Fight the Tyranny of the Urgent with Collaborative Design

As a provider of professional services for design, engineering and consulting to the glass-glazing-curtain wall industry, my experience is that the best value to the end-user and owner, and to all constituents in the supply chain, is generated in collaborative design. Real collaboration is key, and it takes much energy and buy-in from all project participants.

The struggle we all share too often is that a “throw it over the wall mentality” is still used by many in our industry as a standard operating procedure. This process is linear, sequential, with companies pushing work through the portal and expecting results. Design and engineering doesn’t work best that way. This linear process produces less than optimal results, especially when trying to apply new technologies and compressed schedules to critical path components like the curtain wall.

Too often in our work, the tyranny of the urgent is the rule of the day. By comparison, investing time proactively in ongoing, real-time, shared collaboration from the start yields better results downstream. It also demands tenacity and commitment.

Collaboration can be manifested in different forms. One aspect of collaboration involves driving integration. To do this, there must be a commitment by the team to pull each other into the space of a shared reality. This creates better understanding, fewer assumptions, lower risk and improved results. It gets the job to the finish line more effectively. In a fragmented and often disruptive supply chain in the curtain wall industry, steps toward value generation can be as simple as driving integration. How can we accomplish this?

This process can be defined prescriptively and contractually in various forms. One form is to create a design-assist collaboration process, where parties from each firm, representing their various interests in the project, are working to design and engineer a wall system that can best meet the demands from performance to installation based on the project plan.

I am seeing more recognition over the past several years as to the value of this process, but it is still not common enough. Solving problems and working through issues concurrently with the engineering and construction teams can eliminate a great deal of waste, re-work, misunderstanding, poor interpretation, risk and more.

In my next blog, I’ll offer specific tips and recommendations for pursuing a success design-assist process on a curtain wall project.

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 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.


Excellent points! As engineers, we often see a neat, linear process on paper (or a computer screen) and start to believe this is the way life really works. It doesn't. When projects are truly successful, you have a team of people who listen to each other, are open to fresh ideas, and are willing to change their pre-conceived notions. A "team" isn't a bunch of individuals grinding through their own work... it's a group seeking and responding to each other's insights.

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