This suggestion can be better explained through business theory, which is broken into two types of operations: services and products. Service industries have a high degree of client interaction relying heavily on customer input at various intervals. As interactions and inputs increase, inefficiencies in outputs do as well. Product industries on the other hand have less direct customer interaction and are more focused on leaning time invested for output generated. Construction is both a service and product industry involving service processes and non-service activities. Architects rely on a service model of delivery, measuring their value in meeting client needs and generating design ideas, while constructors typically value moving the service process toward non-service oriented practices of production, realizing true productivity in the process – increased output per unit of input.[4]

Using the words customer or consumer in place of client or owner may appear to architects as blasphemous, degrading architecture to the art of production. I must admit that it is uncomfortable as I write this now, however the loss of perceived control over uniqueness and individual outputs of building in order to reach a wider market, increase market share, and make money while you sleep, may be the price that architects must be willing to pay to avoid irrelevance. In this vein, architects may have to be “willing to automate not just the means of manufacturing but design itself”.[5]

Returning to lessons of ECON 101 taken my freshman year of college I propose the two models of product theory: supply and demand. Supply driven products link a capability with an application or the ability to do something with a problem that can be solved with that ability. Supply driven products risk the potential that the problem does not really exist. Service industries such as architecture are supply driven, as are research organizations such as the center I direct. On the other hand, demand driven products connect a market problem with a solution. The risk is on the product provider to actually find the solution to the problem, that the market will continue to “push”, and that the business can accurately assess this demand. Therefore, product theory concerns itself with risk assessment and mitigation. Supply risk is managed with inventory control and careful management of process and players. Demand risk is managed by good market analysis and awareness of the greater economic environment. In the end, the point is that architects know very little concerning the attributes of supply and demand products. [6]

Lessons from Product Design

So what are architects working today missing by way of moving from a service-oriented enterprise to a product, customer centric design practice? Beyond the recognition that architecture is service oriented and must acknowledge and mitigate risk by embracing product theory principles and infusing process control, the following are addition lessons to be learned from product design and development practice.

1. Input Control: Architecture is service oriented, depending on client input at various stages, reducing the efficiency of the design process. Automating the input process through digital means of data capture, social networking tools, and survey interfaces that link into spatial organization bridging program information with design output can expedite the decision making process. (See Onuma and Manufacturing Emergence)

2. Scope Control: Value stream mapping of the current stream of the “product”, or the building, waste can be identified, plans for removing the waste and the process is further optimized for the future. This is iterative, requiring teams to constantly be working to refine and optimize the design of the project delivery, rather than reworking at a later date.[7] [8]

3. Cost Control: Target Value Design is a lean construction tactic that brings building designers together with building producers to determine early on to design to a detailed estimate. All decisions regarding scope, schedule and quality are designed based on a detailed target cost rather than estimating based on a detailed design.[9]

4. Schedule Control: Lean production uses Just-In-Time scheduling that organizes each portion of the process so that it arrives just as it is needed to complete the final product. In architecture, set-based design may be employed that enables a range of discipline specialists, including constructors, to develop a set of possible solutions to product design and production design problems and then to decide at the last responsible moment. Deciding at the last responsible moment allows the project team time to develop a number of design options in parallel and then choose between them with agreement among stakeholders. All of which reduces the need for later rework.[10]

5. Operational Control: Construction’s project delivery systems consists of three domains of the project organization – how the parties participating in the contract are organized; the project operating system – how the project is managed on an overall and day-to-day basis; and the project commercial terms – the contractual responsibilities and associated compensation.[11] IPD was developed as a method to allow the construction industry to overcome current operating system roadblocks through improving project organization and commercial terms.

6. Marketing Control: I have often wondered if architects are marketing to each other, to clients or to future customers. The point is that architects need a very specific marketing strategy beyond “graphic communication”. Marketing is the process of creating, satisfying and retaining customers. In this strategy it is all about the market: segregating, targeting and positioning business practice to focus a service and product of architectural practice on price, placement, and promotion.[12]

7. Intellectual Control: IP has historically been difficult to manage in the architectural profession. Borrowing ideas is part of the market. This is suggesting a much more rigorous development of ideas that can become processes for design and construction. As architects move from service to product theory and practice, they will need to become astute at the patenting process in order to protect their long-term interest in materialized ideas. This is unfamiliar territory for most building designers.

About the Author

Ryan E. Smith is Director of an interdisciplinary research group dedicated to lean and sustainable design and construction inquiry called the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center (ITAC). He is a researcher, educator, author and speaker on the integration paradigm and building technology.  He is author of Prefab Architecture: a guide to modular design and construction published by Wiley in 2010, serves as the educational liaison on the AIA Center for Integrated Practice Leadership Group, and is a member of the Lean Construction Institute. He is currently President of the Building Technology Educators’ Society (BTES), an academic group of building technology and building science educators.


