Architecture without FM = Aeronautics without Pilots

Putting the Case for Facilities Managers Influencing Design


It wouldn’t it make sense if aeronautical engineers designed aircraft without pilots.  Surely then, early involvement of FM Managers would make sense in the design of buildings?

050113-N-6363M-009 Persian Gulf (Jan. 13, 2005) Ð A pilot assigned to the ÒSwordsmenÓ of Fighter Squadron Three Two (VF-32), prepares to enter his F-14B Tomcat on the flight deck aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and her embarked Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) are providing close air support and conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions over Iraq. The Truman Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate Airman Philip V. Morrill (RELEASED)

Photographer Õs Mate Airman Philip V. Morrill (RELEASED)

For example, post occupancy energy performances frequently fall short of their intended targets. How much better might post occupancy outcomes be if there was prior discussion? We also know that when there is a problem – it will be the Facilities Manager to whom Human Resources and Customers Services will go to resolve things. Whilst opportunities for addressing problems are limited, some Facilities Managers can win a reputation for doing what they can to the admiration of their immediate colleagues – if not the wider business.

The challenge however, is that built environments often become “set in stone,” unable to adequately facilitate the activities that go on within them – despite the best efforts of Facilities Managers.   How could we avoid this or at least make sure that what is set in stone is enabling rather than disabling?


No doubt Facilities Manages will be familiar with putting the case forward for investments in changes that bring about cost savings. Nevertheless, there is always the risk that one could be making short term cost savings that will have a term detrimental impact on less easily quantified matters and erode value over the longer term, or that you overlook other changes that could yield value. Consequently, building a case that captures value is a wise move.

So – I might ask – how many new projects do you get involved in? How might you put the case for being involved and to bring about prior discussion?    What value based insights could you bringing these projects?

Design for Operability

Conventional wisdom would tell us that that it is essential when designing ships and aircrafts to consult those who captain them and those who keep them operational? Yet it seems that too often, little consideration is given to this basic logic in building design!  The first question therefore to explore and put to a project team is whether past projects, that Facilities Managers have then had to manage, were fit for purpose and whether their designers took account of, not only costs and operational factors, but the opportunities that could have arisen from the application of foresight?

Putting forward a Dynamic Case

A dictionary definition of dynamic is: “(of a process or system) characterised by constant change, activity or progress.” How might you put a dynamic case that includes the things that niggle you in your daily work, but stretches deeper and further?

The definition for “dynamic” implies a “process or system” being in place. Let me suggest however, that when you start looking at an issue, that you break free from just seeing what you bring  as being about process only and start seeing a system of interconnected subjects for which you and others in the business are responsible but where you could be the vital link?

The challenge is to bring a case that persuades not only your business leaders, but also the project design team. You will therefore need to bring value to what designers refer to as the Brief Development stages of a project.  Yes costs and operational insight are important and indeed vital.  But value to the business isn’t solely derived from costs savings.  Real value is much more dynamic than this and can inspire business leaders and design teams if communicated well.

Sustainability and Systems Thinking

What so often hinders adequate brief development is narrow and blinkered thinking. No-one is immune from this, and whilst Facilities Managers are strategically placed, narrow thinking can still creep in from your comfort zone – unless you are prepared to up your game.  The antidote, in part, is systems thinking. In simple terms, it is joined-up thinking, bringing people around the table to gather perspectives.

Meanwhile, few business cases can now be put forward at board level without reference to sustainability. However, do businesses really know what we mean by this?  Perhaps we are at risk of “green badging” dysfunctional environments that are hardly sustainable?  How might we therefore start to open up a broader systems-thinking approach to sustainability?

The Future

Sometimes’ we might be forgiven for thinking that sustainability conveys a notion of constancy. However, change will come; and as such, sustainability thinking also means engaging with this change.

We cannot always predict change but we can start to anticipate possibilities via exploring scenarios. For those of you who are keen to keep clear of disaster, you might refer to this as being about disaster preparedness and business recovery. Nevertheless, could it be about more than this?

Productive Work-Enabling Facilities

Many of the challenges that you are likely to encounter, as a Facilities Manager, involve interactions between people (whether staff, customers, clients or service users) and your facilities. As such, you might be tempted to think that people are the problem and that they make the running your facilities difficult; and yet true business or organisational value is not had from the facilities you manage, but from the people that occupy them.  After all, what does “facility” imply other than to “facilitate” the activity of occupants?  Despite this, there is a growing sense that many workplace designs are not working for those that use them.  How might you seek to address this?

One of the biggest reasons therefore, for Facilities Managers getting in at the Pre-Design and Design stages of a project is to pay proper attention to how well facilities work for their intended occupants. You may be sold trendy design concepts such as “smart” or “agile” working, but do you know what the impacts are on employee performance and productivity?    This is where a clued up Facilities Manager can make sure that the right advice is sought.  People such as the author of this article are able to share insights as to how some supposedly “trendy” designs can become dysfunctional and demonstrate the value of seeking the right advice.

Connectivity, BIM and Soft Landings

It is not uncommon for built environment and information environment design projects to run separately. You might be inclined to think that these two environments are being integrated, as you see IT systems going into the environments that you manage.  However, it’s always worth taking a step back and asking some searching questions.

How will what is proposed make use of Building Information Modelling / Management to the best effect? How will an information cycle be achieved in furtherance of Soft Landings?  What information is being put in at the beginning of the cycle to start with?  What provision is in place for people visiting and using your facilities?


Many projects suffer from a lack of input from Facilities Managers in the early stages and yet we need to make sure that in seeking an input, project value is not sacrificed by confusing it with cost savings. Facilities Managers could, however, bring a dynamic, forward thinking approach.    Could such an approach be career changing?  Well it could be.  Engaging in these issues could get you a promotion.  But let’s perhaps take stock and review what it could mean to you in your current role…?

New Course called “Influencing New Projects”

If you are interested, I will be running a new course for BIFM called “Influencing New Projects” on the 11 May 2016 and 29 November 2016 in London at a venue to be announced see:

We will be offering strategies for FM getting in both at Pre-Design and Design Stages – informed by a dynamic set of subjects that should be of concern to Facilities Managers and Designers alike. I will be drawing on my experience as an Architect, Director of Building User Design, Senior Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, BRE Global Standing Panel of Experts member, and steering group contributor to several British Standards on FM

If you want to make enquiries about the course please contact me:

Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant, Director of Building User Design


or BIFM  Tel: 020 7248 5942 or 020 7489 7628




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