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.

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