[1] Smith, R.E. Prefab Architecture: a guide to modular design and construction. (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2010)

[2] Eastman, C., Teicholz, P., Sacks, R., and Liston, K. BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Manager, Designers, Engineers, and Contractors. (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.) : 8-10.

[3] Ballard, G. & Howell, G. What Kind of Production is Construction? Proceedings IGLC – 8, 1998.

[4] Sampson, S.E. The Unified Service Theory: a paradigm for service science. P.P. Maglio et al. (eds.), Handbook of Service Science, Service Science: Research and Innovations in the Service Economy. (Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010) : 107 – 131.

[5] Bernstein, P.G. Marketing and Positioning Design. Deamer & Bernstein (eds.), Building (in) the Future: recasting labor in architecture. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010) : 190.

[6] Belz, A. Product Development. (McGraw-Hill, 2011) : 7–16.

[7] Salem, O. & Zimmer, E. (2005) Application of Lean Manufacturing Principles to Construction. Lean Construction Journal. Volume 2 #2 http://www.leanconstructionjournal.org. ISSN: 1555-1369

[8] Yu, H., Tweed, T., Al-Hussein, M., & Nasseri, R. (2009)  “Development of Lean Model for House Construction Using Value Stream Mapping.”  Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. American Society of Civil Engineers. Volume 135 No. 8, August 2009 : 782 – 790.

[9] Ballard, Glenn (2009). “TVD Update”, a presentation at the June, 2009 Lean Design Forum, St. Louis, MO. Available at www.leanconstructionorg/files

[10] Sobek, D.K, Ward, A.C. & Liker, J.K. (1999) “Toyota’s Principles of Set-Based

Concurrent Engineering.” Sloan Management Review, 40 (2) 67-83.

[11] Thomsen, C., Darrington, J., Dunne, D., & Lichtig, W. (2010a). Managing Integrated Project Delivery : 48 – 58. http://cmaanet.org/files/shared/ng_Integrated_Project_Delivery__11-19-09__2_.pdf Accessed December 2010.

[12] Belz, A. Product Development. (McGraw-Hill, 2011) : 44-54.

Posted: March 29th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Guests | Comments Off on Ryan Smith on moving from Service to Product Theory

Ed Friedrichs on “KM & TL”

Ed Friedrichs

By Ed Friedrichs, Chairman, ZweigWhite

So, what is this all about? Knowledge Management (developing a firm’s body of expert knowledge and making it accessible to the entire firm) and Thought Leadership (developing new and innovative ideas through research and application, then sharing these ideas in a way that improves the profession and the industries we serve); thus, KM and TL – probably the most important background work that should be taking place in any design firm. Three weeks ago, a KA Connect LinkedIn conversation posed the question, “How would you make a compelling case for knowledge management and thought leadership to an A/E/C company CEO?” After reading the first few citations a few weeks ago, I felt compelled to enter the blog dialogue (I feel like I’m finally entering the 21st century when I participate in a  conversation on a social network).

The conversation revolved around a concern that fee pressures and survival instincts were combining in firms to discourage or stop investment in KM and TL. “It’s all about billable hours,” resounded in the conversation, “who has time to invest in KM and TL? How can we convince our CEO to resume funding for this sort of thing and continuing education as well?” I was concerned about what I was hearing because I believe that successful firms create and sustain a culture of Knowledge Management and Thought Leadership despite economic conditions. In fact, KM and TL never work if directed or assigned. So, I chimed in, “If the CEO needs convincing, get rid of the CEO or join another firm.” Well that seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest so I kept adding to the dialogue.

Knowledge comes as a result of passions. You search out deep knowledge about something because you’re passionate about it. You connect yourself with others who share your passion. The proliferation of knowledge in a firm and access to it comes as a result of a culture in which people share their passions. When passions are broadly known in a firm, you know who to ask about what; who to talk to in order to gain knowledge about your problem, and to place your question in context.

Knowledge assets are not assembled. It’s not enough to build and rely on an elaborate electronic database of knowledge. What yields results is having the will and taking the time to build a culture that will use the electronic compilation to connect with the person who has the knowledge to facilitate (no, lubricate) that connectivity. The important thing is not spending the money, it’s building a culture of rich networks that share and collaborate.

Likewise, Thought Leadership is the outcome of a passionate commitment to a subject. People become thought leaders because they are constantly gathering knowledge about a subject that fascinates them so compellingly that they never stop gathering data and talking to people who are also deeply engaged. It’s not a matter of diverting effort from otherwise billable time. These are people who invent time to pursue their passions. Thought leaders just can’t help themselves. If someone thinks they have to ask for permission to spend time on something, they’re either not passionate enough or you have a very oppressive culture in your organization. Your culture, not your billable time policy, is what supports people’s passions, encouraging them, creating a platform (print, speaking engagements, membership in related organizations) for them to expose their thought leadership.

