Geo Week News

June 24, 2014

Measure Once

Building Scan Cropped

3 Rules for Improving Process

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I am an architect. I generally get the same response: “Oh, do you design houses?” “No,” I say, “I’m in commercial architecture.” It’s easier than trying to explain that I use 3D laser scanners to document and model existing building conditions. For most, the latter answer is sure to draw the “deer in the headlights” look.

I suppose I am a bit of an oddity amongst my colleagues in the architectural profession. While most would prefer to grab a felt-tipped pen and sketch out their latest design concepts, I’ve always been enamored with measuring existing buildings and figuring out ways to do it faster and more accurately. I love the challenges faced when documenting every bump on a million-square-foot building. After all, taking architecture and marrying it together with technology and process is fun, not work!

The path to my career started when I was working as an intern for another architect. She would send me out to measure a building with nothing more than a clipboard, a pen and a tape measure. She assumed I knew how to use these tools and, more importantly, figured I knew how to go about a process of measuring that would result in documenting the existing conditions accurately — by the way, they never taught this in architecture school. 

I would go the job site and take my measurements, then go back to the office and draw up a plan per the dimensions I wrote down (I’m showing my age, as you’ll notice I didn’t say “CAD it up”). Sure enough nothing ever worked out and I could never get my building to close properly. At some point my frustration would build to the point of either going back out to the jobsite and taking new measurements or hitting the proverbial fudge button and calling it a day. However, this only made me more curious to find ways to come up with a better process.  

As I continued on my career path I was continuously looking to satisfy that curiosity. With frustration and limited places to turn, the trial-and-error process of learning better ways to document a building properly was messy. Of course, as technology changed so did my means and methods. Tired of going it alone, I started reaching out to colleagues in the building documentation industry and found that many also felt some of the same frustrations of having limited places to turn for support.

In 2011 during a conversation I had with the founder of SPAR, I spoke about an idea I had for an industry organization to support stakeholders who have an interest in building documentation. He questioned whether there were any such organizations already in existence. I replied I had yet to find one. He then suggested presenting the idea publicly at the next SPAR Conference and offered me a meeting room to do so. Later that spring, in a room filled with about thirty people, the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD) was born (

Reflecting back on the past thirty years, I have learned three rules to improving process. Rule number one: Curiosity comes first. Questions are the starting point for innovation and process improvement.  Rule number two: Embrace the mess. Process improvement can be a lot like making sausage. You don’t really want to watch it being made, but is sure tastes good when it’s done. Rule number three: Take action! You may be amazed at what you can do if you don’t sit by and wait for others to solve your challenges.

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