Teachable is a great software tool for building online courses. I am interested in this because I think there are some topics that I have developed that might be suited to the online course format.
But more importantly you might find it valuable, too.
I'm pretty ambivalent about employee reviews. From having done them, I know they are time-consuming if you are conscientious. I don't have any experience whatsoever in receiving a review. I know I am not like anyone else (we are all unique after all). Nevertheless I don't get it. If you don't give feedback daily/weekly, how does an annual/semi-annual review make up for it? If you do give feedback daily/weekly, what is an annual/semi-annual review for?
I have been using this free graphics tool for three years. Canva is a graphic design program that anyone can use. It is drop-dead easy. Check it out here.
Canva has proven itself to be so helpful that I recently started using the Canva For Work version that has a few bells and whistles I like. $12.95 a month saves me at least an hour a month, but you won't need that. Canva is free and really powerful.
Specification Notes should have a role in every project. By Specification Notes [SpecNotes] I mean a section by section listing of the key requirements of every type of work, arranged by CSI Division and Section Number. The SpecNotes are placed on the drawings. We usually place the General Requirements on a G-series sheet right behind the Cover Sheet. The Architectural Technical Specs are placed on sheet A001, A002 (if needed) per the National CAD Standards. Take a look at the embedded document to download our 30+ page master SpecNotes to start your own.
SHARING CONTACTS - THE SOLUTION
Last week a reader asked me for a recommendation on Contact Management software. (Thanks for the idea, Michele.) She uses Outlook, but doesn't have access to group (shared) contact lists. I can relate because I had the same issue when we moved away from Outlook Exchange with public/shared folders to Google Apps. The loss of access to a shared contact list was THE ONLY thing I missed. Our solution was to import all 1,500 contacts into everyone's email account and then use blind copies on emails and other tricks to keep the lists up to date.
So I did a search of products out there. The problem I found is that many solutions aren't designed for sharing; and the ones that are have a per user cost that makes them pretty pricey for what they do.
And then I found ZOHO CRM.
When I started my firm, I didn't have much experience with business. In particular I felt unsure about money matters. Luckily I stumbled upon a business attitude that partly made up for my lack of experience.
I Use Wordle
The 'architecture' word cloud that you see here was created using Wordle. Wordle is a free Java app that works on any computer using Java - pretty much every computer. There are several other sources that you can use, just search for 'word cloud'. Wordle does what I am looking for. Here's a little background on Word Clouds before I explain how I made this one and give you my ideas for how you can use Word Clouds.
What They Are - Same Idea As Map Names
As you can see from the example above, word clouds are an arrangement of words where the frequency of use is designated by the relative size of the word. Maps use this same idea when they show cities with larger populations with larger names.
10 Years Old In Present Form
Using the size of a word or name to represent relative size has been around for several hundred years; but word clouds like this one are only ten years old or so. When word clouds, or tag clouds as they are also known, appeared about 2004, they represented the frequency that a word or tag appeared in a document, website, blog, etc. This took some serious programming to pull off. Now you can do it with an app using almost anything as your input.
I can't recall who told me about HootSuite, but it was likely a post on TechCrunch. I used to be an avid reader of their posts. Anyway I tried it, then set it aside, and then picked it up again and, now, I use it constantly - the free account, that is. My blogging process uses HootSuite as an integral part. I work out a concept/outline in Inkflow. Then I use iA Writer to write it up. Cut and paste from Writer into Weebly where I add formatting. Publish the article. Grab the URL and post to Google+. IFTTT sees the RSS update and posts to LinkedIn and Facebook. I go back to Writer and turn out some tweets. Cut and paste the tweets, with URL added, into HootSuite to post them at the selected times. Rinse and repeat. So I use HootSuite almost every day.
Being able to schedule all the tweets about the new article at one time is a real time-saver and makes my process achievable in one to two work sessions a day. Somewhere along the way I heard about Buffer and ignored it because I had HootSuite. This past week I read a post about the best blogging tools, and Buffer was mentioned. So I checked it out again, thinking "what do they know that I don't". So I signed up for the free account and started kicking the tires.
I have used several Project Management Tools similar in concept to PlanGrid - Buzzsaw, Project Central, AutoCAD 360, Basecamp... What works so much better with PlanGrid is the ability to easily annotate your drawings inside the app and publish the markups to the whole project team. The markups could be coordination comments to the design team (or client!) in the design phases or correction comments to the contractor during the construction phase. PlanGrid really excels at graphic communications. Site photos are easily integrated into the drawings to enhance the punch list process, too.
Projects are set up on www.plangrid.com and shared to other team members by browser, tablet or phone (which works surprisingly well). Input by team members using a tablet is very easy, so annotations can be done anywhere.
Architects and Facebook
When a new person comes on board, you need to show them the ropes (or be shown the ropes). We used this downloadable matrix for years to guide that orientation. The point was not to drag it out, but to be thorough, which we thought was to everyone's benefit. The terms shown here may not be meaningful to you, but whatever you think it means will do nicely. However, I will define the column and row headings since they are the crux of the tool.
Each color represents a different orientation session led by the most appropriate person. The goal is to cover everything during the first two weeks. We found that if it takes much longer, it rarely is completed.
BLUE takes place the first day. Followed on subsequent days by YELLOW, DARK ORANGE, PINK (includes Design Budgets - LIGHT BROWN), LIGHT ORANGE, GREEN, LAVENDER.
It is fairly common to edit the matrix to suit the person being oriented - some things do not apply to everyone.
If you are a new-hire, you might find that your new firm doesn't do anything like this. In which case, take it upon yourself to ask, “I was wondering about...” until you run out of questions.
originally posted - OCT 2012
I have a number of experiences working with a client’s Building Committee. This seems to be the preferred project management method for non-profits, church-based organizations and higher education. My personal preference is to work with a single person representing a for-profit, the goals are crystal clear, the path you take is straight and logical. But there are these other times when you have a Building Committee.
I’ve never had the chance to really shape a Building Committee. If I could, I would start by explaining their mission to them, because they don't know. Being a building committee member is a once in a lifetime occurrence for which there is no training. The typical Building Committee member thinks they are going to ’oversee’ design. So they are taken aback to learn that before design starts, they need to plan the project, to set the goals so they know HOW to judge a design.
The Building Committee’s Planning Mission
The Building Committee's planning mission normally includes eight issues - organization, space needs, character, context, constraints, schedule, budget, and methodology. So I would elaborate on these eight. My Cliff’s Notes version is:
The first task of the Building Committee is to organize itself. Who will be members, who will be chairperson? When will it meet? Will it operate formally or informally? What staff can assist? What does the Building Committee need to do its job?
SPACE NEEDS & CHARACTER
The Building Committee's next task is to determine the Space Needs of the organization. The tools for gathering this information are interviews, surveys, projections and reports. Most of the data will come from staff. In this process the desired Character of the facility should be addressed as well. This means determining what features and systems are needed. Durability, operability, aesthetics and environmental issues would also be part of Character considerations.
CONTEXT & CONSTRAINTS
The next two tasks are to look at the physical (Context) and non-physical (Constraints) environment in which the facility will be developed. The Context issues are location, needed exterior features, assets to exploit and disadvantages to minimize. The Constraint issues are zoning, building code, ADA, storm water and special issues dictated by the organization itself or its parent - for instance the approval process.
Now we get to the big one. The Building Committee's main charge is setting and managing the budget. This will include determining the source and amount of funding and how to allocate those funds. It is crucial that all the project costs are considered (not just construction) and that an adequate contingency is included. I like to make costs part of all the issues. There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room until it steps on your foot.
SCHEDULE & METHODOLOGY
The final tasks of the Building Committee are to set and monitor the schedule for the project and to determine the methods and type of contracts that will be used to design and construct the facility. To a great extent the Building Committee's work is nearly done once construction starts, but first there is a year or two of planning and design before that milestone arrives.
Building Committee Membership
So who should be on a Building Committee? The ideal focus for the Building Committee is the planning and process. Some of the key skills that the Building Committee needs are Facilitating, Researching, Coordinating, Organizing, and Communicating.
Desirable Building Committee Members are people who know how to lead, plan and manage. Involvement in the construction industry isn't necessary, and many times it is a handicap. Examples of the individuals you want to see are executives, entrepreneurs, educators, administrators, and managers. Specialists who diagnose and implement aren't accustomed to the analysis of multiple alternatives that need to be explored.
