Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Design managers working in the AEC: specify what ‘type’ are you!

Are you a ‘People based DM’ or an ‘Information based DM’?
Are you primarily concerned with managing the people on the project or managing the project information?
You might say, ‘both’ – though I think, it’s unlikely that you truly are.
My observation is that 90% of design managers are ‘people based DMs’ – or if I want to be especially unkind – ‘paper based DMs’.
Within the rest, there are a few ‘holistic ones’ (less than 1%) and about 5% ‘information based’ ones.

In theory the three different types may be equally effective, practice shows, those that ignore the information in favour of ‘just pushing the people’ (or groups of people like consultants, contractors or anyone in the AEC food-chain) end up with the ‘vocal cord’ as their only tool available.
(refer to one of my previous posts on ‘shouting’).

This may work, when real end-results are not that relevant, i.e. prices, rates, timeframes aren’t set according to ‘normal laws of economics’.
Definitely not something I’d like to be left to survive with in the ‘post-gamble AEC’ era we are ‘enjoying’ now.

I must acknowledge a colleague for getting my thinking on this subject going.
She’s been defending the practice of ‘non-information based DM’ with such conviction that I could not help but get intrigued by her stance.
She may be absolutely right, yet – time will tell.


  1. Interesting question. A good design manager not only should be able manage the people they must be able to manage, understand and assess the information and documentation being produced and delivered, at least to a level to understand and appreciate that the designers are actually doing their job. This will most likely involve having others review the deliverables to help the DM in this assessment. I am a great believer in Peer Review, done in the right way at the right time, to keep the team on its toes. So it is not good enough just to push the people side.

  2. Zolna, Hi. seems an age since I had the time to get caught up on my reading. This post interested me. I think PaulS has part of the essence of this issue, but I might postulate that the DM might be younger than 45 in age and have a singular experience in the design professions.
    If they had experienced other design environments they would see the importance of quantitative measures tied to social contracts of performance (quantifying peer review value) along with interactive peer quality review at each step of the process. My personal preference is to use a data schema (format) to document this so it become measurable over time. Another element is managing work so people have the ability to self-form pairing of work and review as mentor/mentee, peer / peer or mentee/mentor. This kind of pairing increases learning, experimentation, discovery and builds relationships within teams while increasing quality and quantity of work.
    But oh for the holistic DM. They outproduce all others and are the true gems in any business. Would that we could train this ability, but sadly it seems to be a talent, a true gift of the Almighty. I pray to find these types at all times.


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