Thursday, August 16, 2007

Technology - Fear = Really Cool Fun

Ok, so I've had my new work car for about two weeks now. This morning, the voice in my car (on-star) reminded me that I haven't activated it. I told myself I hadn't done this because I know I wouldn't renew the on-star after the two-month trial. After my trip to work, I realized it may have been fear that kept me from doing it. Anyway, while driving to work my car collected my personal information, offered me a discount for 100 minutes of pre-paid calling for $17.00 good for a year, I paid with my debit card, and then was reminded that I could use restaurant reservations and turn-by-turn directions. I politely said thank you, since it was a real person in Toronto, Canada that I was talking to, and then good bye. I then Called my wife by simply saying her number out loud, and told her I was going to get turn-by turn directions to work. I flipped the manual out, page 12, and started the process. (yes, don't tell my auto insurance agent I was reading while driving). I gave my address to a real person who then directed the car how to get where I wanted to go. The directions were perfect, every step of the way, including my "deviation" from their suggested route since the 35W bridge failure has caused even me to change routes to work. Having overcome this technology fear, I decided to test the system. I plugged in my i-pod (thanks SMF!) and listened to the architectural pod-casts that I had just downloaded the other day. This particular pod-cast happened to be the utilization of BIM (Building Information Modeling) software on large collaborative projects. More technology (BIM from i-net), on technology (i-pod), interupted by technology (turn-by-turn)! So I figure one final step....I just purchased a digital recorder a month ago, and figured why not document this blog into the digital dictaphone. My software can then type-it all up. Just as I started to record, two problems became evident. Human interruption (Dina called on my real cell phone to check on the on-star workings), and lack of time (my arrival at work). I hope to find the time soon to implement the voice to text trial-software I had downloaded for just such an occasion soon. Before I want to dictate another blog. I suppose, I could just dictate it, and post the voice-file.......but I'm a little afraid of discovering that technology...

No overt moral, other than I really enjoy testing and playing w/ these new technologies, and if I want to fully integrate them into my life, I will have to make the time, uninterrupted, to set up my system.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Agenda Goal Met & Client Trust via Champion

Regarding my last blog - Agenda, I did get my haircut in-time! All eight points of the agenda were presented, discussed and decided. However, I did receive considerable assistance from one building committee member. His actions shocked others, but to me it seemed a very practical offering.

Getting to know your Client:

I had ordered a complete survey for a Church project (Shop Local - Anderson Land Surveying of Cambridge, MN) . There seemed to be some missing information from the preliminary survey. Where did all the waste water and "poop" go? Nothing was on this first draft. The surveyor told me there were no visible signs of manhole covers, or connections to existing structures from the building. The city also didn't have drawings, but did indicate that the building is served by one particular manhole. After another trip to the site, the surveyor reconfirmed that there are no connections from the building. I suggested we televise the sewer line to find out where it all the "stuff" was flowing to. This investigation would cost an additional $600. A relatively small fee to avoid a potential $10,000 additional cost, and permit design of the addition to proceed.

Back to the point. This one committee member, after listening to the worries and concerns over this necessary expense stated "Look, if the church leaders later decides that this was not a legitimate expense, I'll write a personal check. Let's move onto the next issue."

It was great. Because this one member stepped up to the plate, we were able to discover that the building was still served by an original septic system. No one at the church was aware of this, it got them thinking "We never did receive a bill from the city for sewer service."

Getting the trust of your clients is often time consuming, but when something like this happens, and one person trusts you enough to take step one with you, that step can re-affirm your position as the expert. Hopefully from this point forward the entire client team will trust me enough to permit the building project to proceed on the most efficient route possible.

A champion on the other side of the table is sometimes all that is needed.

In an slightly related topic. Why do I pay to have my septic tank pumped every three years, when this system went 37 years without service?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Agenda 0-60

Here is my dilemma: I have 8 items on an agenda I just created for a meeting with my client-committee that starts at 6:00 tonight. I have to leave by 7:00 or I miss my already once rescheduled haircut.

I believe that each item must be addressed sequentially, or the meeting stops. e.g. if they no progress has been made on the part of the Owner to obtain the required builder's risk insurance then there is no sense in sending a letter of intent to the contractor to get his crew mobilized. No big deal right . . . but there are 8 such items.

Each item on my list is likely at the very top of someone else's agenda that they will likely be unable to get out of their head until it is addressed. Everyone else at the meeting is the "client".

I plan to start the meeting immediately, announce that I have 8 items, that each item is important and must be addressed, and that I have to leave in exactly 60 minutes, so I would really like their help to move the agenda forward as quickly as possible.

By establishing a goal, and by putting them in a position of partial responsibility, my hope is that they will stay alert, make quick decisions, and share input in as brief a way as possible.

