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2018 PPC Grant Winner Cassandra Nolan Highlights EDSymposium18 Experience

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Recently I had the honor of being a recipient of the Past President’s Council grant to attend the annual conference, EDSymposium, for the Society for Design Administrators. With this honor comes great privilege; the ability to tell others what the SDA is all about.

In the A/E/C industry, people often think about the very talented Architects, Engineers and Contractors that, together, shape and define the structural landscape of our society. Some might envision an iconic image of a man leaning over a drafting table, blueprints spread about, in deep concentration as he puzzles through his design. Others might picture an engineer surveying a project site, lining everything up in their view as they jot down copious measurements and notes. Or there’s the image that comes to mind of a contractor, dressed in hard hat and florescent yellow vest, overlooking his job site to ensure that safety measures and project schedule are both intact.

The SDA’s annual EDSymposium conference offers a glimpse into a different side of the A/E/C industry: The Managers and Administrators that bring the Architects, Engineers, and Contractor’s innovations and ideas to life, guiding them to a tangible product that can become a reality. SDA supports every facet of those ‘behind the scenes” roles and at EDSymposium we have the opportunity to converge with our peers, view the latest tools and products from our sponsors and partners, and learn new skills to help us keep moving our firms forward.

There is a unique dynamic that occurs when a diverse network of professionals is brought together through the common challenges and successes we experience within our specific industry. SDA cultivates this network of industry experts by leveraging their incredible knowledge base and providing top rate webinars and educational resources year-round, not just at EDSymposium.

Sure, these days you can google the answers to anything. But what about to the questions you don’t know to ask? The HR team that has created a very successful mentorship program leveraging the assets of today’s diverse multi-generational workforce. The Contract Administrators who have developed better, less risk contracts through their own errors and even some trials. Marketing and Business Development specialists who’ve been practicing the art of connecting with our client’s needs. At this year’s conference I heard from speakers, colleagues and my industry peers on each of these vital topics and so much more.

I often find myself thinking, ‘what would that structural landscape of our society look like without those behind the scenes people who bring the designer’s visions to life?’

Our firms have Marketing Coordinators and Business Developers who match that amazing design talent to the needs of our clients and prospective clients. At EDSymposium I heard from Dean Hyers, co-author of Winning AEC Interviews, as he talked about identifying the core values of our clients, so we can connect to them in a way that brings heightened meaning to the solutions we can provide them. As we all know, when we can connect on a deeper level we create a level of trust that not only win’s jobs, but also turns that client into a repeat customer.

This session was perfectly paired by Katherine Eitel Belt’s presentation titled: “Break out of the Pack: Craft & Deliver the Best Speech of Your Life.” A truly dynamic speaker herself, I was impressed when she was still able to relate to her audience with an understanding of the inhibitions that often come with public speaking. Katherine recounted an experience she had presenting under some spectacularly challenging conditions and highlighted different tips and processes we can all use to overcome those situations so that we can still get our message across. The point she made that resonated the most with me was her explanation of the evolution from a speech to a performance to a story, and how it’s at the point when you elevate your content to the level of story-telling that you are able to make that connection to your audience and really succeed in conveying your message.

Every A/E/C firm also has Human Resource Managers, Office Administrators and Contract Specialists who transform a team of architects and engineers from a group of individuals into fully collaborative, legally compliant design firms. I found David Ericksen’s session on “Dollar$ in the Design Team” invaluable. His detailed review of real life examples where design firms, clients, and contractors wound up in contentious litigation over contractual language, scope creep, and missed deadlines was absolutely fundamental to how we, as firms, need to constantly be improving our practice and evaluating our risks. He not only highlighted the common pitfalls, but most importantly, he supplied solutions to help us succeed where others had failed.

Yet another timely topic covered at EDSymposium was “Guiding the Merger of the Mentor and the Millennial,” presented by Jennifer Young, AIA and Associate at her firm PhiloWilke Partnership. Jennifer took us through the evolution of the mentorship program she helped pioneer within her firm. She specifically highlighted the values and assets each generation contributes within today’s workforce and provided video testimonials of staff within her firm that were currently involved in their mentorship program. During her presentation she touched on a compelling fact, that in just a few short years the balance will tip as the Baby Boomer generation, which currently makes up almost 30% of our workforce, retire and Generation Z graduates and enters into the mix at a rapid rate that will quickly add up to almost 40%. With this shift on the horizon, it’s imperative that we all make the most of mentorship opportunities both from the older generations to the newer and vice versa.

Complimenting Jennifer’s message on mentorship, we closed out the speaker sessions with Jeff Simcik’s presentation on “Measuring Individual Effectiveness”. Jeff, as a Principal at VAI Architects, utilizes a system of metrics and evaluation tools to objectively determine the strengths of his teams to make sure that each team member is effectively contributing to the success of the firm. The tools he demonstrated were particularly excellent because they could be applied to many different aspects of our business; evaluating win/loss ratios within the Marketing and BD departments, individual project performance, schedule adherence, budget maintenance and profitability, and even the strengths and skills of the different roles (and generations) within our firms.

As I stated in the beginning, winning the PPC Grant to attend EDSymposium this year was both an honor and a privilege.  I’ve been very fortunate to attend this conference almost every year since the start of my career in the A/E/C industry in 2009. Without fail, I come back energized, inspired, and bursting with ideas and best practices I can’t wait to share with my colleagues. Each A/E/C firm is made of so much more than the talented Architects, Engineers and Contractors that are the face of our industry. It’s the integral roles of Administrators and Managers that create successful A/E/C firms, and it’s the SDA that supports the fantastic individuals in these roles so that we can continue to move our firms forward toward success.

What were your most inspiring experiences at EDS18?  Share them in the comment box below.



Cassandra Nolan, CDFA, CDT, is the Project Coordinator for Burns & McDonnell in Roanoke, VA

Tags:  EDS18  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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