If no one in your organization is passionate enough about something to evolve into a thought leader, go out and find some passionate people (always my first question on an interview – what are you so passionate about that you’re always sneaking time from other obligations to work on?). And if your CEO doesn’t get this and is not a thought leader, see my advice in the second paragraph above.

If you have to pitch your CEO to resume your focus on TL and KM, why aren’t you the CEO? He or she has clearly lost their way. I don’t care how tough the market or the economy are, the CEO’s role, through thick and thin, good times and bad, remains the same:

  1. Lead client relationships – for sales, for referrals and for satisfaction
  2. Create an atmosphere where people want to work collaboratively with you and each other to do work that makes your clients successful
  3. Contract for services and manage their delivery in a way that generates profits
  4. Lead innovation through thought leadership and knowledge management
  5. Create a collaborative atmosphere with all stakeholders (contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, manufacturers, building officials, lenders, everyone) in order to bring the best and brightest resources and work effort to bear on your clients’ matters

. . . not necessarily in that order. But the CEO has to attend to it all to be worthy of carrying the mantle.

So what have I learned through participation in this conversation? From the number of responses that continued to share painful stories and concerns about their firms, there are some terribly repressed people and oppressive cultures out there. It let me know how deeply affecting this recession has been. At the same time, I’m working with companies and individuals who have held their course – CEOs who continue to lead and to support passions. I hope yours is or moves quickly toward being one of them.

About the Author

Ed Friedrichs graduated from Stanford University in 1965 and received his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He joined Gensler, Architecture Design and Planning Worldwide, in San Francisco in 1969, opening the firm’s Los Angeles office in 1976, was appointed President in 1995, leading its development as one of the most successful and influential design firms in the world.

Ed will be talking about the role of knowledge sharing in high-performance AEC organizations at KA Connect 2011.

Posted: March 21st, 2011 | Filed under: General, Guests | Comments Off on Ed Friedrichs on “KM & TL”

Bob Buday on How to Sell Your CEO on Knowledge Management and Thought Leadership

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By Robert Buday, President, Bloom Group LLC

Nice discussion!

Last month 14 KA Connect members weighed in on what emerged as a weighty issue:
how to convince an architecture /engineering /construction CEO that his firm needs knowledge management and thought leadership to thrive in the years ahead. But before summarizing what everyone said, let me explain why I agreed to Christopher Parsons’ request to write this guest post in the first place, because one could imagine the LinkedIn thread (now 62 comments long) being robust enough to stand on its own.

But I don’t think it is. If it’s a true microcosm of sentiments in the AEC industry, what it says to me is this: The AEC business needs a wake-up call. Now! And all of you on KA Connect need to be the ones who sound the alarm. It doesn’t seem like your CEOs are going to do it. You have to light the fuse or I doubt it will happen – until it may be too late.

So how do you light the fuse? As I stated in the thread, it comes down to playing to your CEO’s greed and fears. In what follows I will replay some of what we heard and tell you what I think it means for you as change agents in your firms (a role that you will see I’m saying you must play).

Selling KM and TL to a CEO on the basis of greed boils down to this: Demonstrate that his firm will make a lot more money if it develops services that provide uncommon levels of customer value. And such services, by definition, must be differentiated – i.e., they must offer unique insights and processes. To do this, Chris Parsons counseled us to share stories of how AEC firms like Cannon Design, WHR Architects, KieranTimberlake and Public Architecture created and marketed differentiated expertise (through books) to win business. As Amanda Walter reminded us, the ability to provide differentiated expertise requires you to have differentiated people. KM and TL “should also be sold to your executive as a major brand attribute,” one that can be used not only to lure clients but also entice new employees and induce existing talent to stay.

The fear part is this: Unless you want to see thousands of AEC jobs in North America soon shift to other parts of the world, your employers need to get serious about developing truly superior AEC services here staffed with people with highly differentiated skills. Realize that I am totally for jobs going wherever in the world it makes best sense to do them. I am not a protectionist. If a firm in Malaysia, India, Mexico, Egypt or another country can do the work of a professional firm for far less money and just as well (or well enough), the more power to that firm. It deserves the work.

The flight of AEC work is unavoidable, as Ed Friedrichs said. “Over time, particularly on projects of significant scale, [AEC firms] will move toward global or most efficient/cost effective sourcing of work and talent, just like the automobile or software industries.”

