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34 min read

Peopleverse 006: Jeffrey Potter

Jeffrey Potter graduated from North Dakota State University in 2013 and started his specifications career in 2015 at HMC Architects. It didn't take long for Jeff to fall in love with specifications and the world of architecture, ultimately becoming the head specifier at HMC Architects in 2020. Jeff is currently working at Deltek as a Specifications Solutions Product Manager helping shift the industry towards a revolutionary approach to specifications.


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In this episode we discuss:

  • Jeff’s unique path to becoming head specifier in an architecture firm
  • Jeff’s story about how came to love spec writing after starting in the industry with no experience
  • whether or not the specification process has changed over the past few decades
  • the challenges and outcomes of updating the tools and specifications process in architecture firms today
  • the problem Jeff is helping to solve in regards to specifications in his new role
  • whether or not the current specifications process is ‘broken’ 
  • how data analysis and data-driven decisions could help in the specification process
  • what traits make for a good specifier in a firm
  • how specifiers can help everyone in an office understand what is in a spec
  • a discussion about the path to wider adoption of ownership of the specification by the team building the BIM model
  • insight into the day-to-day of being a specifier at a large firm
  • how integrating specification writers into the project team earlier in the design process drives better project outcomes
  • examples of challenges involved in updating a spec process
  • some lessons learned from Jeff’s implementation of ‘scope of work meetings’ and ‘level of expectation meetings’ as a specifier
  • Jeff’s personal addition of a fifth ‘C’ to the four C’s of CSI
  • some issues Jeff has observed with public bid projects (design-bid-build) from a specifier’s point of view
  • the superpowers that building product experts can use in the design process to deliver value to the design team 
  • the importance of specifiers and product reps understanding that the design team, in many cases, is thinking in terms of assemblies rather than individual products and what Jeff calls an ‘assembly mindset’
  • the idea of a specification and data-driven recommendation engine for building products
  • the importance of mentorship, knowledge capture, and knowledge transference from experienced spec writers to emerging professionals
  • why Jeff recently chose to transition his career from being a specifier at an architectural firm to a specifications solutions product manager
  • why someone should consider becoming a specifier
  • how technology can help obtain more efficiency, productivity, and accuracy in specifications
  • Jeff’s vision of the future of specifications 
  • Jeff's message for the building industry

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Episode Transcription:

Evan Troxel

Welcome to Peopleverse. I'm your host, Evan Troxel. And I'm an architect. Peopleverse is a show where I talk with people throughout the building industry to unearth authentic stories from interesting people to entertain and inspire. You might have heard of the metaverse. Well, we're doing something different here. In many ways, the building industry is still very much like the Wild West.

Even in a time when technology and data are abundant. Peopleverse explores the people and the stories behind the projects, to remind us why we got into this industry in the first place, and to build relationships along the way. This show is brought to you by Tect. And you can learn more about what we're doing to connect the supply and demand sides of the building industry And you can learn more about Peopleverse

Joining me today is Jeffrey Potter. Jeff graduated from North Dakota State University in 2013, and started his specifications career in 2015 at HMC Architects, it didn't take long for Jeff to fall in love with specifications and the world of architecture, ultimately becoming the head specifier at HMC, and 2020. Jeff is currently working at Deltek as a specifications solutions Product Manager helping shift the industry toward a revolutionary approach to specifications. Jeff, it's great to see you. Thanks for joining.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Evan Troxel

You have an interesting backstory. I would love it if you could tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are with specifications. And even now at Deltek, but man, what a what a, I'll just say it's a crazy route that you've taken to get to get to there. So why don't you tell the audience what that was?

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, thank you. It's, it's unique. I'll put it that way. I'm a firm believer in if you do well, in high school, you have the options to go wherever you want, or college. And so I went to North Dakota State, which you think was back, I probably could have picked somewhere a little bit warmer, you know, minus, minus 40 degree winters was a lot of it wasn't great.

But I graduated high school wanting to be a pharmacist, actually, my brother had kind of persuaded me to become a pharmacist and North Dakota State had a great pharmacy program. I went there went through my first couple years and realize that biochem is a lot harder than it than it turns out biochem organic chemistry, never made it to biochem organic chemistry was much harder than what I thought it was going to be, along with all the other science classes, so stopped that route and ended up following the track of criminal justice. I was already two years in and really wanted to be out in four. I didn't want to spend any more money on my college tuition.

And so all the credits align with criminal justice, and at that time, had decided I want to become a police officer. And so in 2013, I graduated with a degree in criminal justice. After that, I had worked at Costco for a little bit, doing some Merchandising, and then after that went and worked for Uline, which is a national warehousing shipping company driving a forklift. During that whole time, I was trying to become a police officer at a couple of different departments.

