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July 19, 2018
Here's how Steve Tatge describes the integrated design-build interview process that ends with a three- to four-hour free-flowing meeting with the architect/general contractor team: “It's like the difference between being at a good party and a bad party.”
Tatge is executive director of Major Capital Projects at the University of Washington.
As A/E/C project interviews continue to evolve, the UW has turned to integrated design-build to gain unique insights into the architect/contractor teams competing for its projects.
“The interview process for IDB projects at the UW has been incredibly valuable,” says Tatge. “By meeting at either the architect's or contractor's office with a less structured format, we better understand how the teams interact with each other and what they will be like to work with. It also allows us to get a feel for team chemistry. And it's not just good for the university, but for the teams — they need to know each other well from the beginning, and they've commented how preparing for the office visits has helped bring their team together.”
More sharing, less showing
As a result, teams are focusing on collaboration and interaction with each other and the client.
According to Molly Wolf, principal at Ankrom Moisan Architects, “The process of preparation for these borders on team building and strategic planning for project approach rather than on interview prep.
“Our design-build teams come together for days at a time to form a unified approach to the project design and brainstorm ways that our team, and this project delivery method, will add value to our clients,” Wolf says. “It has generated a lot of new ideas about how we approach our work in these partnerships, and we've appreciated the opportunity to bring creativity to this process and shake up how design is done.”
Andersen Construction project executive Craig Holt, whose firm has partnered with Ankrom Moisan for several UW IDB interviews, plans at least five sessions with the combined team.
“The first two meetings focus on content,” he says. “As that solidifies, we focus on the speaking portions. The last three meetings are dry runs, with the final practice in front of a group representing the client. Each time, we do a plus/delta to make sure we address concerns and improve.”
Efforts to show collaboration, create interaction, and demonstrate how teams are different during interviews isn't new or limited to IDB projects. Selection panel members have told Johnston Training Group during our 120-plus interviews with them that these are the areas they focus on when they are deciding who they want to work with.
To help teams highlight these critical aspects, use the following strategies:
Collaborate early and often. Architects and contractors who do not invest the time to build a strong relationship with each other do not win — period. Team members need to do more than just “get to know each other” — they need to be able to understand each other's processes and their role every step of the way.
“You cannot fake a great relationship in a four-hour interview,” says Mack Selberg, principal at Ankrom Moisan.
Skip the dog and pony show. While visuals can play a role at the interview, they should be a supporting actor. Remember: The client is hiring you, not your PowerPoint designer. Ask yourself, “What work can a visual do that I can't do myself?” A site plan to introduce an idea on how your phasing plan can shave two months off the schedule? Absolutely. A slide listing your firm's core values that you read aloud? Absolutely not.
Mission possible. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find out what is important to the client and show how you can help them accomplish it. What are the business reasons behind the project? The client is thinking about them, so you should be too. Use the phrase “so that…” to get from what you do to how it helps achieve the client's long-term objectives.
Create interaction. To show how you work together and will interact with the client, use activities that require their input, such as pull planning sessions or design visioning or prioritization exercises. Don't be afraid to ask the client tough questions or address perceived team weaknesses. Clients want a partner who will push back thoughtfully and with options, not one who will rubber-stamp every request to avoid hard conversations.
“One of the benefits of this kind of practice and pressure is development of a team relationship,” says Holt. “By the time we meet with the UW, we already are a team and can handle adversity together, whether it occurs during the interview or on the job.”
Focus on the journey. Selection panels already know what you do. They want to know how you do it.
“A wonderful change is that design teams do not have to present a finished concept design to the client prior to being hired,” says Selberg. “What an absurd idea that to acquire a job we would present finished design concepts without stakeholder input! IDB gives contractor/architect teams the opportunity to present processes that mine and sort stakeholder priorities, folding them into the building performance matrix.”
When clients truly understand your processes, they can make an informed decision on whether they want to work with you.
Start together, finish together.
“The single most unexpected comment on a recent UW IDB interview came after we had completed our design and inclusion approach,” says Holt. “The UW said they had done most of that already. We pivoted to how we would turn their decisions into reality, but some of our time was lost that could have been used for other critical subjects.”
To show the client that you value their time, start interviews by building an agenda together and then stick to it. This shows that you will always consult with the client before using their time — a critical component to being picked to work together. Agenda items should be focused on client benefits and list actions such as “decide, evaluate, or recommend,” not “talk about” or “discuss.”
Cima Malek-Aslani, a principal at Schacht Aslani Architects, says, “Clients want to understand whether the team can work together to achieve their desired results. They want to see if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Schacht Aslani Architects has participated in several IDB interviews for the UW.
As a major player driving the local design and construction market — the UW has about $1 billion in design, construction, or closeout going on at any one time — A/E/C firms should expect the IDB-type interview trend to continue growing.
“We want to change the project delivery industry,” says Tatge. “We have pivoted from GC/CM delivery — which has limited ability to engage trade partners during design, and has scope as a fixed element and price and team composition as the variable — to the inverse model: We fix the cost and work with the team to maximize the scope and value we get for that cost.”
Be the life of the party
Integrated design-build and similar type interviews are the most challenging to prepare for and participate in. To make it a “good party” instead of a “bad party,” teams should collaborate early, develop client-focused content, and share their approach in a conversational style during the interview.
Scott Johnston leads the Johnston Training Group programs that enable technical professionals to present powerfully, write purposefully and facilitate seamlessly.