“Chicken Little” Has Left the Building

March 15, 2016

It has been one year and three months since I took on the task of understanding the technological shift that is underway in my chosen industry of some 45 years— Development, Design and Construction of Commercial and Industrial Buildings. As the Development Manager for the IMA Financial Center (North Wing) at Union Station (in Denver). I spent just over 7 years going through the typical development steps required on a five story, Class A office building, and for the most part, the skills required for the design were not profoundly different from those required on previous projects. We had a heightened sense of energy awareness, and we paid much more attention to sustainable design and construction. The construction sequence was typical and the trades required on site were also typical. We did get a “sneak peak” at the future with the Mechanical and Electrical systems, and I think those team members did a great job of keeping the team focused on emerging technology and construction practices.

In 2015, as we wrapped up the sale and post closing obligations of that project, it became very apparent that:

1- We had completed a multi- award winning project from the design, through the systems selections, to the energy use profile— in all of the technical areas of the project and there was much for the team to be proud of in the product. We also had completed a product for the investors that had good value in the market. As always- the result was a measure of a highly competent team and a dose of good luck


2- That any new project from that point forward would be very different in its design process and product; in its occupants and the manner in which they will work; in its interface to the automobile and other forms of transportation; in the way we would work with the City Planners and building department; in the process and procedures we would use in the construction; and how a buyer would value the finished product.

The easy step at that point would have been to sign on for a new building, and keep moving— learning as we went along. Mistakes are inevitable in the development business— but are also becoming much, much more costly, so that was not an acceptable alternative.

I chose to spend the time necessary to understand what was changing in my business and what the impact might be. The answer turned out to be quite simple— everything is changing- and very quickly.

a- Prospective tenants are re-examining what their work force will look like, and how they will work. What tools and systems they will need— in fact, will they really need a work force? Certainly not a permanent one.

b- The building will probably not need to have much parking. As driverless cars find their footing; as Uber, Lyft, car2go, GETT, Curb, Grab, Didi Kuaidiand, OLA and other companies enter the shared vehicle market and mature, there will be a declining need/ desire to own a personal vehicle.

c. The design of the building will need to adapt to these changes and more— and the design will need to flexible enough to change throughout its useful life— which should be 20 years or more. That requires a design team with a very current knowledge of materials, systems, construction procedures— all of the topics covered in the Posts over the past year and many many more issues. The design team will be a highly integrated design and delivery team— which will include Architects, Engineers, Subcontractors, General Contractors, systems manufacturers, and the investors and financial partners.

d. The construction process will be 24/7, will include materials and systems sourced worldwide and automation and robotics will be pervasive throughout the construction site and will change constantly. The overall delivery schedule will be shortened.

e. The contracts you use for the project will be very different as you integrate more prefabricated systems. Your contracts will be computer generated, very complete and very comprehensive. Your attorney(s) will require less time in generating project contracts/ subcontracts— and the terms will continually change.

f. The financial procedures you use will not include a sixty day delay in payment of material suppliers and subs as you process complicated pay applications and status surveys. 2-10, net 30 will be the norm. That is a commonly used term in other industries meaning 2% discount if the bills are paid in 10 days, and the full amount is due in 30 days. The process of managing funds flow will be the most challenging to integrate into your project delivery.

g. Your tenant/ owner will be changing their requirements throughout the design and construction process as their markets go through changes- which means you won’t have a choice but to accommodate those changes if you want to fill your building.

None of the above is speculative; it is well underway right now; and the speed of the change has increased dramatically just over the last one year and 3 months.

Moving Forward

So let’s consider “Chicken Little” has retired and we are dealing with real, ongoing, complicated challenges. The value in these Posts from here forward will come from providing examples of what others are doing- real time- to meet these wide ranging challenges. Our first step is in defining the talent (aka team) we will need to manage this continuously changing project environment. What skills will they need and where will we find these folks— much less — how will we ensure they have the skills and tools they will need?

“Humans are Underrated” is a book by Geoff Colvin, that begins to frame the transition underway from jobs that are easily automated (for example, the author considers many of the tasks currently completed by Lawyers are being easily automated) to jobs that rely on the attributes that make us all human.

In the years I have been in Development, Design and Construction it has been very typical to view the construction site (and the design process) in a manner similar to a military operation with a defined chain of command and specific tasks and duties assigned to specific team members. Sound familiar?

Well the military is changing in much the same manner as our development team must change. Here is what the author found with the military;

“NEW INSIGHTS INTO TEAM SUCCESS On the military’s long journey through its training revolution, one of its most important discoveries was the power of the new concepts in training not just individuals but also groups. Extremely realistic simulation-based training certainly turbocharged the proficiency of individuals, and it did something else: It made each person much more confident in the abilities of his or her teammates and in the abilities of the team; members would quickly develop signals, routines, understandings that multiplied their efficiency and effectiveness. The result was the overall confidence that McMaster (a strategy expert) cited as the most important factor in his team’s success. More than ever, work today gets done in teams, and every team is a social unit. The quality of its social interactions—intrateam and interteam—determines its success or failure. It may seem unlikely that there could be any new learning about what makes groups effective, but there is, and it bears looking at for insight into the high-value work of the coming economy.”

In short— we will need to focus first on making the project teams more effective. That would suggest the Project Director/Manager must have some very different skills than they have today. In defining the skill sets we will need to nurture as our project leadership, Colvin provides the following thought:

“The new high-value skills are instead part of our deepest nature, the abilities that literally define us as humans: sensing the thoughts and feelings of others, working productively in groups, building relationships, solving problems together, expressing ourselves with greater power than logic can ever achieve. These are fundamentally different types of skills than those the economy has valued most highly in the past. And unlike some previous revolutions in what the economy values, this one holds the promise of making our work lives not only rewarding financially, but also richer and more satisfying emotionally.”

Leadership is the right place to begin as we define the requirements of development projects from here forward. This a very different mix than we have seen to date. The Project Manager of our recent past “took names and kicked butts”. That project manager will need to be retrained or replaced— The manager of development projects from here forward will need to be very different, and we will be looking at specific examples

Closing with a final thought from the US Military as they go through their amazing change, and embrace the most complicated team process we have in our world today.

“The more that commanders thought about it, the more they appreciated that regard for deep human factors was transforming the very nature of what they did. Modern warfare is conducted in five domains—land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace—but now, Flynn recalls, “some people even wanted to create a separate domain called the human domain.”

This is a great beginning as we retire Chicken Little and embrace the most amazing shift in our business and personal lives.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply