Knowledge Management: Big Data in Service to the Business and Practice of Architecture
According to a famous 1956 study on memory, cognitive psychologist George Miller demonstrated that the average number of pieces of information a human being can manage at one time is seven (plus or minus two). “Miller’s Law” led, among other things, to the creation of the seven-digit phone number. If you’ve ever attempted to dial a new phone number while someone in the background is talking, particularly about numbers, you’re probably familiar with the frustration of losing a digit or two and having to start again because your memory has hit capacity. We can only process so much at once.
The amount of information we’re expected to manage in the digital age is staggering, from the 24/7 news cycle to e-mails to the hundreds of unique passwords we need to navigate our finance and communications platforms. The need for effective, intuitive tools to assist with addressing this information flow has never been greater.
The Growing Field of Knowledge Management
In this climate, Knowledge Management, defined as “the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge, has evolved into its own industry. Knowledge Management is quickly becoming a cornerstone of productivity and efficiency for companies who are willing to invest in the technology, and the brainpower, to harness data for the benefit of their clients, their employees, and their processes.
In my role as Corporate Communications Leader for LS3P, I am passionate about using state-of-the-art Knowledge Management tools to capture, analyze, and share data that will make our lives easier. The amount of data associated with an architectural project is immense; and that amount grows exponentially when spread across multiple projects, more than 320 team members, eight offices, three states, and five + decades. To manage this vital information, we have a variety strategies for capturing, storing, retrieving, and sharing data.
Capturing Project Metrics: Creating nExperts
We don’t ask our team members to add anything to their to-do lists unless we know that it matters. In the realm of data collection, the value of recording project metrics is hard to overstate. At LS3P, we have created a “Data Manager” project role, which has yielded at least three huge benefits: it gives us better metrics on our work, which is instrumental in being able to demonstrate our abilities to others; it helps us develop and use more detailed knowledge about how our buildings work in every project area, which strengthens our designs and benefits our clients; and it is creating “nExperts,” or our next generation of thought leaders who are building their up-to-the-minute professional knowledge with every data point. We care about helping our young leaders grow, and we care about our performance as a firm. Gathering, organizing, and sharing industry research on things like emerging materials, streamlined construction details, or best practices for sustainability also helps us to stay at the forefront of architectural practice.
Storing and Retrieving Data: Investing in Technology
Once we’ve agreed on the value of data collection and enlisted team members in the effort, where do we store this knowledge? A larger architecture team needs a tool kit with multiple platforms which are tailored to various types of data. Like many architecture firms, we use Deltek Vision to store project data from start dates to team members to building performance metrics. We use Planifi and Newforma to coordinate our project planning processes and manage complex communications. To help capture annual performance goals generated by our team members, we use BirdDog as a valuable tool which helps us support employees in fulfilling their professional growth aspirations. We’ve recently invested in Open Asset, which will better organize photos and project sheets by integrating with the data we store in Deltek Vision to quickly generate marketing materials. All of these tools serve unique purposes and work together to store and organize massive amounts of data.
Sharing Information: Communicating with our Team
Knowledge is dormant unless we share it. Internally, we strive to provide real-time communication to every employee through our firm’s custom and proprietary in-house “Dashboard.” The Dashboard, accessible 24/7 via our intranet, provides information on project types, firm financials, and other information tailored to each employee’s role. (The Marketing Team, for example, can view an up-to-the-minute breakdown of each office’s marketing budget and spending by category. Project Managers can visualize financial performance on their projects collectively and individually.) Information which is useful to a wide audience, such as our Human Resources benefits information or an overview of our Digital Design Tools, is hosted on our in-house Wiki pages. We also use our Dashboard to share on-the-boards projects from around the firm to let other offices know what exciting projects are in progress. Making sure employees are informed on key developments and news, and making sure we celebrate successes internally, are both huge priorities.
Sharing Information: Communicating with a Wider Audience
Outside of the firm, we draw from our Knowledge Management Resources to communicate with clients, potential teaming partners, prospective employees, and the general public. We use our data to respond to requests for proposals and prepare for client interviews as we pursue and win new work. We also create and share “Transformation Stories” of successful projects via our e-library on our website, and we draw from the expertise of our thought leaders at every level of experience to post industry-specific articles on our “Foresight” blog. We collect and distribute data related to sustainable design strategies in the form of “Green Case Studies.” We share metrics with industry publications as they create firm rankings and other materials useful to the profession, and we also share data with our peers in professional organizations which will help us to collaborate, build knowledge, and raise the bar across the industry.
The amount of knowledge we process on a daily basis continues to increase as technologies become more complex and the information we collect becomes more granular. The expanding requirements for project design, production, and documentation will necessitate the application of highly informed and relevant knowledge. We are excited to be at the forefront of the Knowledge Management industry, evolving along with this information age, and are eager to see how we can harness the power of our Knowledge Management tools to improve our processes and elevate our designs.