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Who Knows Best?

I hope the New Year has started off well for you. While I don’t have to go looking for projects and new services to provide our members, every once in a while something catches my attention and I can’t walk away from it. Just recently one of our members was preparing for a lawsuit and requested help in seeking information on a process that he thought was common knowledge and documented in either an industry standard or a consensus standard. Unfortunately, the documentation does not exist.

This raised the subject of the documentation of best practices. You know those things we all take for granted are documented somewhere only to discover that just when we need them they do not exist in a useable format. Let’s suppose that we gather these best practices for the types of work undertaken by AWCI’s membership. Then AWCI could seek endorsements from other trade associations as we have done with many of our current industry standards, and then publish them for use by the industry. An industry standard is a quick and easy way to get the information out, but does the information always get into the right hands at the right time? Not always. More often than not we rely on industry standards to solve a dispute. This may or may solve the dispute at hand. In the past we have relied on the institutional knowledge of personnel in the field to resolve problems before they happen. For the most part, that institutional knowledge no longer exists. Over the past 20 years, knowledgeable and experienced middle managers have been leaving the construction industry either through retirement or for employment in other industries. While educated, the replacements have not come up through the trades. Their main focus is on bringing the project to closure on time and under budget. Not a bad goal, but it ignores some of the things that make a project great.

AWCI, through our Doing It Right educational programs, has already undertaken the establishment of best practices in the areas these programs cover (ceilings, gypsum, steel, stucco and exterior insulation and finish systems). We continually reach out to architects, engineers, general contractors, owners and code officials to invite them to participate by offering member pricing to attend, and we have had some moderate success. Currently the thought is to develop a Doing It Right program to cover best practices to adopt and pursue so our members can make their contribution to a great project. But is this enough?

The challenge is to get to the middle managers of the general contractors we work for and help them understand the parameters we have to work under to get our jobs done and done right. The question arises, is someone or some other organization currently undertaking this same project? I remember some years ago either the National Institute for Building Sciences or the National Institute for Science and Technology wanted to collect data from building failures. Their intention was to make available to the industry information that would prevent future failures. To their dismay they discovered that most of the documentation they needed was contained in sealed case files after the failures were adjudicated—another good idea down the drain.

As doing some research I did find a group that appears to fit the bill. The Construction Industry Institute based at the University of Texas at Austin. CII is a consortium of owners, engineers, contractors and suppliers in both the public and private sectors. This group is working together to enhance the business effectiveness and sustainability of the capital facility life cycle through CII research, related initiatives and industry alliances. One of the areas CII is working in is best practices. From their website this is how they define best practices: “A CII Best Practice is a process or method that, when executed effectively, leads to enhanced project performance. CII Best Practices have been proven through extensive industry and/or validation.”

They list 15 items under best practices, several of which appear to be a good fit for where AWCI is going. With a diverse membership this would be of great assistance in getting out the word of how the needs of AWCI members can be made known to the construction industry as a whole. Even if we join this group, it does not mean that our problems are solved. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to collect what we as an industry deem to be best practices. Jim Keller of Grayhawk, LLC in Kentucky has indicated a willingness to lead a task group to develop a set of best practices for the industry. The first presentation will be at AWCI’s Convention during the meeting of the Construction Technology Council. If you would like to participate in this effort, let me know and plan on being in Charlotte, N.C., on April 16.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to [email protected], or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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