I’ve noticed that active participation in meetings decreases as the size of the group increases - so smaller is better, say 6 - 12. There needs to be a chairperson who speaks for the committee and communicates with the parent organization. "Symbolic" members of the Building Committee require special handling. I have watched helplessly as a key donor, who is used to giving orders, grabs the reins and has everyone chasing his whims - because no one was prepared to risk annoying him.
The ideal characteristics (virtues?) of a committee member are open- mindedness, diligence and perseverance.
Only the simplest of projects can be planned in one "pass" through the eight issues. Often three or more passes are needed for a coherent plan, so that every issue makes sense in terms of the others.
So that’s what I’ve gathered from my Building Committee experiences. Hopefully this gives you some ideas for how you can handle your own Building Committee adventure.
You may have noticed that I have a poll running. Take a sec and vote. Polldaddy is embedded in Weeby and is pretty easy to use. I think the actual free Polldaddy account is even easier, and it has the benefit of offering a few more features - like quizzes! Take my Masonry Expert Quiz below to learn a bit about masonry and see how Polldaddy works/looks. BTW there are several themes/color schemes for your polls, surveys and quizzes.
How did you do?
A lot has changed for both Basecamp and Nozbe since this article was first published in 2012. Nevertheless the comparison is still useful, and both services are worth serious consideration.
Two of my favorite To-Do List / Project Management tools are Basecamp and Nozbe. Both are browser-based. I think both are excellent, but they have their own characteristics and are each better at some things. If you want a tool that helps you manage all your personal, social and work projects, Nozbe has an edge. If you mostly want to manage work projects with a team, consultants and even your client, then Basecamp offers more.
Below is a comparison of Basecamp and Nozbe followed by the Comments on the features. If one of these helps your productivity, it will almost certainly pay for itself. I suggest testing both.
Basecamp is a service of 37signals. Visit Basecamp here.
Nozbe is a service of apivision and is developed primarily by Michael Silwinski. Visit Nozbe here.
1. Pricing is generally comparable, but your needs will likely make one or the other more attractive. However, cost is not a key issue. If one of these helps your productivity, it will almost certainly pay for itself.
2. Basecamp shines in this regard. Nozbe would take some fussing with to make sharing with clients work well. In many cases sharing your project management tools might not be needed.
3. Multiple task lists are simple with Basecamp. Nozbe uses just one task list per project, but it would be simple to set up multiple lists using similar but distinct names to monitor the lists, e.g. New School - DESIGN and New School - ADMIN.
4. Both tools work well on mobile platforms. Basecamp uses a mobile view of the website that only allows viewing. However, you can change to normal website view and with some enlarging of the view make edits and additions. There are several third party paid apps that overcome this situation. Nozbe has a paid app that works very well on a phone.
N1. Nozbe doesn't use templates. However you can enter multiple tasks at once so it is a simple matter to assemble the standard tasks in a text document for re-use and insert them when and where needed.
N2. Nozbe does have a calendar, but it contains all tasks across all projects. Upcoming tasks cannot send reminders or alerts.
N3. Nozbe uses the 'Getting Things Done' concept of Context. This allows you to tag tasks with one or more category of your creation. You can then view all the tasks of one category. For example, you could tag tasks that need to be done at the project site, or by phone, or that involve a certain person or company. It is a nice feature.
N4. There are a number of things that you can add by email, but comments on a task is not possible.
N5. Nozbe does send out notices by email when a task is completed, but there is no way of indicating what you are working on. If this is important a separate Google Chat could provide a similar functionality.
B1. Discussions are a place to set out a goal or status for everyone's benefit. All team members can contribute to the discussion. Preparing for a presentation might be done this way. Team members can give feedback and ask for help / ideas. Discussions can be real time but remain available until deleted.
B2. Basecamp has a page that shows everything that has been going on in all projects.
B3. 'Looping in' is a way of soliciting input from someone who is not part of the project team. Their response becomes part of the project record automatically.
B4. Text documents can be anything - strategy planning, a new spec section, etc. - multiple people can contribute in real time over the Internet.
