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  • Writer's pictureDavid Shelton

How Would Steve Jobs Have Delivered "Green Buildings"

Question for an owner beginning a new construction project:

"Are you purchasing a Service, or a Product?"

Service vs. Product: an important difference as we will see..... I think this is an interesting question for owners to ponder as they begin another "Project Acquisition Process"; Service or Product?

The former is, to a degree, well mapped and established. There are variations to delivery models used by owners (Design-Bid-Build vs. IPD or Design-Build). But within these various models, there is a somewhat established process to what and how one purchases services in pursuit of delivering a project; or at least we all accept that there is. Purchasing-processes and management-approaches used by owners when buying 'services' provided by designers and builders are the subject of books, coursework, training, and convention throughout the industry.

In simple terms "buying services' begins by establishing a 'needs' statement, then it's hire programming services, hire design services, put out to bid, hire construction services, hire commissioning services, hire quality management services, hire move-in services, etc. This 'purchase services' approach is (more or less) universally understood, conventional, predictable, replicable, and comfortable. It has its headaches, surprises, and disappointments; but one usually ends up with a 'product' that works. It is the "convention" of our industry. It guides everything from formal education to apprentice programs, from scheduling software to billing procedures, and from evaluation & selection protocols to contract structure.

Innovation, however, within this existing canon is formidable. Consider the latter "Product" purchasing strategy, let's think about how we purchase a car for example. As with the traditional "Service" purchasing approach, we begin with establishing the 'needs' statement:

  1. 4 passengers

  2. 5-Star safety rating

  3. 30 MPG City

  4. 5 year / 50,000 mile warranty

  5. 3 year included maintenance plan

  6. power seating

  7. navigation system

  8. deluxe trim package

  9. Metallic Black exterior

  10. automatic transmission

  11. Audiophile sound system w/ 10 disc CD changer

  12. front and rear heated/cooled seating

  13. automatic climate control

Ok, so that's our 'ideal' automobile. We go to the dealers or shop online to discover that this car (in the market place) is $5K over our budget, must be ordered, and will be delivered in 10 weeks. But we also discover that the same car without the rear heated/cooled seats, without the deluxe trim package, and Frosty White exterior is available at our budget, and can be delivered, off the lot, today.

I know this is a simple (and maybe poor) comparison. But it sparks a conversation about how we purchase buildings and infrastructure, what purchasing buildings and infrastructure is ultimately meant to do: satisfy function, right? We don't tell GM, Ford, or Toyota how to design and build cars, not directly anyway. How there cars are designed and built is connected to the purchasing demands of the market place. Because of this, I think we know why the Ford Focus has outsold the Yugo.

When we buy a car, the manufacturer seems to be the important determinate. The demonstrated experience, reliability, warranty, and performance of, say, Toyota ranks higher than Lada (you'll have to google the Lada). And for some reason, just about every average to above-average selling car out there "looks good": most cars are not ugly or they wouldn't sell. "Reputable" automobile manufacturers seem to get it right without being told what to do, not in the same "decision-making-centric" approach by which we design and build construction projects anyway.

Think about Steve Jobs, the "I-didn't-know-I-needed-it-but-now-I-have-to-have-it" innovator. Imagine him figuring out Green Building deliver. If ever there was an innovator who could delivery a product without being told how to, understanding only the markets expectation of "technology-in-the-hand"...Mr. Jobs may have been it

The Smart Phone is probably the #1 product of innovation in our time (maybe all time). Using the "Product" concept, performance-based design-build (i.e. integrated delivery) can become more of the purchasing of a "product" since its performance-expectations can be enumerated. What's more, the performance-expectations can be prioritized within the constraints of time and money as part of the 'purchase request'.

In other words, a project's RFP can become the order form: listing the desired seating, MPG, Safety Rating, trim package, maintenance plan, and warranty of a project. Since price is always an issue, these desires are prioritized so the dealer (design-builder) can show you whats available (the proposal) from their lot and at your budget.

Want a real-life example of this approach...there are three examples:

  1. The Research Support Facility (a Net-Zero Energy office building in Golden, CO)

  2. The International Animal Health & Food Safety Institute facility (at Kansas State University - Olathe)

  3. the Civil Engineering Squadron Headquarters Building (for the 188th Fighter Wing in Ft. Smith, Arkansas).

All three used detailed, prioritized programming/performance criterion, a fixed-price purchasing strategy, and allowed design & construction decision-making to be controlled by the design-builder (not the owner). The "product" purchasing strategy behind these three projects moved the owner away from linking and controlling services, and toward defining and substantiating the product via measurable outcome metrics.

Mr(s) Design-Builder: you're the 'expert' figure out the 'services' side of things. I'm the owner...this is what the 'final product' must do".

Or if Mr. Jobs was on the project: Steve, I want a cell, now that's a cell phone.

Now to the point of "Are you purchasing a Service or a Product?". It seems our industry has been fertilized by owner-needs and has grown a crop of green expert services. I've read many articles about the un-satifying measured outcomes of supposedly Green projects. From what I can gather, these project have Green experts providing services, and are securing certifications, but in performance terms don't live up to there billing. I don't believe its the fault of the professionals working on the projects. I do however believe it's the "process" that negatively impacts the "product". The unintended consequence of "controlling the process" via conventional "purchasing of services" is a major constraint on innovation (the stuff that Excellence is made of).

Conventional thinkery yields conventional results. Innovation requires the "freedom to break convention": Steve Jobs (and his design-build team) created the iPhone - a product of innovation, without end users directly involved in design/maufacturing decision-making , other than establishing an expectation of performance discovered in the un-written needs of the market place.

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