But if we want to make sure our country creates substantial job opportunities here in the AEC industry, firms in the sector will have to make service R&D investments that they aren’t used to making, and service R&D jobs that aren’t on their org charts today. And that isn’t just to create jobs but to create competitive advantage. As Ed Friedrichs told us, U.S. firms will soon be at risk to firms outside the U.S. that set up shop here and electronically send the “knowledge work” back home. As he mentioned, because American A&E firms several years ago set up production staff in these countries, many of the skills now exist there. “As people in [China, India and the Philippines] become increasingly skilled and knowledgeable about American design standards, technology and practices, and as design talent evolves ‘at home,’ we will see the emergence of Chinese, Indian and Philippine-based firms that can design as well as produce.” All they’ll lack to win business in the U.S., he said, is a local presence on the project. That’s the easy part. As Ed said, “They won’t need the Western brand and ‘Good Housekeeping Seal’ for much longer.”

So having a differentiated service – one that justifies a 20%, 50% or greater price premium – will become crucial. And that, in turn, will require AEC firms to ramp up “knowledge management.” (Note: I’m not sure “knowledge management” is the best term for this because it too often is regarded as a library function. What we’re talking about is AEC services R&D – creating innovative and superior ways of designing, engineering and constructing buildings.) As Mark Loomis pointed out, when times get tough, too many AEC firms gut R&D. But over the next 10 years, I believe this will create as big a risk as it has for high-tech firms in the last 20 years. (Apple almost went bankrupt when Steve Jobs wasn’t there to protect R&D spending.)

In addition to selling your CEOs on why your industry (like the automotive, chemical, high-technology, software, and countless other sectors before it) now needs to get serious about services R&D, you’ll need to explain why they need to invest in educating customers about why your firm has superior ways of designing, engineering and building buildings. That means investing in thought leadership marketing.

Now a big challenge with all of this is that AEC firms didn’t need KM and TL in the past. But I’ve seen this movie before – in the industry where my firm has largely provided thought leadership marketing services (consulting and IT services firms). The trend of off-shoring services that have become commodities has been in full swing for a decade in these two sectors, although to a much greater extent for IT services than the pure advice-giving consultants. Indian firms alone have taken $60 billion out of the $1.5 trillion market for IT and business process outsourcing services. Their share continues to increase, according to research firm Offshore Insights.

But maybe AEC firms are different, something on which Michelle Howard had a great point: Unlike management consulting firms, whose products are highly intangible (unless their advice wrecks your business), the products of AEC firms are not. You’ve built a building. That demonstrates your expertise. However, while I imagine one’s portfolio of buildings will continue to be a tool that influences the client’s decision, I also believe that when several firms all have impressive portfolios, the winner either wins on price or superior solution (which includes but goes far beyond the looks of the building). So on which basis do you want to win? If it’s price, I predict your firm won’t be around by 2020.

But whether or not you are for protectionism, I have to say that your (and my) opinions on this don’t matter. Only your customers’ opinions do. If your CEOs think customers won’t necessarily choose an offshore provider that can design and engineer (with comparable quality) a structure for half your fees, they are in for a rude surprise. If they respond to such off-shore competitors as the US automakers did to the Japanese car makers in the 1970s – i.e., belittling their quality – they are ripe for losing market share. And by the way, we should expect off-shore based AEC firms to catch up on quality, the way the Japanese automakers (and now Korean) have surpassed the U.S. manufacturers.

So if I was writing a book about the state of the professional services industry, my book proposal would start out something like this:

“Once upon a time, U.S. businesses like consulting, architecture, engineering, accounting and law firms had their markets to themselves. They could be sloppy and worry only about the competition in their geographies because the oceans were their moats. But the world has changed dramatically. Any profession whose work can be digitized and transmitted easily and inexpensively to another part of the world is competing now against the whole world.

“That dramatically changes the competitive equation. With IT and the Internet, no longer can AEC firms trade on clients who are ignorant of their options, competition that is local, prices that can’t be debated because clients have little choice (especially during construction booms), and making money on mediocrity. Those days are over.

“The AEC empires of the next 10 years will go to the firms that design, engineer and build much better office buildings, college campuses, parking garages, cafeterias, hospitals, factories, and other structures– just like the consulting and IT services empires went to firms that provided much better advice and far better software. Those that don’t have a superior offering will be competing on price – and losing to firms with major cost advantages.”

So will your CEO enjoy reading that book? I bet not. And this is where all of you come in – people who I sense are largely not at the top of your firms but are trying to get the folks at the top to recognize the value of leveraging the firm’s knowledge assets.

You need to start telling a compelling story to your CEOs. It starts with the need for competing on the basis of having superior services. It then is about how winning on the basis of innovative services requires collecting the experiences of the people who today do something very well (in your company and others), looking for practices in other industries that can be transferred to yours, seeing the patterns that lead to success, and formalizing processes that have not been codified. Then through methodology development and internal training and development, many other professionals in a firm can begin to gain those skills and practices.