B5. Archiving a project saves it but takes it offline. It does not count against you project limit. The archived project can be activated anytime.
Publishing to Build Your Niche
One of the best strategies for building a busy, well-paid architectural practice is to develop a niche. The main obstacle for most firms is being recognized as knowledgeable about the niche and therefore considered or sought out for those niche projects.
Publishing on a topic is one of the key tactics in developing a niche and demonstrating your expertise in the project type. Fred Stitt, publisher of Guidelines newsletter and founder of the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, has described the process of developing a niche in his publications. Paraphrasing, these are the steps:
A byproduct of this process is that you will get to know a lot of people in the industry you want to work for and will be in the right place at the right time to find out about upcoming projects. Always ask what they have in development and if they know of anyone else who is planning to do something.
The goal is to know as much as your clients do about their industry, and eventually, to know more so that you are the expert and can ask for a premium. You can imagine other things that you can do.
(This flowchart above shows the steps in the process of developing articles for publication and will enlarge when clicked.)
orig post date OCT 2012
Every profession has terms that are specific to it. Jargon. Jargon within the profession can have a clarifying effect and can often be a shorthand for more wordy concepts. So jargon has a worthwhile effect WITHIN the profession where everyone understands what is meant.
A profession’s jargon when used with the public or with clients has the opposite effect - obfuscation, confusion. It doesn't matter whether you intend to make it difficult to be understood, or if it is unintentional. The result is the same. You have chosen (intentionally or not) to rely on the authority of your role as a specialist instead of making yourself clear. I think that this comes across as arrogance. I think it is another way of saying, "Just trust me." Trust is earned, jargon gets in the way of trust.
Everyone has experience with obfuscation. You are in the minority if you don't find it at least annoying.
Why would you choose to NOT be understood? I can think of one or two scenarios, but they are outweighed by many more that are not very attractive.
What if you think in jargon? Well, that clears up your motives for using it, but you are still left with poor communication and lack of understanding.
Whenever you need agreement, jargon works against you. Even if you get the agreement, the client has an escape hatch - "I didn't know that's what we agreed to" or "I don't remember discussing that".
You can tell that I am not a fan of jargon. I don't think it is just me. If it sounds better when you use jargon, I think it is because the jargon conceals the weakness of the idea(s). Do we want weak ideas? I don't.
But let's go back to the trust issue. I have heard it said that there are two things you must demonstrate to win a design job - technical competence and trustworthiness that you will deliver on your promises. For many clients judging technical competence depends on past experience. Have you done this before or not? But all clients can judge trustworthiness. They do it all the time. So I think jargon lets you down in the exact scenario where you are really depending on it to make you look like a good choice.
Lack of understanding (jargon) and trustworthiness travel in different circles.
Most projects are not the work of a single individual. There are many roles that need to be filled, and it is the unusual project where all the roles are filled by one person. Civil, geotechnical, structural, M/E engineering are just a few of the obvious ones. When the project has a Design Team, complexity builds and it is important to think about how you will simplify things for everyone. Below is a checklist of all the issues we have identified. You might have others to add or some to scratch off. In any event, when you kick-off a project, it helps to have a detailed discussion of specific roles and responsibilities. The success of the team depends on it.
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Similarly, the Design Team should consider a number of issues relating to the Client/Owner. Communicating and working with the owner needs to be managed congruently by the entire team by addressing the following issues:
My experience is that you will never get all of these issues aired; but it is better to try and learn what you can before it bites you.
What does marketing mean for an architect?
The classic answer is : "Marketing is what you do to make the phone ring."
The short answer is "name recognition".
The long answer is "recognition as an expert in a type of building or service".
How does Social Media fit in?
First let's be clear that we are talking about Marketing, not Sales.
Social Media is not a Sales tool. Unfortunately, you are more likely to reach 'influencers' with Social Media - not the decision-maker (who is not likely to make a decision based on a tweet). So we are definitely talking about the short and long answers describing marketing, and mostly the long answer - building recognition as an expert.
With Social Media your content can be pushed out to a wider audience than you might reach with email or waiting for an organic searches to find your website or blog. But your credibility is tied to publishing.
The timeline or stream of Social Media means that posts must be made regularly, measured in hours rather than days to be effective.
