Smart projects for smart companies

by Randy Shields


WHEN INTEL CORP. co-founder Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that microchip capacity would double every 18 months, he ushered in the era of virtual technology. He understood that in this era of disposable technology, the lifespan of innovation is short and intense.

This impermanence includes those things that, heretofore, were considered enduring—like buildings. The arrival of virtual buildings is forcing both architects and project managers to rewrite the rules of real estate planning as they apply to technology companies. As an architectural firm creating the workspace for innovative companies, we see four emerging trends that affect how project management professionals and architects work together on corporate projects.

Time Frame. Most major companies plan their physical needs years in advance. However, technology firms often cannot predict their needs six months from now, much less a decade into the future.

Many start-up organizations literally need to move in yesterday. So, facility design and development are measured in days and weeks, not months and years. For example, a building retrofit project for America Online was completed start-to-finish in five months, with design and construction constantly overlapping. Companies today need project teams that are fast and nimble.

Top Management Access. With the accelerated scheduling required in today's technology projects, the project team needs direct access to top decision-makers. In most of corporate America, gray-flannel hierarchies and chains of command that slow decision-making are quickly becoming relics of a bygone era. They are giving way to virtual management—teams of people dedicated and empowered to complete a project with minimal disruption to the operation's core functions; teams of people who have direct access to the ultimate decision-makers so that fast-track projects stay on schedule.

Immersion Tactics. With top management access comes the responsibility to optimize management's involvement. That means reducing the number of decisions that top management must ultimately make.

In today's world, project managers and architects must be more than managers and designers of physical space; they must become expert in the firm's total organization and mission. Technology firms do not want someone who simply designs the box and manages the development of the space in which they work. They want project partners who immerse themselves in the organization's total mission and who can provide real insights to enhance the function of the entire operation.

They want project partners who understand how they work and how their employees function so that the total project augments the productivity gains derived from technology. These traits allow the project team to anticipate what the organization needs and to have solutions already on the drawing board for management review.

Teaming. Finally, the team must be assembled from the beginning. Architect, contractor, project manager, and corporate management must all work together to purge extraneous steps from the traditional process of real estate development.

THESE ARE JUST SOME of the predictable changes. When it comes to technology, the unpredictable is always just around the corner. Therefore, building designers and project managers must anticipate the unanticipated. Buildings that house technology organizations must allow for easy reconfiguration of both people and systems. The design must permit a swift and inexpensive reconfiguration.

Space must be more humane. The freedom that technology offers can also lead to isolation, as people increasingly work at home or in remote locations. People still need to meet face-to-face in convenient, refreshing venues.

In the end, the principles of good building design and project management still remain. Yet, like the innovations they create, today's technology firms need both physical facilities that are dynamic and ever-changing … and a project team that can deliver on that promise. ■

Randy Shields heads the corporate design studio for John Portman & Associates, a leading architectural firm, headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. He is responsible for client service, research, and project design and delivery for all of the firm's work with corporate end-users. Before joining JP&A, he worked with such renowned architects as Renzo Piano and I.M. Pei on landmark buildings around the world.

Reader Service Number 059

May 2000 PM Network



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