That is the work of knowledge management. As Alan Mays said, that is a far cry from days when an AE firm’s knowledge database was what was in the heads of its chief draftsman and (later) the QC department.

The work of thought leadership marketing, then, is to let the world know about those new, superior skills. That, as Jeffery Lynch said, will require AEC subject experts to make the time to explain the superior services they develop. Conversely, as John Doehring said, it will require the AEC chief marketing officer to be “the prophet and evangelist in a city of unbelievers.”

Winston Churchill once had his own label for these types of people. He called them fanatics. “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Given that the executives atop AEC firms are not there yet, my short-term recommendation is that those of you who head up knowledge management and marketing need to become Churchill’s fanatics. I wish you all the best and remind you (as Churchill did with our relatives in the 1940s) to never give up.

About the Author

Bob Buday co-founded The Bloom Group in 1998.  Since then, he has worked with numerous professional services firms on thought leadership content development, marketing strategy and marketing programs.  He has helped his clients publish six Harvard Business Review articles since 2002 (see some of them here), and has published two of his own HBR articles, "A Consultant’s Comeuppance"  (February 2003) and "Marketing Breakthrough Products" (with Tom Waite and Allan Cohen, in 1999). 

Prior to The Bloom Group, Bob for 10 years was director of marketing at CSC Index, a management consulting based in Cambridge, Mass., that caught the attention of executives worldwide with the concepts of business reengineering and the value disciplines. Bob played a leading role in making reengineering a household word, directing Index’s extensive publications, PR, and survey research activities.

Posted: March 10th, 2011 | Filed under: General, Guests | Comments Off on Bob Buday on How to Sell Your CEO on Knowledge Management and Thought Leadership

Nancy Kleppel’s Social Media Experiment

NK

Today, I come to the Knowledge Architecture blog to start a discussion about a big elephant in the corner of the room for many design firms: how to engage social media and leverage its value as a component of firm outreach. As a marketing, business development and communications consultant to the industry, I have recently heard a lot more from clients asking about social media, how much attention should they be paying, what should they do? To-date I have suggested a watch and wait strategy. Now I am ready to jump into the fray.

Over the past few years I have been heavily involved in presenting clients’ work for media coverage. To date we have primarily approached different media outlets and asked to be included in their web and print publications. While we have achieved success approaching established media outlets and will likely continue on, I recently proposed trying something a little different. Starting with one client, I proposed we develop a secondary approach in parallel, taking the same well-developed information we have been creating for media gatekeepers and finding appropriate venues where we do not have to wait for an invitation. In this way we are approaching our communications efforts as thought leaders, using social media to find and reach out to an interested audience who have already indicated a curiosity about our ideas. We will begin a proactive and hopefully productive conversation giving people information they can use, thus becoming engaged with them in a meaningful way. Using Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology in The Tipping Point, if we think of social media as more of a place for connectors than mavens, it is a great way to SHARE information.

Our next task becomes defining who we want to share it with and putting it out there for them.

While we all love to see our work in journals that we, and our professional peers read, our clients aren’t reading them. Architects (and other design industry professionals) need to fish for clients where the clients are already swimming. With the unrestricted access that social media provides, we are all living on oceanfront real estate with a sea full of fish in front of us. We just need to find the right bait and where the fish are biting and then drop our lines. To belabor the metaphor just a bit, it is time to stop fishing in cornfields.

Thus begins an experiment. Starting in March, I am beginning a social media outreach project with an enthusiastic client. The firm is midsize and mature, in business for 26 years, run by the original partners who started their design careers with traditional tools and came to digital technology somewhat later in the game. All staff will be asked to participate. We will develop information as we always have. What’s new? We will educate ourselves as to opportunities to reach out to potential clients more directly, research where to find them and present ourselves as thought leaders, offering our expertise and the things about which the designers are passionate for meaningful two-way discussion. We are not planning on reinventing the wheel. To start, we will look for existing venues in which we can participate rather than take on the larger task of creating our own audience. We will go to the audiences that already exist.

This isn’t rocket science. Using our past experience as a guide we will figure it out with our objectives becoming more sophisticated and strategic as we go along. Hopefully there will be milestones to track and interesting information to share.


About the Author

Nancy Kleppel, Principal, Nancy Kleppel Consulting, has pursued a career in architecture for over 25 years. Beginning in the office of William Rawn Associates, she went on to a professional architectural education at Harvard University’s GSD and spent several years in practice. For the past fifteen years she has been directly engaged in the essential issues that drive firm growth and success. In 2003, she founded a consulting practice, providing integrated strategic marketing, business development and communications services to a broad mix of clients in design, architecture, engineering and the arts. Nancy has worked with firms of all sizes, advising them on a wide range of tactical and strategic initiatives and has a substantial record of helping her clients to grow their firms and secure lucrative commissions.

