Monday, February 21, 2011

Um...Architect Barbie?

Architect Barbie

By now, I'm sure many if not all of you have seen Mattel's new "Architect Barbie", the latest role model in the "I Can Be..." series from the Barbie brand, developed in conjunction with the AIA. I greet this new doll with mixed feelings. To be fair, I had Barbies growing up, but I never thought that I should be thin, tall, and busty like Barbie. My sister and I mostly enjoyed taking our Barbies outside and throw them in the air, trying to hit the high-tension power lines that ran over a corner of our front yard. Which probably explains a lot about me now...but I digress. I'm annoyed because I, like many of my architect colleagues who have seen this photo, immediately zoomed in on how site-visit-inappropriate her outfit is. I do appreciate the fact that they included a real-looking hard hat, and I'm highly-amused by the nerdcore glasses perched on her elegantly-coiffed head. However, you really want to cover your legs on a jobsite, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to wear those boots either (they're liable to get scuffed up or damaged on a jobsite, unless maybe it was an interior renovation project...but again I digress). I'm annoyed at the pink drawing tube, as well. Look, I was goobery enough to wear a Huey Lewis t-shirt in a non-ironic way in college and grad school, but I'm betting that any woman architect would probably not want to tote around a hot pink drawing tube. Why? Because I'm not seven years old, and besides, I don't need something to re-emphasize that I'm a girl to my (mostly male) contractors.

But of course, this doll wasn't made for me, it was in fact made for seven-year-old girls. And perhaps by seeing this, the thought might cross some young girl's mind that she can be an architect just as easily as she could be anything else when she grew up. And I, like my colleagues, are examining Barbie's outfit so closely only because we don't have any of her work to scrutinize. Other comments from my colleagues upon seeing Architect Barbie:

So what do y'all think about Architect Barbie? Approved? Approved with Revisions? Revise and Resubmit?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How can you deal with negative feedback?

A recent article over at All Things Workplace reminded me about the importance of negative feedback at work. Blogger Steve Roesler points out that negative feedback is necessary, especially when someone has high potential to do really well and move up in a company. It's been my experience with many managers that no one likes to give criticism, even if it's constructive. However, I wager that many interns have bosses who have zero problem flipping you off verbally and taking the criticism from useful to hurtful.

One of the best books I've ever read about communication skills stated that criticism comes in only three flavors: true, partly true, and not true. If someone criticizes you and it's true, then you can just say, "Yeah, you're right, I botched that--here's how I plan to fix it/I'm not sure how to fix it, do you have any ideas?" If the criticism is partly true, you can say, "Well, I can see how you might see it that way, but to me I really only messed up that first half/got better at returning RFIs after the XYZ proposal went out." When you believe the criticism to be untrue or even really imprecise, ask for specifics on when exactly you've messed something up terribly or been rude to a client, etc.

When I used to do improv comedy, our group leader set up two rules and only two rules: Say "yes, and..." and don't argue. Arguing doesn't move a scene forward in comedy, and it doesn't move a performance review or project forward either. Asking for specifics on negative feedback is the best response because it moves things forward: what exactly didn't you like about the way I put this set together, what concerned you about that email I wrote, what is it about my performance here at ABC Architects that you find to just be 'adequate'?, in what specific ways do you think I can improve my writing/detailing/designing/whatever? If you get a stone wall on these requests, it's important to frame your request in terms of the job yet again: "I'd like to improve my skills in X so that I can get these projects done better/faster/to a higher quality, but I'm not sure how to do that without a specific target to aim at. Can you help me narrow down what I need to do to improve?"

By pursuing the solution to negative feedback instead of being defensive or clamming up and shutting down, you can actually use the criticism as a chance to improve. (However, if your boss is unable to be specific after some pushing for those specifics, you may figure out that he or she has bigger problems than you can solve. Maybe he or she just doesn't like you, or the problem s/he described isn't really the problem, or s/he is a terrible communicator and you may never know what the problem is. Every now and then, you meet a person like this, and they just happen to be your boss. Take a deep breath and try not to take it personally.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Insinuating yourself into the (design) conversation

I wrote last week about my intern who had to keep his multiple managers informed because he was working on multiple projects, each with varying deadlines and varying levels of urgency. I've been concerned about this beleaguered young man because he is having to deal with so many bosses and so many demands right now. I've noticed that some of the redlines I've given him aren't fully getting picked up. Some of that may be due to the lack of time due to all his other deadlines. But some of it, I realized recently, may be because he doesn't fully understand this project. And while as his manager, it's up to me to make sure he understands it, it may be sometimes up to you to ask for that extra level of understanding if you're not getting it from you manager.

This is a healthcare project, which my intern has never done before. He has never had to arrange reading rooms in relation to modality rooms for a radiology suite, nor has he likely ever heard the word "modality" (unless it's in a Kenneth Frampton theory book somewhere, but I can't read Frampton--he's like Valium on paper to me). This intern has never listened to the user groups talk about the floor plans and how they do their procedures, what is the flow of staff through the department versus the flow of patients, the importance of separating clean and dirty instruments and linens and how they achieve that, and so on. It's a lot to take in, and it's hard to understand all the dynamics involved without literally sitting in that meeting and being there. I wager that some, if not many interns don't get the honor/joy/benefit of attending a user group or client meeting in which these conversations take place, and it's really to an intern's detriment. Hearing the discussions, watching people's faces and hearing their tones of voice as they discuss the layout of their building or portion of it, watching the users move the same room to three different places in the building over the course of twenty minutes...those are very telling conversations that explain not just the final lines you see on a plan, but how the user groups and the architect at the meeting got there.

