Post #5- Interview of Wayne Whitzell: Why and How to Engage Architects with FMs?

I had an opportunity to meet Wayne Whitzell and ask him two key questions related to leadership and quality– First: why architects need leadership to engage facility managers for high quality buildings? Second: how to promote this leadership among the architects and professionals in the industry?

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Whitzell is the President of IFMA East Bay Chapter and the Vice President of DFS Green and commercial interiors maintenance company in Silicon Valley, California. Through IFMA activities, Whitzell rubs shoulders with many high profile facility managers in high tech, healthcare and retail sectors and knows that their grievances stem from the lack of quality in design and construction.

Before we jumped into the key questions, I asked Whitzell what quality meant for him. He answered that quality was the level of fulfillment of aligned expectations of various parties involved in a project. If the expectations of the parties are not aligned, then that’s a recipe for disaster, especially if the expectations of a capital team are disconnected from that of the operations team.

Whitzell also noted that this disconnect results in a fantastic looking facility turn into a white elephant with costly operations and maintenance needs with no extra budget to keep it up to snuff through its life cycle. And that’s the biggest frustration the facility managers have.

Question 1: Why architects leadership is needed to engage facility managers for high quality buildings?

When I asked him why architects needed to be involved in this game, Whitzell said that architects were in unique position to be a leader and help. He continued that the reason for the disconnect may lie in the way we do facilities accounting. There is a cap-ex (capital expenditure) side of the house and an op-ex (operational expenditure) side of the house. You can build a shiny gold plated pyramid with the cap-ex money but op-ex does not get enough to polish everyday and keep it shiny. There is huge lacking in allocation of op-ex dollars for operations and training.

Whitzell continued, it would be helpful if, before designing the building, architects posed the million dollar question to the cap-ex team: how much op-ex fund is allocated for this project? Based on the answer, the architect can either design the building to suit the op-ex funding or make it clear that the fund wasn’t enough.

Essentially, Whitzell said that architects should assume responsibility not only to envision an innovative design to serve the user’s needs in the best possible ways, but also to account for the ease or burden of operations offered by their master piece innovation.

I commented that assessing operational cost would be an additional service that either can offer or the architect may advise to hire another expert for help.  Whitzell agreed and added that the owners should be given that choice to make and architects are in the best position to lead the process should the owner decides to go ahead.

Whitzell believes that the oversight of this matter by the cap-ex team and the architects are totally unintentional because that’s how the industry practices are currently set up.

An anecdote was brought up by Whitzell to illustrate the situation- the architecture and development stage of the project is like a honeymoon, it’s beautiful and lovely because the architect has created some amazing stuff and the contractor is building it and there is no shortage of funds. When honeymoon is over, there comes time for operations- two kids in diapers, a minimum wage and a crammed apartment!

If you work on the op-ex side you will find this metaphor to be accurate, because you may have been complaining about it all your life. But if you are on the other side with cap-ex and architects, you might not have had any experience with this at all.

After having a long discussion, Whitzell and I concluded that both the op-ex and cap-ex sides need to work with the architects and designer to overcome the situation. Facility managers in op-ex need to come up with strategies to voice the issues to cap-ex and architects in order to get engaged early in the project. At the same time cap-ex team and architects need to listen carefully to find a way make the engagement successful.

However, this is easier said than done. They couldn’t do it during last 100 years, how can they do it now? The answer is leadership. Whitzell agreed that the problem has persisted for a long time, not because there is a lack of technical expertise among the architects, cap-ex or op-ex, but because of the lack of leadership among these parties that come forward and deal with it.

Question 2: How to promote this leadership among the architects and professionals in the industry?

Whitzell offered a novel idea when I asked him the second key question- how can we promote leadership among the professionals using training or guides? He said that the design and construction industry is set up on the apprentice based model. We learn from our mentors and the practice we see today is a result of the status quo and no one wants to break the cycle.

So how do you disrupt the status quo and foster new leadership?

Whitzell suggested focusing on the millennials. They have the energy and courage to disrupt. What we should do is create training materials to guide the new generation and offer them at schools of architecture, engineering, construction management and facilities management. The new generation is more open to learn new things.

Conclusion:

An interesting question is being spun in my mind: a building is born after the construction is complete; who’s ready to be the foster parent? Not the cap-ex, team and definitely not the architect– it’s the op-ex team. So how can we make this parenthood a great experience?

What we learned from Whitzell are: one, the op-ex team really deserve to be included in the building creation process because they are the one to take care of it for next 50 years or so, and two, educate the millennials to take the leadership and disrupt the status quo.

That was an awesome interview of Wayne Whitzell– Thank you!

This post is edited for clarity and vetted by Wayne Whitzell. He can be reached at waynew@dfsgreen.com