The Discussion: Experience vs. Inexperience

“John. Wait, stop right there.”

“What?”

“Stop right there and go back to that prior statement.”

“What statement?”

“The one where you mentioned lack of experience in the supply chain; I think it may be the biggest issue of them all as to why so many projects take longer, and require more work and energy to get completed. I don’t think you can overstate it. It’s a real issue that I deal with constantly. In fact in my view, it’s the biggest issue we face in getting these projects moved forward and completed.”

It was this conversation with my client, with whom we’ve collaborated over the last 25 years, that helped trigger more public recognition of this topic for me. It’s one that I, and we in the industry, experience frequently. It’s not an isolated discussion. It is common in the industry. The discussion started like this:

“John, what’s your experience on project work these days? It seems like everything is taking longer to get done.”

“Yes, that’s our experience as well. Projects seem to take longer and require more project management, more time and more inputs.”

“What do you think are the reasons for that from your point of view and experience?”

“Well, there are multiple reasons on any given project. But, generally, there’s more complexity in buildings, less detail in architectural drawings, more reliance on modeling, inconsistency in specifications vs. drawings —that’s always been the case—lack of experience in the design community and the decision-making supply chain …”

That’s where my client said, “STOP.” He sees the lack of experience in the supply chain as the No. 1 issue he has to confront and deal with.

And frankly, I am not sure where to go with this. I am just putting it out there. I have more questions than answers. And I have no complaints either. I’m glad to be in an expanding industry, with more required due diligence, where more professionals have entered at various stages in their career, particularly young professionals. We’ve all been there before at some point. I think collaboration from a crowd, a managed and controlled crowd, or project group, is better than the isolated solution of one person or small group. But someone has to make a decision. Someone has to be the initiator of a solution or approach, or a set of solutions; a context. This takes experience. Someone has to be able to take the lead. But that’s where it then can get challenging. Experience then often meets inexperience.

To start with, on any project, we need to ask for clear information. It’s often not initially provided. We need to get clarity on vagueness or conflicts that we find in the drawings and specifications. Sometimes this is perceived as a criticism and is not received well by the design community. Then decisions have to be made. Lack of experience enters here where the approver may not be comfortable with the decision, or may not have the breadth of the full picture in order to provide a clear and timely decision. Let’s not forget that, in the meantime, schedules need to be met. Then the GC enters and the schedule can be used like a hammer, but on the wrong nail.

On the other side of the table there’s also, at times, issues with inexperience in the subcontracting and glazing team. Their inexperience shows and gets exposed to the delegated design professional, to the AEC/AOR team or to the GC. Then there are breakdowns, and more messes can happen.

There are two aspects to any supply chain. There is the material part; the physical supply and logistics of material and goods. And then there is the decision making part; those decisions that impact everything downstream. Both are required to be managed well. If the front end decision-making breaks down or is delayed, then it impacts the tangible material supply chain, the schedule, and the closure of a building exterior.

We need to do a better job as people, as collaborators, as businesses, in working together; building trust; respecting each other’s positions of responsibility, and relationships with each other. We need to be clear, succinct and truth-telling in all circumstances. Inexperience creates challenges, but it also creates opportunity. We’ve got to find ways to better deal with and approach the issue.

John Wheaton is the founder & co-owner of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., also known as Wheaton Sprague Building Envelope. The firm provides full service design, engineering and consulting services for the curtain wall/building envelope/building enclosure industry, and works at “Creating Structure” for clients. He can be reached at jwheaton@wheatonsprague.com and on Twitter, @JohnLWheaton1. 

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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