Tender Code Needed

While few readers of this Blog are likely to be involved in tendering for submarines (via “full competitive tender” or even “competitive evaluation”) the controversy in South Australia is not lost on the experiences of so many consultants to the built environment.

Increasingly project managers use a term “desktop review”, which certainly appeared during the BER (building education revolution) program in some States, often with severe time constraint on delivery of material for “review” and without clear guidelines. The “How, what, when and by Whom” of such reviews is often unclear and/or changeable.

So what is the correct practice for the construction industry?

The question is topical in the construction industry because despite the existence of many “codes of practice”, few government (particularly State and Local) or semi-government bodies follow good practice. It is a hot issue, particularly due to the inexperience and failing of many (underqualified) project managers who, with or without proprietor approval, seem to flaunt any discernible “code”.

A search of siaglobal brings AS-4120 Code of Tendering to light but the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APPC) offers only the recently released “Guide to Successful Project and Asset Delivery: Getting it right up front” which offers very little real guidance and no code of conduct for the participants. Web-searches identify many more evidence of problems.

The AIA Victorian Chapter 2015 Winter Journal was devoted to “Procurement”. It encapsulated most of the current arrangements adopted by the industry, including government, for engaging architects. It is well worth the read. It published:

  • A transcript of the ABC Science Show “Risky Business”, 2nd May 2015 ~ a panel discussion with the Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, businesswoman Sam Mostyn, UNSW Vice Chancellor Dr Ian Jacobs, Cambridge professor from Australia, Herbert Heppert and moderated by Robyn Williams and edited by Lyndon Hayward, Principal and cofounder of NH Architecture..
  • Alan Findlater, Managing Director, Victorian Project Management and Board member DCWC Group described “Frameworks for Procuring Architectural Services” finishing with a lovely quote: “a golf ball that is 5 degrees off at the tee ends up a long way away from where it should be”.
  • Damian Abrahams, a specialist legal consultant, provided “A Legal Perspective ~ Risks and Rewards” and Steve Richardson, reflecting on “… over 35 years’ experience leading construction and delivery with Grollo family construction entities …” provided “A Builder’s Perspective.”
  • But in my opinion the best contribution came from the highly respected, Bryan Miller, LFRAIA under the title “Where is the Evidence?”. Bryan convincingly challenged the appropriateness and even veracity of non-traditional contract methods, concluding with very relevant references to “The Orgill Reports”, 2010 and 2011 on the BER; the “In Support of the Managing Architect: Lessons from the Orgill Report”, by Peter Skinner, 2011; and “Standard Forms of Contract in the Australian Construction Industry” by Professor John Sharkey and Matthew Bell, 2014.

Unfortunately not one addressed tendering procedures.

A paper by Justin Cotton, partner of Lovegrove Solicitors published on 30th January 2015 by sourceable reflects critically on the fiduciary independence of architects. Justin makes no reference to the Architect’s Act but the tenor of his article seems to concede that architects generally act professionally in administering the terms of any contract they are administering.

Capacity to administer contracts and to assess tenders or even administer a tender process requires qualified and experienced consultants acting in the best interests of all parties. Traditionally architects have undertaken these roles. In recent times they may have kicked an own goal by two major failures:

  • Surrendering the administration roles because they are less “intellectually” satisfying and time consuming with associated risks to profitability;
  • When administration roles are available, younger architects are denied the experience for various reasons.

The result is the self-full-filling prophesy that qualified, experienced architects are not available ~ so the role is delivered by others.

Whoever performs the contract administration role, the inability to clearly articulate a fair and prudent process for the submarine tenders demonstrates the urgent need for a valid code of practice that is adopted and enforced.

ACIF has reported the establishment of an international group which “… aims to create overarching international standards that will harmonise cost, classification and measurement definitions in order to enhance comparability, consistency, statistics, and benchmarking of capital projects.” What about an enforceable tender code within Australia?

What does the AIA or AIPM propose? There is an urgent need for leaders in the relevant professions to advocate and enforce proper tendering codes including advancing an education program for all practitioners. Simultaneously, when pressed to waiver or dilute application of appropriate codes, all must adopt the powerful two letter word: NO!

Women in the architecture profession

CONGRATULATIONS to Parlour: women, equity, architecture for their recognition through the Bates Smart Award for Architecture in the Media, 2015. The “Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice” are a wonderful set of clearly written documents for (not only) women in architecture.

To my mind the elephant in the Parlour remains: employee productivity and principals’ performance amongst architects and architecture firms, compared by gender. But how can these be measured?

