Microtasking and the Achievement of the Human Spirit
What do these three great human achievements have in common?
– The 1969 moon landing
– Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
– Completion of a Design-Build construction project
If your answer is “shining examples of the achievement of the human spirit,” we at Butler-Cohen would tend to agree with you. They are also examples of the power of microtasking to accomplish a seemingly momentous project.
According to research from Stanford University, “A large, seemingly overwhelming task can sometimes be transformed into a set of smaller, more manageable microtasks that can each be accomplished independently.” So even as we stare in awe at The Creation of Adam, marvel at the photos of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, or wonder at the latest Butler-Cohen Design-Build project (yes, we choose to keep grouping our accomplishments with those of Michelangelo and NASA), recall that every great project is accomplished brushstroke by brushstroke; math calculation by math calculation; task by task by tiny task over time.
We recently sat down with Jason Permenter from our Pre-Construction team to discuss the power of microtasking to get the job done. [Note: Interview has been lightly edited/condensed for clarity.]
BC: How do you stay on top of the massive task of engaging a team to design a building that meets the needs of all stakeholders?
JP: At the beginning of the design process, we build a detailed schedule to identify every milestone with all the components of the design broken out in much the same way one might approach a construction schedule, so we can track deadlines for all the different drawing sets, specifications, etc. For example, say we are going into the “Phase 2 100% package” portion of the schedule. The schedule will list out all the sub-components of that one task so we can identify which items we need from the Structural Engineering team, and which items from the MEP Engineering team, for example.
That’s the concept of scheduling, both in pre-con and construction. You break a huge task like building a building (or in some cases several as part of one project!) and break it down into the smallest piece and then connect them in the order they need to happen. The beauty of it is that the schedule almost builds itself once you have the sequence and duration of each activity. It falls into place.
BC: So you are made successful in pre-construction by taking a huge project and breaking it down into the smallest possible piece in each area.
JP: Yes. We as a team have found that it is a very effective way track the progress of the design and maintain our focus on reaching the finished product.
BC: How small are some of those pieces? We’re not talking a task as minute as “get the price for one screw.” But how small are they? Broken down into something a person can do in one sitting?
JP: It depends. Some items could be completed in just one sitting. But other items take a while. We break it the tasks down into what’s manageable for that team member. An example task from one of my current projects is to get the “pre-engineered metal building column reactions” which is the structural impact a column will have on the foundation of a building. That item takes that engineer about one week per building, and we have 6 buildings on this project. So we are tracking all six of those tasks at a time. However, since they aren’t necessarily on the same timeline as other design tasks, we can move forward elsewhere in parallel, and when we do receive them, we can then move forward with the next related task.
BC: This sounds like it takes massive amounts of organization.
JP: There are lots of moving parts. Coordinating with the owner, the team of subcontractors at any given point, the design team, architects, engineers, designers…it’s definitely juggling lots of different people and pieces and trying to make it all work. That’s why the schedule is so crucial to the process, even before anyone steps foot on site to begin construction.
Jason Permenter has been with Butler-Cohen since September 2018. His educational background is in Architecture and Land & Property Development. When he’s not breaking a design down to the smallest manageable tasks, he spends his time enjoying the Houston restaurant scene with friends and family, and then exercising to compensate for his frequent over-indulgences.