The interesting thing about Social Media is that your ’reach’ goes beyond your immediate audience (Followers, Likes, Connections, Circles). By reach I mean all the people who ultimately are exposed to your information. If you send an email to 100 people, they all get the email. That is the strength of email. A few may forward it to others. So your audience was 100, but your reach was maybe 105. Interestingly the people who received the forwarded email are more likely to pay attention to it because the act of forwarding it acts like a recommendation. The reach with Social Media can be many times greater than email and enjoys the same ’recommendation’ aspect.
Here’s how reach works with the four main Social Media services. In each case we assume your audience and everyone else's is 100. And remember that it is much easier to share the information with Social Media than it is to forward an email.
File server technology is changing - again.
Just when you think subscription-based Cloud solutions have taken over from physically owned servers, the game changes. I stumbled upon two devices that have been funded through Kickstarter. One is in production and shipping. The other just ended its fundraising period and should be available in April 2014. The new products have a lot in common with both physical servers and cloud servers. The difference is that you buy a device that makes your files available over the internet, and a device that holds the files, plug it into your internet connection and, Voila, you have a networked file server with Internet access. Included software facilitates file management and sharing. You have spent $300 to $400, ONCE, and you are in business. No monthly fees, unless you want to spring for a backup service. Since the synched files can reside in more than one place this may not be necessary. Or you could buy a hard drive to backup to.
The first product is called TRANSPORTER and already accepts orders for shipment. There are three models ranging in price from $199 to $299 to $399. The differences are: purchaser-provided drive, 1TB drive, and 2TB drive. See their video embedded below.
The second product is called LIMA and expects to ship in April 2014. There is just one model, possibly in various colors, for an estimated price of $150. (The Kickstarter site says there are about 300 deals still available to purchase two for this price.) See their video embedded below.
Transporter and Lima are examples of how the Internet and new technology are providing decentralized solutions that are less expensive and greener.
On the topics of file server solutions and paperless filing here are other article you might like.
Suggestions For An Electronic Filing System
Paperless Filing - How The Backend Works
Paperless Filing - How The Backend Works - Part 2
When in the course of construction you need to get a price for a change in the Work, here's how. If the project is private, you have choices depending on how formal you feel you need to be. Generally, a formal paper trail is good to have. But if you have a good relationship with the Owner and Contractor, and the change is simple, you might even make a verbal request. An example is changing lay-in ceiling panels from one model to another. Very simple; verbal works. Or perhaps an email would suffice. The email will document the change for future reference. A long email or a letter describing the change with a clarifying sketch can take care of a more complicated change.
But if your project is public work, being informal might come back to bite you. So formal is better. I believe the AIA has a form you can use. We dreamt up this form below for a small public project that was, uncharacteristically for us, becoming adversarial.
Note that it needs to be clear that you just want a price, and only afterwards will a Change Order be issued (if the price is acceptable). In many instances, you might be chasing someone's dream that doesn't have a direct role in the project - the boss's boss - making the situation a bit political.
The formal approach always works, and it takes just a few minutes longer to implement.
Ages ago I found an article describing when design decisions should be made to minimize re-work. The most interesting thing about the recommendations was how they had been broken down by the same 'assemblies' system that I had seen in RS Means.
Later I learned that this was the Uniformat system. What is unique about the Uniformat breakdown of everything that goes into a building is that each division aligns with a whole group of related tasks. To some extent these divisions align with groups of drawing sheets, too. Bottom line: the Uniformat system, especially the older version, aligns with groups of responsibilities that you might want to delegate to team members so they won't be stepping on each others toes, or having a lot of coordination to do.
The table below is the way we documented the article to make it concise and accessible.
Not every Uniformat division can stand completely alone. Here I have tagged each division with a group letter ID to show which are best to keep together, and also describe the sheets that go with that group of divisions. Of course, coordination among all groups is necessary. However, if speed requires everything to move forward at once, this is a starting place for how you might assign multiple people to the job with a minimum of overlap.
Clearly group A has the most work and takes the lead in decision-making. Group A might consist of the project manager and/or principal and the project architect. Group B is very stand-alone, Group C is significant, but might be easily combined with Group D. Group E can stand alone or be folded into Group A. Group E doesn't even exist for one story buildings.