For many people the gender inequity debate is now passé ~ but research within the architecture profession paints a prehistoric picture? The extent of statistical evidence was presented in the seminal guest-edited Dossier published in Architecture Australia Sept/Oct 2014. Dr Naomi Stead and members of the project team have outlined the findings of three-years of research titled “Equity and Diversity in Australia Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership.” The published results are disturbing but not surprising. The website expands eloquently.

My career in architecture spans 20 years employed, followed by (now) 26 years offering management advice to architecture firms throughout Australasia. As with the Dossier reported research, I have undertaken performance surveys on behalf of clients producing useful statistical evidence, but the real value is always in the text boxes and confidential interviews.

Anecdotal evidence is clear to me: the profession is blind to the capacity and capability of female members and eternally distracted by antiquated attitudes. These are so clearly encapsulated by Sandra Kaji-O’Grady in her samples of responses to the numerous open-ended questions. How can the profession not discipline the architecture registration board examiner for telling a candidate “… that if she made a mistake on site she could “ring daddy and cry and get him to pay for it”? The profession is the loser in both a lost demonstration of professionalism and increased disrespect. Do not think that the AEC and wider community is oblivious to the operational and business culture within architecture firms particularly, and the profession at large.

The eternal cliché of almost all firms is that they profess to be a “happy family” and when the firm’s values are listed, “family friendly” is inevitably included. But this study yet again exposes the contradiction: “… working in architecture often demands long hours with little reward or flexibility.”

On one issue, it is convenient and economic childcare, not paid maternity-leave that would be the real career friendly option. But whichever solution is provided it requires the male partner (both business and life) to acknowledge that it is not hours of attendance in the studio that measures productivity. Attitudes, focus, getting the job done on time are productivity attributes that matter irrespective of gender or methodology.

Karen Burns has identified a potential positive opportunity: “… architecture’s economic marginalization, its reduced role in leading change in the built environment and declining influence of professions has created a perfect storm for refashioning the roles, training and definition of architecture.” There is a huge challenge!

Call 0408 403 439 or email me to adopt the best strategy for you and your firm to adopt positive gender policies.

Make CPD meaningful

All members of a profession are duty bound to ensure proper service standards are maintained. Similarly a code of professional conduct is worthless if not applied and seen to be applied to all activities of the members.

During the first week of May I was privileged to join two NZIA members in the 2015 NZIA Practice Series presentations in five cities. Our brief was to address “… concerns held about complaints received from clients about the poor service they have been receiving from their architect. From not designing to budget to documentation that is insufficient for the contractor to build from, to little communication and poor relationships.”

While attendance was the highest recorded for a Practice Series there was evidently denial that the problem concerned some of those present. Was this true or was it “a shoot the messenger” syndrome? Such denial also incites the question: to whom is continuous professional development (CPD) directed? Some might argue that senior professionals be exempt. No. Apparently representatives of all levels were defaulters so any claim that further training should focus on “newer graduates” would not suffice.

The participation generated reflection on the value of CPD in Australia and in any profession. How do professions demonstrate to their members, their clients, co-professionals, industry partners and the public that they take CPD seriously and that the quality of their services improves? Surely feedback and some form of measurement is required.

CPD opportunities for consultants to the built environment range from evening sessions (with refreshments) to annual conferences to endorsed academic courses. They are offered by internal and external CPD providers and vary with respect to the philosophy, content, and format. Attendees to annual conventions no doubt gain inspiration from presentations by leading thinkers. Does this generate change and improvement back in the studio and how is this measured?

CPD points may justifiably be awarded to presenters and to members who donate time to committees or councils of their professional bodies. Skills are certainly developed in such roles but what feedback is given. The free encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, provides some examples of approaches to professional development:[2]

  • Case Study Method ~ the case method is a teaching approach that consists in presenting the students with a case, putting them in the role of a decision maker facing a problem (Hammond 1976) ~ see also Case method.
  • Consultation ~ to assist an individual or group of individuals to clarify and address immediate concerns by following a systematic problem-solving process.
  • Coaching ~ to enhance a person’s competencies in a specific skill area by providing a process of observation, reflection, and action.
  • Communities of Practice ~ to improve professional practice by engaging in shared inquiry and learning with people who have a common goal.
  • Lesson Study ~ to solve practical dilemmas related to intervention or instruction through participation with other professionals in systematically examining practice
  • Mentoring ~ to promote an individual’s awareness and refinement of his or her own professional development by providing and recommending structured opportunities for reflection and observation
  • Reflective Supervision ~ to support, develop, and ultimately evaluate the performance of employees through a process of inquiry that encourages their understanding and articulation of the rationale for their own practices
  • Technical Assistance ~ to assist individuals and their organization to improve by offering resources and information, supporting networking and change efforts.