Posted: March 4th, 2011 | Filed under: Guests | 1 Comment »

Promoting Two-Way Mentoring to Use BIM Effectively

  Melissa Lassor John Pocorobba

The world is changing

The A/E industry, like so many others, is hurtling towards a convergence point. The rapid rise of technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM), instant communication, the rate of innovation and obsolescence, and the widening gap between Baby Boomers and successive generations are placing unprecedented demands on businesses and individuals to work faster and smarter. In the next five years, fifty percent of managers will retire, taking their experience with them. The college graduates who replace them expect to spend only 16 months in a job before moving on. Yet only 27 percent of businesses are actively transferring knowledge. What can we do to leverage the power of the changing world, instead of just keeping up or falling behind?

Intergenerational communication

With increasingly less time to pass on or develop knowledge, businesses need to address the differences in the ways Baby Boomers and Millennials think, work (think about work), and interact. Traditional talent development models like top-down mentoring and lengthy career trajectories don’t make bottom-line sense when information increases at an exponential rate and few employees stay in the same job for more than two years. Understanding and incorporating Millennials is critical to sustaining business viability: this generation will soon constitute the majority of our clients.

Two dominant and distinct work populations will emerge in the next decade: the young lions, technologically savvy, culturally diverse multi-taskers with a decidedly non-traditional work agenda; and the owls, whose deep experience and traditional work values and ethics have ruled the workplace… until now. Young lions are native children of the digital age. Owls, however committed to learning new skills, are immigrants from an analog world. The challenge is to forge a work culture [paradigm] where digital natives and digital immigrants learn from each other.

Two-way mentoring

Traditional mentoring models assume a one-way knowledge flow. Older, more experienced workers share expertise on a project-by-project basis with younger workers who eagerly soak up the information. This model minimizes its effectiveness by assuming that experience gained slowly over time is the only intellectual asset worth transferring and by devaluing fluency in emerging technologies that are changing the way we design, collaborate, and deliver projects.

Two-way or up-and-down mentoring captures both kinds of knowledge. Experienced staffers share acumen with top young talent, who in turn share their fluency in BIM and the collaborative technologies that support Integrated Project Delivery. It’s a win-win for everyone. As hierarchies give way to collaborative teams, employees feel freer to share what they know and to test the potential of new ways of thinking and designing. Employers more quickly develop human capital and grow intellectual capital. And clients enjoy the best of both worlds: the expertise that comes with years of experience; and the innovation of enthusiastic young digital agers.

Speeding knowledge transfer

Once upon a time, “go with the flow” implied taking a laid-back approach, but that’s not the case in our 24/7 world. Our culture has become one of instant gratification and fast results. Clients are demanding faster delivery; young Lions expect more challenging and creative career paths; and Owls need their teams to get up to speed now. A/E firms need to swap the “trickle-down effect” of traditional, one-on-one mentoring (which, by the way, was never all that effective) for something more like the rush of a fire hose. We need to transform knowledge transfer to accommodate—and anticipate—the insatiable appetite for “more, better, faster” or be left behind. One way to speed things up is to involve more people working at greater intensity, so that knowledge—like traffic on a superhighway—can flow faster and in both directions. That was the thinking behind EYP’s creation of two innovative talent development programs: A16 and E10.

A16 and E10

Appropriate for a firm with a large client base in higher education, EYP is a culture that celebrates inquiry and discovery. To create a more effective and collaborative work/learn experience, we brought senior and junior staff together, literally and virtually, for an intense group experience. A16 assembled 16 of our best and brightest young architects for 16 weeks and 16 learning modules. E10 was the corresponding program for our engineers. The cross-office program included class time, field visits, one-on-one mentoring, leadership training, and collaborative group activities. Our “Huddle,” driven by LifeSize high-definition video and audio systems, supported a dynamic remote collaboration. Not only did this technology enable us to offer the most complete course, this method of collaboration mirrors how our teams work across offices every day. The highly successful launch of A16 and E10 yielded powerful results:

    1. Stronger relationships between senior and junior staff

    2. Better engagement-feedback loop

    3. Formal and informal mentoring that works

The programs also challenged millennial perceptions about expertise and the workplace, resulting in better communications across project teams. Best of all, A16 and E10 have created demand for more opportunities to work/learn together… in AE16, which launches in 2011!

Just do it

Global, industry, and cultural trends are having a greater impact than ever on our business. Don’t be caught off guard: be aware! Know your culture; study the trends; and understand where your business (really) stands. Knowledge transfer is not automatic; it takes the personal commitment and time of leadership and staff on all levels. Assess where you are, where you want and/or need to go, and start drawing up a game plan to get you there. Most importantly, start now! The future is already here.