We'll see what happens. As some of you know some Baptist Pastors, and church committee volunteers can sometimes be a little well . . . . tangential seems to be P.C. enough.

Any bets?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Experts .... ha

So I just attended an extremely timely and informative seminar about the very recently revised (July 10th!) Minnesota Accessibility/Building Code.

The individual giving the lecture is so far above the "expert" level that I cannot believe that he has been working for the state for at least 10 years (The last time I attended a seminar by the same guy). What makes him an expert in accessibility can be debated, the least of all reasons is because he is wheelchair bound.

I am sorry that he is in a wheelchair, but since his demeanor, knowledge, speaking skills, technical knowledge and general desire to help others I am sort of glad that his life includes that disability. Because of his interests, aptitude, life situation and ultimate expertise, we in the room are all able to personally ask this "government bureaucrat" questions on how to not only meet the code minimum requirements, but what is the rational behind the rule, and we usually get a volunteered personal answer that helps us understand his (disabled) perspective. As opposed to his (code official) perspective.

For instance: If a pool needs two accessible entrances (yes I now know the threshold when two are required over one, We have two solutions: a lift or a ramp. I raised my hand, and asked "Which is the preferred method?"

His answer was very specific, to the point and unguarded. All 150 of us laughed in unison at his response: "My personal preference is for the lift, because I'll be damned if I'm taking my personal wheelchair into the water, and there is never a crappy around that I can use to get into the pool." (chlorine bleaches the plastic and vinyl, water rusts out the rest)

I hadn't even considered this answer. Unfortunately, this spawned a dozen other inane questions, such as "Doesn't the metal on your wheelchair get too hot in the sauna to let you get back out?" and "So how do you get onto the toilet?" Sorry for that Curt.

Anyway - His expertise in his job is so specific that he cannot fully answer other, non-accessibility, code questions. Luckily Minnesota has another expert in general code (Hi Jerry!) that we architects rely on during the course of designing and building projects.

I, and generally all other architects, have been trained in, and truly aspire to be "generalists". While I/we excel at knowing a little bit about many things, the "expert" excels at knowing everything about one thing.

Luckily there are scheduled points in time when paths can cross. All of us generalists took to work our tiny bit of knowledge on this topic (or at least his contact info). I wonder what the expert takes from the exchange....other than another dose of contempt for us know-it-all architects.

Any experts out there working with generalists....what's in it for you?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Letter of Recommendation

So I just wrote my third ever letter of recommendation for a departing staff member.

It occurred to me while writing and re-reading it that I should create a letter of recommendation for each of my current team members that I would like to remain longer.

I have had excellent feedback from employees and co-workers in the past when I created individual letters of thanks and praise for their contributions to the project. I even shared these letters with the higher-ups. But this sharing, and veiled plea for feedback to me or others was promptly “filed.”

Perhaps I should write myself a letter of recommendation, or better yet ask others to write me a letter of recommendation. I am curious, but fearful, to see how I am perceived by others. I claim to like constructive criticism, I certainly seem willing to dole it out, but how gracious am I at accepting it?

I have recently received this requested direct feedback from one brave co-worker who offered up the following ideas for me to improve myself as a project manager and leader.

1 - Visible Frustration. The leader should be, or appear to be, always calm and in control. If the Leader gives-up, team morale is dead. (After repeated attempts to keep my personal frustrations contained, it seems I still need to find a person, place or thing to assist me in my venting)

2 - Time Management. Too many things on my plate kept me from taking the time to prioritize and think about what has to be done today. (I have read a book, and incorporated the system, of task management within Outlook ~ thus far it has proven a valuable tool)

3 – Frantic Work. Take the time to clearly communicate the problem that needs to be solved, and the resources, information, or methods available to solve it. (no real progress on this yet, except to breath, and download the “Ohhhmmm” symbol as the centerpiece to my computer background.)

4 – To Many Balls in the Air: This is also related to the “calm and in control” Item. I blame my mother for this one, she remains ever frantic! (I have only recently, the last few years, been able to say no to many people. What I to start working on is the ability to say “later”. When taking on another task, I need to budget realistic amount of time for that item. I have done this with a new Church Project in Coon Rapids, and I enjoy the sense of calm I have by having allowed enough time)

5 – Slow Responses: When staff or consultants ask for information or decisions, my responses have been slow in coming, or never evident. (I believe that if I take time, everyday to prioritize and think-through a problem, I will see that my response is a critical hurdle in the work of others, and I need to stay in front of them. I am typically a fairly quick decision maker, but not as decisive as I should be. There is an opposite extreme in making decisions too flippantly, and as a planner I believe you should at least consider all major aspects of a problem before throwing a solution at it)

6 – Speed Drafting / Delegation: When I discover something that has to get fixed, I tend to just crawl into the AutoCAD file and fix it myself. Because I have not been “drafting” as often as I used to, I am not as clean or careful in my drafting methods. (What I need to do is continue to delegate, even in the face of a high-pressure deadline, to the most appropriate staff)