At the heart of professional development is the individual’s interest in lifelong learning and increasing their own skills and knowledge.

To achieve a genuine step improvement in service standards perhaps consultants to the built environment need to consider replacing CPD with CPR ~ continuous professional review. Would the standard of service be improved with a mentoring program involving visits to each member’s office by certified members? The task could be to spend say, a whole day assisting members “over the shoulder” with all and any normal practice activities, actually helping positively in quasi-tutorial processes aimed at lifting the standard of processes, documentation and services generally. The idea is active support with real problems by an appropriately experienced co-professional, not simply checking pre-compiled evidence, files, documents, etc. as in a QA audit.

Payment of the certified mentors could be funded by an annual charge instead of fees for CPD seminars. Firms may like to “advertise” the fact they had participated and consequently improved their in-house processes for the benefit of their clients. The mentors could even nominate participants for Awards. The mentors would be required to provide feedback both to the member and the professional body.

CPD has questionable value without feedback on the consequence to service delivery.

From The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary

Professional ~ belonging to a profession, following occupation as a means of livelihood; maintaining proper standard, not amateurish.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

A professional is a member of a profession. The term also describes the standards of education and training that prepare members of the profession with the particular knowledge and skills necessary to perform the role of that profession. In addition, most professionals are subject to strict codes of conduct enshrining rigorous ethical obligations. Professional standards of practice and ethics for a particular field are typically agreed upon and maintained through widely recognized professional associations.

Project team integration

In March 2014 the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) and the Australian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) released “… two important and valuable guides to help the construction industry improve productivity …” ~ see: Project Team Integration.

On 11 October ACIF announced the extension of their initiative: “How to gain benefit: BIM Framework and Other Guides” through their participation in two other working groups.

APCC is the peak body for government building and construction policy in Australia and New Zealand and ACIF is the meeting place for leaders of the construction industry in Australia. ACIF facilitates and supports an active dialogue between the key players in residential and non-residential building, and engineering construction, other industry groups, and government agencies.

As time passes it is appropriate to ask whether any project teams have taken up the recommended approach to “Project Team Integration”?

Noting so many EOI invitations for major project commissions (particularly from government) now include the requirement to describe team management methodology, perhaps this initiative by ACIF and APCC provides one opportunity to differentiate a submission and accord to the leadership espoused by government policy and industry.

APCC and ACIF also deserve some feedback: Call 0408 403 439 or email me if you have experience with the new “Project Team Integration” tools.

Lighting Design ~ easily forgotten?

UOB high value client reception, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

As the 2015 Diwali festival approaches (November 11) and Australia remembers (Vivid Sydney) it is timely to ask: Why are so many buildings photographed at night with curtains open and all internal lights switched on? Do architects consider the exterior design of their projects for the half of their life that is at night, albeit with a smaller audience? Ponder this as the annual architecture awards process moves through each State Chapter.

Internally, when drawing boards were a norm, lumens per square meter according to prescribed standards were important for workplace comfort. Now computer screens are the normal “desktop”, but have lighting standards adjusted accordingly? Engineers are expert at delivering standards, but is conforming to standards the best result?

New technology enables changes in external daylight to be factored into delivering appropriate internal lighting. Therefore the lighting solution is even more related to the fenestration design ~ how many architects seek lighting design advice on window size and placement?

Back to the question about photographing buildings ~ external night lighting of many public (even private and corporate) buildings is just as important as internal lighting. The solution for so many projects remains poorly placed searchlights as an afterthought.

Surely the best designed lighting cannot be seen?

Letter from Scotland ~ Profession reacts to referendum vote

So much discussion in the UK about the need for change ~ exemplified by Peter Wilson, director of the Wood Studio research centre at Edinburgh Napier University: “If you don’t want to talk about change that is the route to extinction.” See AJ.

Discussion covers the questions of confidence within the profession, the role of government and impact of procurement processes, technology and need for new approaches to the built environment ~ all so relevant in Australia, whether or not we endure referenda.

An interesting and related insight is provided by Kennedy Consulting. Opportunities for management consulting, but risks as well. What about the AEC sector?