A - GENERAL Floor Plans
A - FOUNDATIONS AND SUBSTRUCTURE Coordination with in-house or consulting structural engineer
A - SUPERSTRUCTURE Coordination with in-house or consulting structural engineer
A - INTERIOR CONSTRUCTION Floor Plans, Reflected Ceiling Plans, Partition Types, Room Schedule, Door Schedule and Door Details, Interior Details, Enlarged Plans, Coordination with mechanical and electrical engineers
A - EQUIPMENT Schedules
B - SITE Site Plan and Site Details, Coordination with civil engineer
C - EXTERIOR CLOSURE Wall Sections, Exterior Details, Window Schedule
D - ROOFING Roof Plan, Roof Details, Coordination with mechanical engineer
E - VERTICAL CIRCULATION AND CONVEYING SYSTEMS Stair Plans, Stair Sections and Details, Elevator Plan, Section and Details, Coordination with structural engineer
F - MECHANICAL SYSTEMS by in-house or consulting engineer
G - ELECTRICAL AND LIGHTING SYSTEMS by in-house or consulting engineer
I love checklists and tools that help you manage your workload. I feel a good tool helps you “punch above your weight” by keeping you organized, focused and productive. I think some of the strongest tools like this that you can find are Basecamp, Nozbe, Evernote. I use all three every day. One (or two) of those might be headed for the sidelines because there is a new kid on the block, at least new in my awareness. Trello was introduced in September 2011. How have I missed hearing about it till now?
The concept behind Trello is a marker board on which you track your project planning, research, tasks, issues, etc. You would likely have a board for each project. The board contains lists on which you plan your work. These default to three lists named TO-DO, DOING, DONE; but you can change the names and add as many lists as you want.
The lists are made up of cards. Again, as many as you want. I could see the cards having phase names like schematics, design development, etc. You might have other cards that span phases for things like building code, zoning, specs, cost estimate, special permits, etc. So far this isn't earth shattering stuff. The real magic lies “inside” these cards. This inside-card view lets you view activity on the card, add comments, create multiple checklists, write a description, add attachments (generous limits), assign people to the work, and more. This is very powerful stuff, especially the collaboration aspect which equals what you can do with Basecamp, Nozbe, Evernote - only free.
Some of the features that make Trello worth a look are:
This is a surprisingly powerful and feature-rich app. I think Fog Creek Software has a real winner.
Since writing this back in 2013, I have developed my thoughts on using Trello™ into an e-book describing the process in detail. See a SAMPLE.
"Style Book - About Us" - revised in case the embedded document didn't work for you.
Office Handbooks can be a big waste of time. The bigger they are the less likely they will be consulted. Once you set policy, you are responsible for enforcing it. Bleah!
In our office Style Book (IntraNet). we opted for an About Us page containing expectations. See what you think...
Download About Us here.
Is Twitter useful to architects?
Unlike business cards or a logo, which every architect can relate to as a marketing tool, it is not so clear where Twitter fits into an architect's business development toolbox. I think this will provide a little clarity. Let's start with some PROs and CONs for Twitter.
The key to benefitting from Twitter is whether or not you are publishing your own information about your area of expertise. If you aspire to be recognized as a thought-leader in your specialty, Twitter can enhance the perception you want to build. It can also harm the perception you want if your followers don't see a stream of new information coming from you. So whether you use Twitter or not depends on whether you are publishing worthwhile content regularly.
For content to be worthwhile it has to tell your audience something they would like to know about a topic that they care about. Even a mundane specialty, say school design, can do this. But a generalist will struggle to find a topic that appeals. A strong specialty, say cancer research labs, should have an easy time demonstrating expertise.
Are you interested in writing about your specialty in addition to practicing architecture? The actual writing can be delegated, but you will have to be involved to create the topics and manage the tone. Twitter can assist you in building a reputation, but you will need to do the heavy lifting of building a specialty, which is a very worthwhile endeavor on its own.
"Style Book - About Us"
Office Handbooks can be a big waste of time. The bigger they are the less likely they will be consulted. Once you set policy, you are responsible for enforcing it. Bleah!
In our office Style Book (IntraNet). we opted for an About Us page containing expectations. See what you think...
Download About Us here.