About the authors

Melissa Lassor, SPHR, is Director of Human Resources at EYP, providing firm-wide operational and strategic leadership across the full spectrum of HR issues. A certified Executive Coach, she has particular expertise in leading strategic initiatives including organizational change and development.

John Pocorobba, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is Chief Operations Officer at EYP and a nationally recognized expert on Building Information Modeling. He is responsible for operations and project profitability and leads the firm’s Venture Team.

John will be talking about A16 program and two-way mentoring at KA Connect 2011.

About the post

This guest post has been reprinted from the AIA Practice Management Winter Digest with the generous permission of the AIA Practice Management Knowledge Community. 

The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends.

Posted: February 22nd, 2011 | Filed under: General, Guests | Comments Off on Promoting Two-Way Mentoring to Use BIM Effectively

“We have no materials or expertise in our profession on how to collaborate.” Markku Allison on Collaboration at KA Connect 2010

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Over the last several years, Markku Allison has met with project teams, industry groups, and thought leaders to collect insights on the state of collaboration in our industry. Here’s his summary of where we stand:

“We have no material or expertise in our profession on how to collaborate.”

Markku’s work as the Resource Architect for the American Institute of Architects has been largely driven by our industry’s lack of shared vocabulary, best practices, and methodologies for collaboration. He has infiltrated the domains of Lean Construction, Bioteaming, and Complexity Theory in search of knowledge, and in “On Collaboration,” Markku’s KA Connect 2010 talk, he shared what he has learned so far.

So how do teams “collaborate, really collaborate?” Watch Markku’s talk to find out.

Posted: December 2nd, 2010 | Filed under: Guests | Comments Off on “We have no materials or expertise in our profession on how to collaborate.” Markku Allison on Collaboration at KA Connect 2010

Ed Friedrichs on The Secret to Accessing Expert Knowledge

Ed Friedrichs

Several years ago, I saw a film titled “Six Degrees of Separation,” an early Will Smith effort that got me thinking. If everyone is a maximum of six relationships away from any other person on the planet, why is it so difficult for someone to be able to find the person in the firm who has real expert knowledge on the subject I’m struggling with at this moment? After all, even then our firm was fairly large, full of people who knew lots of good stuff.

The film was based on a then little explored science known as “small world theory.” With a curiosity that is not easily sated, I found a great book on the subject titled Nexus, Small Worlds and the Ground-Breaking Theory of Networks by Mark Buchanan, that offered a lot of interesting theory about rich networks and how they work to shortcut access to people and information, but very little practical advice about how to get your own network up and running. I needed to build a culture in our firm that made expert knowledge readily accessible to anyone at any time. After all, no architect or engineer today can have enough up-to-the-minute best-in-the-world knowledge on every subject a client may ask about. And, “I think this is the answer . . . “ simply isn’t good enough.

In the shower one morning, I had an “aha” moment – if I have a true passion about a subject, something that fascinates me so much that I continue to learn about it without being directed to or financially rewarded for it, I am likely to know who the world-class experts on the subject are. So, all I need to do, is get connected to those experts quickly. Not such an easy task. I needed to build a culture of “two degrees of separation,” one in which I know a great number of people who are passionate about a lot of different subjects on which I’m likely to need just-in-time, latest and greatest knowledge about at a moment’s notice. In other words, if I know that you are an expert on under floor air delivery (a subject I became passionate about to both save energy and improve air quality after being deposed in a sick building syndrome lawsuit), I know who to call to find out who the world class experts are and reach out to them for an answer to my problem.

I began spreading this idea, asking people to share their personal passions – when someone new joined the firm, in all staff meetings, with articles written for our newsletter. When someone worked for a period of time in another office, we made it de rigueur for a group from that office to take the visitor to lunch or dinner, or just a beer after work and share what turned each other on – work related or personal (with all the risks that implies). We made it clear, that this was a reciprocal thing. If I want to access someone else’s knowledge, I better have something I can share in return.

The idea caught on; so successfully in fact that it became our cultural norm that when someone was called out of the blue by another member of the firm (even someone they didn’t know) they would take the time to listen and try to guide the other person to a solution.

Before long, we were constructing our first Intranet knowledge platform. It quickly became obvious that data, diagrams and facts are rarely helpful to the person making the inquiry. After all, their problem is unique and needs interpretation to adapt what is on the Intranet to their individual application. Only a person with expert knowledge can interpolate for the situation at hand. So, in the spirit of “two degrees of separation,” we put a name with a link to the person’s e-mail and phone number on each citation, figuring that someone inspired enough to post a page on a subject can take you through the options, help you solve your specific problem or get you to the expert who can. It was also important as the Intranet matured, that a name connected to a subject was updated with a new passionate expert if the person left the firm.