If you haven't been invited to join a user group or client meeting on your project, you might just have to invite yourself. When you find yourself working on redlines and doing research for a project for the long haul, ask about joining in on one or more of the user group meetings during the early design phases. If your boss vacillates ("well...we really you need back here getting the drawings done, etc."), frame your contribution as a benefit to the project (which it is). First off, by meeting the players in person, they can attach a face to a name in their email inbox when you send them drawings or other information. Second, you can better understand the thought process behind the redlines you're having to draw into CAD or Revit or whatever software you use, and understanding that process can help you solve a problem if something isn't fitting quite right. And finally, if your boss can't make it to a meeting or will be late getting there, you can be his or her face in the meantime--it will look more like your manager sent a team member to the meeting, not just whoever-was-available-to-go.

The other benefit of attending user group and design meetings is to both you and your firm: you get training in how to run these meetings as well. I've been to many user group meetings during my time as an intern and even as an architect, and while I didn't run many of them up until about two years ago, I learned a lot about what and how as well as what and how not to work with user groups and talk with clients. Starting in 2009, I started running user group meetings on my own, much to the relief of my boss--the fact that I could do this well allowed him to stay at the office and get other work done instead of having to sit next to me. Now more recently on this large healthcare project on which I've been working, there are times when we have two user groups meeting at the same time. My boss can work in one meeting and I can work in the other, effectively doubling our capacity.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Multitask-managing your managers

Those of you who have worked through the economic downturn--and perhaps some of you who have recently been hired--may be finding yourselves pulled in multiple directions. You may be having to work on more than one project, and it's quite likely that those projects are run by different bosses or managers. Actively working for more than one person is a bit of a juggling act, and it requires that you be organized and super-professional...sometimes more professional that the folks giving the orders.

The fact is, we don't always get to work on only one project. If the projects are on the small side, you may end up being on multiple project teams. If the projects are small enough, you may be the team. And if there are several small projects coming in at about the same time--three rooms here, a 2,000-sf remodel project there--you may find yourself being the project team on multiple projects. This is just a fact of our profession, and it's a smaller version of what our engineers go through (even when they have really big projects, it's rare to see an engineer work on just one or even two projects at a time--I usually see them work on anywhere from four to twelve). If you're juggling multiple projects for the same manager, then it's important to keep them updated on what's due when and what it'll take to get each one done.

That communication becomes even more important when you're working on more that one project for more than one manager. I've been dealing with this myself in the past couple of years, but I was reminded of it by an intern recently. I'm working on a major healthcare project, and my portion of the project was assigned (for the long haul) a skilled intern with lots of design, construction, and Revit experience but not a lot of experience in my particular project type (healthcare). This meant I was going to have to walk this intern through some of the redlines so that he understood rules of space planning a surgery center or a clinic, and because we have several deadlines coming up for this project, I need to make sure I have the information he needs in enough time to have drawings ready. However, I was surprised when he had to stay late to finish a drawing we needed for an early meeting the next morning. Turns out that he's having to finish CA for another project that's running almost three months behind. Because of the urgent nature of that project, he has to drop everything and focus on it whenever he gets an RFI or a shop drawing or any other question or request from the field. So while he only spends four to eight hours a week on the CA project, it can strike at any time, which is what happened when I handed him at 10am the redlines for my next-morning meeting--the emergency pushed everything else to the bottom of the list.

When you're working for more than one manager, it's even more important to let them know about your upcoming deadlines as well as general workload. For example, you may have been under the impression that you are to divide your time evenly between Project A and Project B, but it seems like Project A has more urgent stuff going on and has more to do. When you recognize that, ask both managers at the same time, whether in person or via email, whether they need to reconsider where you're putting your time. Remember: it's the managers' jobs to decide where you're spending your time, so do your best to avoid negotiating on either one's behalf. Make them slug it out as to who you're working for.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

To comment or not to comment?

As Intern 101 approaches its second birthday, I have to send out an early thank you to everyone who has visited this site, and I send out a double thanks to those how have emailed, commented, or both. I maintain the fact that this site works only if it's helping you in some way, and I cannot help interns if I don't know what's bothering you or what you need or want to know.

I find the comments interesting, partly because having someone comment on this site is pretty rare. I'm not sure why that is, but I want everyone to know that comments are welcome, whether you agree or disagree with something in the post. Likewise, if the post brought up more questions than it answered, then the comments are a good place to discuss that. I have a few ideas, I'd like to share with you regarding the commenting, inspired by this post over at Building Product Marketing.

First, please try to avoid commenting as "Anonymous". You don't have to use your real name--heck, you can call yourself Barney the Purple Horseman of the Apocalypse if you like, but Anonymous is problematic for two reasons: one, if more than one person comments as "Anonymous", it's a little tough for me to respond to the commenters ('well, First Anon,...good point, Second Anon....'); and two, I'd like to think that each and every one of you stands enough behind their convictions to attach some name to it, even if it's Barney. My blog name is a pseudonym, yes, but it's not Anonymous--it's Lulu. So if you're utterly pissed off at some nonsense I'm spouting on this blog, at least you have some name at which to hurl a rebuttal.

Second, I'm glad to approve comments that believe 180-degrees of what I believe, as long as those comments are stated clearly and with some degree of civility. I try hard to keep my commentary from getting personal--and hopefully I succeed at that, though I've probably slipped up somewhere--so I ask that you do the same. My goal is to keep the discussion about a topic or issue, not about a person or group of people.

Third, be sure to choose the right venue for your expressions. If it feels like your comment is dragging on a bit, it might be better to send it to me as an email. An email will allow you to work out your ideas a little more thoroughly, and I can even turn it into a post that gives everyone more food for thought.

At any rate, I appreciate all comments, emails, ideas, and input in general. If you ever have a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, you can let me know in the comments or via email (in the sidebar). And as always, thanks!