Ask a Modeler: How do You Effectively Communicate with Architects and Engineers Who May be Resistant to Giving Up Control?

How do you effectively communicate with architects and engineers who may be resistant to giving up control over the design, and in general to be sure the energy modeler and HVAC design are on the same page?
– Want to be Teacher

Dear Teacher,

In the Northwest, I’d probably use a craft beer. California? Wine, of course. Here in the Southeast, bourbon does the trick. You are part of a team, so you need to be a team player. Teamwork is a mental discipline. Understand the roles, responsibilities, and most importantly, the influences driving your teammates decision making. As the modeler, you’re all about the most energy efficient model. The engineers are all about cost. The architect is about blending functionality, aesthetics, cost, and above all else, occupant experience. You’re all on the same team, but let’s face it: The architect has the one seal to rule them all.  (It is only when the architect attempts to flaunt the laws of physics will the engineer prevail.) The final project, by definition, MUST reflect the client’s desires.  We have hard metrics for life cycle cost. It’s hard to build a LCC vs. feng shui curve. That’s why the architect gets paid the big bucks. They have to deliver an experience.

Ultimately, your job is to give the architect and engineer options, and help them deliver an experience. Hold on loosely and don’t emotionally invest yourself in what is ultimately their decision space. Whether they choose to accept or reject your recommendations is contingent on a lot of other complex competing factors. So, avoid a, “They rejected my really cool idea therefore they rejected me,” mentality. It is poisonous to the team. It bleeds through in spoken word and correspondence. It absolutely will appear to the others like you are trying to force them to give up some of their control– it’s not your place to do so. Reassure and reinforce the fact they do have control; all of it. Approach the project team with a sincere, “How do I help you (the A/E) win big?” Find a relaxed and non-confrontational way to present your findings as a  working group– and NEVER in front of their boss.  Unleashing the Bright Idea Fairy in front of the boss is a near-guaranteed way to create extra work for the team.  No one wants that kind of help, Poindexter. Now, go sit in your corner and never speak again.

As far as the best way to use the models to support your team? Use your parametric tools. They allow you to show, quickly and simply, the trade offs in the design decisions. Use simple charts and plots the A/E can readily cut and paste into their presentation to the client. The client is a business person, not an engineer. They don’t want to make decisions; that’s why they hired an architect. Show them only the information they need to make a decision, and no more.  Aim to reduce the decision making by reducing data and improving the presentation. Keep it simple, keep it positive. “Mary, I ran the models. Here’s some options on those window shading schemes. I’m a fan of “A”, but over to you for your call. If you have any questions, I’m standing by.” 

Bill Sommer, CEM, CxA, LEED AP (O+M)
Project Manager, Sain Engineering Associates, Inc.

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