7 – Overlapping Assignments: Too many people have there fingers in the floor plans. (I need to find a way to minimize instructions directly to my team from the higher-ups. When I first discovered these dueling instructions, I chatted with the Senior Partner, and suggested that he relay any revisions through me, so I could communicate with all the right staff. This quickly faltered, and going back to item number 1 above, I gave up and grumbled)

8 – No last minute changes: These changes tend not to be fully integrated into the construction documents, creating confusion for bidders and builders, and again, more frantic. (I did negotiate for an extra week of “quality control” to review the entire set, however this “extra” week was utilized by all to simply get the project done. Go back to number 2 – allow enough time for the project. Kind of stuck on this one, by the time I was assigned to this project, I was told I was three (3) months behind…..I should have asked for three months, not one week!)

9 – Use Office Standards: Near the end of the project, I “invented” some new numbering systems for the room finish schedule. (While they made sense to me, and after being explained, made sense to our staff, I should have taken the time to use the old system, and suggested this new, and actually improved, system of numbering – see number 8 above)

10 – Over Delegation: Some staff perceived my delegation of higher level design, coordination and decisions making tasks to them as “pawning off work” (while there was way too much for me to do, the problem was that there was not enough experienced, capable staff, to delegate these upper level tasks. Hopefully that has been solved by my hiring of three more experienced staff, and borrowing of two others – TBD)

11 – Missing Staff: There was not one person who took responsibility for the Design of this building (I have always maintained that I am a project manager, not a designer. The problem is that if a designer is not present, I have to step up and do my best. Another problem was the poorly executed effort to get younger staff to be engaged, and contribute their design ideas at the beginning and middle of the project. Overruling during brainstorming sessions is not useful, and I tried to guide the process by encouraging positive responses from above, not “that will never work”)

12 – Meeting content: weekly project meetings must be regular, and brief, and only contain information useful to all. (at first I disagreed, but then I realized that these project meetings could just be what’s new, what changed, what’s wrong – and I could do individual goal setting and feedback without clogging up the project meeting.)

13 – The Whole: I need to review and redline not only the plan and sections, but every part of the project together as a whole. (To my defense, this is the largest project, for the largest client, and part of the largest bond referendum this firm has ever done. It is huge. But the real problem was that I didn’t take ownership of the design of the project, only the management)

14 – Inclusion: If this staff member has been asked prior to the utilization of an outside drafting service and an outside drafter, his answer would have been a definitive “don’t do it”. But I never asked. (He is completely correct, and I have been trying ever since hearing this to include people at all levels to contribute their ideas from their vantage point – input is good)

Why am I blogging the above knowing that nobody will read it, nor benefit from it? I’ve already discovered that “blogging” is more for the Blogger than the Blogee. I feel obligated to work out ideas more clearly and thoroughly since they will be posted to the “world.” Perhaps the fear of free thinking or free sharing can be overcome……you know, unless I get some negative feedback or something.

I wonder if I will ever tell anyone about this Blogspot of mine?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Keeping up with the Jones' - Bad Adaptation, bad boy.

So... the never ending chain of technological breakthroughs have reached the point in time where it is now extremely (too?) easy, for those who deem themselves worthy, to share their thoughts with the world. While it may be valuable for some to share, it is less likely valuable for those who read. Personally I am going to use this blog simply as a sounding board, and practice, for future, more traditional, writings. Welcome.

If you are seeking the meaning of life (or computations) you can check out the "younger brother's" comments at However, if you would like to explore further the black-box-output of a right sided Fredlund's brain...stick around. Comments always welcome.

Content: Isn't it unfortunate that the human race can adapt to almost any situation? While we have the capability to alter our surroundings in any way imaginable - we don't. How many of you are, right now, reading this white on black-background posting, with an intensely light colored wall, or worse (like me) a bright window behind the screen? Why did I place this monitor here, instead of on the other corner of the desk? Habit? Fear of the IT staff? I've always had it here? I dunno?

I believe it is because our bodies have so quickly adapted without benefit of thought. Take the time to realize where you are sitting, what you are doing, and what in your environment you could change that would make every day after this one more comfortable, productive, enjoyable, etc. Right now, do something as simple as moving one item, shutting the blinds, painting a wall, removing one item, cleaning off the clutter. There, that is one room. Now be aware of your surroundings at all time. What can you modify for your benefit, and the benefit of everyone else who may be in that setting in the future?

My tired, contact laden, eyes are already enjoying a break. By writing this blog, I became aware of my environment, and altered it by lowering the blinds. Not only do we allow our bodies to adapt to a bad situation, we encourage it by taking headache pills! Improve the world, don't adapt.

Now what to do about that pesky highway just outside my window?