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Talking to Each Other – The Science of Cross-Team Cx Persuasion


There is an insightful scene about what it means to be a successful advisor in The Last King of Scotland, a movie about the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. In the scene Amin is frustrated and rebuking his advisor, Nicholas, after an earlier decision is turning out badly.

Amin says, “You are my advisor. You are the only one I can trust in here. You should have told me not to do it!”

When Nicholas responds, “I did!”, the dictator retorts, “But you did not persuade me, Nicholas. You did not persuade me!”

As a commissioning professional your role is not merely to share information. It’s to cause others to take action on that information – to persuade. This reality arises directly from the structure of the industry: as your insurance company has probably reminded you many times, a commissioning professional takes no legal responsibility for a project and consequently has no authority.

A commissioning professional can’t tell anyone what to do. No one has to fix a single problem you find.

And yet, to be effective, you need others to fix the issues you find. That reality means you must communicate those issues in a way, and in a context, that causes others to act.

Despite this challenge Cx professionals are still highly effective. The effective Cx professionals I’ve seen do it by establishing trust with the other individuals and companies working on the project through accurate, detailed, and considerate communication. They build a relationship with the Owner so that they will have the Owner’s backing when needed. They do these and many other things, on which you can surely speak more eloquently than I.

I’m not a commissioning professional. I make software for commissioning professionals. But you can’t make tools for a job without understanding the nature of the job itself, and in my time, I’ve come to believe two things:

  1. Successful Cx software must understand the unique, communicative, and persuasive role Cx providers play on a project.
  2. The design of Cx software can leverage many of the same communication principles that are so necessary in commissioning.

From 10,000 feet commissioning software might seem interchangeable with hundreds of other issue tracking products you can find on the internet. Or, to hit a little closer to home, it may seem like it’s no different from even other construction management software.

But it is different!

Because the core of commissioning is cross-team communication, commissioning software will make many fundamentally different decisions about how it works. Seemingly small things like who gets to see which issues, whether activity is viewable by others on the project team, even how large the space to type up an issue should be are either dictated or influenced by the nature of the work itself. And then of course larger things, like how pricing works – per user, per project, or some other approach – affect how the software is used and how well it bolsters the communication necessary in Cx work.

These software choices encourage the type of communication that is necessary for successful Cx work. As one example, draft reports provide a convenient, built-in way for a Cx professional to review (or ask others to review) the wording in their issues before they are visible to everyone else, which in turn makes careful and considerate communication more likely.

One somewhat new pain point in Cx communication is dealing with multiple software packages being used in one project. The GC may have a preferred tool or the Owner may dictate the software to be used because of a corporate standard. These tools are often not ideal for tracking Cx work and don’t allow you to use your familiar processes, but at the same time entering data twice (or more) is costly and error-prone.

The answer again, of course, is communication! In this case it is software-to-software communication through APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. APIs provide an automated mechanism for software products to share information. Through APIs, a Cx provider can perform their work in their software of choice, and then that information can be pulled into the GC’s preferred system, automatically and on a regular basis. No intern required!

Software products often start out without an API and only build one after the software has matured. Because of that reality, and the construction industries somewhat slow adoption of technology, we have only started to see widespread API capabilities in the past few years. Now, though, most popular construction and Cx software products provide an API.

The proliferation of APIs opens up a lot of possibilities. For example, we are currently helping one of our customers build a bridge between CxAlloy and Procore, so that flagged issues in CxAlloy can be brought over to Procore – automatically, and on a daily basis – so that the GC and subcontractors can continue to use the software they prefer and no one has to do double entry.

Just like the commissioning work itself, in the long term Cx software will only succeed if it learns how to speak to others effectively. In the past that only meant communicating with users, but today it also means talking to the world of other construction software.

Because communication has such primacy in Cx work, one of the roles of Cx software should be to facilitate that communication. both active and passive communication. Active communication is when you take an explicit action to communicate – like sending an email to the contractor with a list of open issues. Passive communication is the information that project team members will see without any explicit effort on your part.

Cx software really shines with passive communication. This is the dashboard showing that the average time to close issues has just hit 90 days. This is the automated email digest listing the 72 checklists that were completed yesterday. It’s the audit trail for a line of a checklist. It’s the test page showing that today’s test attempt is the fourth attempt.

For more information regarding CxAlloy and the solutions it can provide join our 2019 User Group Conference! October 14 – 16 located at The Battery Atlanta. Register here: https://www.cxalloy.com/

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