So, the solution to knowledge management is not technological, it’s cultural. True professionalism today requires building a closely connected network of world class, just-in-time expert knowledge, accessible to everyone in your enterprise. And you don’t need a large firm to accomplish this. You can reach out to peers, contractors, building officials and friends to build your “two degrees of separation” network. As quickly as our world is evolving, no lesser standard of excellence is acceptable to your clients.

Ed Friedrichs graduated from Stanford University in 1965 and received his Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He joined Gensler, Architecture Design and Planning Worldwide, in San Francisco in 1969, opening the firm’s Los Angeles office in 1976, was appointed President in 1995, leading its development as one of the most successful and influential design firms in the world.

Ed will be talking about the role of knowledge sharing in high-performance AEC organizations at KA Connect 2011.

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Filed under: Guests, Most Popular | 1 Comment »

Peter Braun’s Take on the Next Knowledge Economy

Thank you to Peter Braun, Vice President of Human Resources at HKS, Inc. for contributing this post.

braun

In the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organizations ability to learn faster than its competition”
– From the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge

We are entering into a new definition of wealth. It is not a wealth based primarily on land ownership or, as we are currently used to, on capital, but on knowledge. Just as the land ownership base of wealth gave way to the capital base, we are now entering the age of the knowledge-based economy. It could be argued that Architects are well suited because they are some of the original “knowledge workers” (as Peter Drucker phrased it). Their knowledge and artistic ability was their source of wealth. However, if their mental model of wealth creation remains anchored in the idea of personal knowledge and “expertise” they will miss the fundamental shift taking place. What is emerging today is a knowledge-based economy based on knowledge sharing.

Strategic partnerships that develop a core competency of knowledge sharing are pioneering the wealth of the future. The need to change our mental models of wealth creation will be necessary. There is a fundamental difference between the wealth of both land ownership and capital and that of knowledge. It is a simple difference, but quite profound.

If I own two acres of land and give you one, I lose and you gain. If we both own two acres and give each other one of our acres there is no gain. If I own $ 10,000 and give you $ 5,000, I lose and you gain. If we both own $ 10,000 and give each other $ 5,000 there is no gain. However, if I know something useful and share it with you, you gain, but I don’t lose. If we both know something useful and share it with each other, we BOTH gain. You may argue that there is a value to proprietary information that is lost if given away. However, I would ask if the value of your proprietary information is greater than the added value of each of us sharing such information in such a way as to create greater synergy of thinking and provide competitive advantage.

Research into why Toyota has been so uncommonly successful (despite some recent troubles they still sell more cars than anyone else) found that:

“Toyota’s ability to effectively create and manage network – level (several different firms) knowledge sharing processes at least partially explains the relative productivity advantages enjoyed by Toyota and its suppliers. Most importantly, production knowledge is viewed as the “property of the network”.

– Dyer, Jeffrey H. and Kentaro Nobeoka (2000). “Creating and Managing a High Performance Knowledge-Sharing Network: The Toyota Case.” Strategic Management Journal.

This insight into Toyota’s success is not unique to automobile manufacturing or even manufacturing companies in general because it reflects the changing source of wealth that all firms are a part of. In the emerging knowledge-based economy, the core capability of bridging the collective knowledge of partnerships, and doing so quickly, even at the “expense” of making this knowledge more openly available, will be a significant source of competitive advantage.

– “Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana.”
Bill Gates

Alvin Toffler has written a couple of great books about this shift in the source of wealth, “PowerShift” published in 1990 and “Revolutionary Wealth” published in 2006. Toffler says knowledge relationships are being transformed with respect to availability. Never before have we been able to instantly access virtually unlimited amounts of any kind of information for virtually zero cost. Unlike the foundations of past wealth revolutions, the knowledge economy defies traditional economics in that knowledge is not scarce; knowledge is infinite and it is the sharing of it (not the “ownership” of it) that will create wealth.

Architecture will need to grapple with and embrace this to move into effective 21st century practice. We have an opportunity to add value based on expertise and to effectively partner and share that knowledge. We have one foot in the scarcity economy and one foot in the knowledge creation economy, but we must move towards the latter. We must move past the economic model that the more we know (our “expertise”) is the basis of our being able to charge money for our services (scarcity model) and we must move into a knowledge sharing (building together) understanding of value creation. We must be able to demonstrate our ability to effectively partner with clients, contractors, consultants, and within our own firms in ways that inspire trust, build effective teams and generate shared knowledge that is the “property of the network”.

Posted: October 6th, 2010 | Filed under: Guests, Most Popular | Comments Off on Peter Braun’s Take on the Next Knowledge Economy