When sheep bite, buildings suffer


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I was watching the NCAA basketball finals with a few friends, and one of them, Adam, seemed kind of upset. I asked what was up and he related how his company’s IT department updated the infrastructure behind its Web site, which impacted how he and his team did their jobs (which revolve quite a bit around the Web site). He said IT had been working on the project for a long time, but had never involved his team in the process. IT never discussed what changes were coming or asked what changes the team would want to make them more efficient or productive.

Basically, Adam and his team were herded like sheep into a new system, which was kept secret almost until the day it went live. When the system was unveiled, problems were apparent that could have been discovered and dealt with months earlier, and opportunities to capitalize on employee input were lost.

“They were able to address some of the problems in time; others will be dealt with in the near future, but that’s not the biggest issue. The real problem was the process. The people who worked with the system every day weren’t trusted to suggest improvements, or even to test the new system; we were made to feel like our knowledge, skills, and experience were not important,” Adam said.

Adam and his team responded less than enthusiastically to the new system, and the IT department was taken aback by their attitude. IT felt that the others weren’t on board and set a poor example for the company.

As Adam was telling his story, I was reminded of stories that controls designers and commissioning authorities have told over the years and continue to tell today. They boil down to how senseless it is to disregard operators in important facilities decisions. When operators inherit new MEP systems, and BAS that are beyond what is needed for the building or beyond the capabilities of the operators, the systems are defeated soon after the contractors have left the building. First costs are higher, operating costs are higher, and occupants and owners suffer. The design and construction teams, the sheepherders, have moved on to other flocks and pastures.

When I was taking systems analysis and design courses in the early 1980s, we were taught that the most important thing was to gain the input and support of staff who would be working the systems. It seems that for every new technology, the same old lessons need to be learned about how to treat people using the new technology. People complain about teenagers repeating the mistakes of their parents, but what about professionals perpetuating errors of their predecessors?

So, those of you who are mentoring engineers, contractors, commissioning authorities, and even architects, don’t forget to impart this vital lesson: Coordinate designs with operators as early as possible. Early is vital; early and often is best, right through a well-constructed training program and a 1-year follow-up so all seasons are covered.

Send your questions and comments to: Michael.Ivanovich@reedbusiness.com

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