And ultimately, that didn't work out the way I wanted it to. And so my last couple of weeks at Uline. I really wanted a different career path. I didn't know what that was with a criminal justice degree. You know, you have police officer, you have probation, you have the law side of things and didn't really excite me the way that I thought it would. And so I actually had my wife, my now wife just apply to any job that she could find on indeed,

Evan Troxel

for me, you outsourced your job. I love it.

Jeffrey Potter

I did yeah, free of charge. My wife did a really good job I didn't say. And one of them was a spec coordinator at HMC architects. And so I went in and sat down for the interview, not knowing a single thing about specs, not knowing a single thing about architecture. Wow. And, you know, walked away like, Man, I really want this job. Not necessarily because I was like, Oh, I really liked specs.

I had no idea still after that interview what they were, I mean, they showed me the project manual and like, wow, that's a really big document. Done. Don't know how it's put together, but I'll figure it out. But I walked away thinking, you know, HMC, they, they get every other Friday off. It was doughnuts on the Fridays that you work. It was like, I want that, like, I want to work somewhere where you get every other Friday off and doughnuts.

And so, you know, I guess I sold myself well enough in the interview to land a job. And you know, I the rest is almost history, right? I fell in love with spec writing and worked my butt off and got lucky, I think a couple times with the way that events transpired.

But, you know, I remember sitting down with my mentor, the first day, going over the three parts of the spec, and not really knowing how that all fit together, not knowing the different spec sections and not knowing how they came together. Not knowing the drawing side of things. I mean, I remember we were doing I think it was Halloween, and we were doing like Pictionary, or something in the conference room. And I was volunteered or something to be the drawer for,

Evan Troxel

of course you asked the young person. Yeah, right. And

Jeffrey Potter

one of them was like, a parapet wall. And I was like, I have no idea what a parapet wall is. And so I, I think I was drawing like a parrot with a plus sign and like a wall, you know, because I had no idea. And now I think back I'm like, well, parapet wall is actually really easy to draw and identify. You know, and so I mean, I started from from nothing, right, like, thinking today, man, like looking at my house. It's like, I used to think stucco was, was stucco. I didn't know the alternative word was, or actual meaning or assembly name was Portland cement plaster.

Like I remember asking my mentor Joe, like what Portland cement? plastering? Has, you have stucco on your house? I said, Yeah, it's that. Oh, okay. And then, you know, sitting down and learning everything that goes into that assembly. And so I really started from literally nothing like I didn't know anything. And, and always thought architecture was about design. Like I remember in high school, a couple of people want to become architects, and it was always about design.

And and you asked me to draw a building like, I can't, like you get a square, you get a block. Okay, I'm not that left brain, I think they call it like not that creative. To be able to picture something and put it down on paper. It's always had this wrong idea of what architecture was, and not realizing that there was a technical component to architecture, right with the code and specifications are certainly technical in nature. So yeah, it's literally gone from zero to 100. Basically, in the last six years,

Evan Troxel

it's pretty incredible to think that you just happened into this, right? This is something that happened to you. You were obviously willing to do it. But yeah, it's very different from people who go to architecture school, and are always looking five 710 years down the road. Of what that education and graduation and licensure, I think the average path to licensure is something like 17 years, which is from the time you start your education in architecture, not including any, you know, primary schooling or anything.

And so it's pretty incredible to think how architects are thinking really long term, and the projects take a really long time. And they're incredibly intricate in all these things. And you're like, Bring it on, I'm here for this. I mean, and it's so interesting, this this path that you've taken from criminal justice, to falling into architecture.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, it's, you know, I think about it often, like the, like, the skill set needed to be a good specifier. And it's really detail oriented. And it's like, well, yeah, that's, that's criminal justice, because there was a lot of research involved a lot of reading research papers and analyzing and figuring out you know, extracting data from that and how to interpret that. And that is really specifications in nature, right? You're extracting data, data from written information and figuring out how the puzzle pieces fit together.

You know, and I saw this need, you know, I look back and it's like, what, what's that defining The moment where it was like, Wow, I love specs. And this is the vision that I have for it. And, and I, you know, it was in a meeting with you remember Paul and, and Joe and Sherry and we were talking about Revit integration with specs and how that all fit together.

And, and that was the moment that I think it really clicked for me like, wow, we've been doing specs the same way for like 50 years, like nothing's really changed maybe the, you know, the process of, of, you know, producing them in terms of, you know, it was a typewriter and kind of copy machine, old time copy machine, and it turned to, you know, Word Perfect or word 2000. Microsoft Word, you know, and now it's, what's the next step?

And, you know, there's been lots of talk about BIM, and what has been mean, and model delivery. And the portion that I think that always gets forgotten, are the specs, you can't deliver a set of drawings without the specs, 50% of the contract documents. So where to specs fall into that? Where do specs fall into him? Where do specs fall into model delivery? And that's really one of the the, I guess, problems that I'm trying to solve now.

Deltek is, is how do you specifications fall into that? Was there a place in the future, because we no longer want to deliver, you know, a binder that that's this thick, full of specs to a contractor when the drawings and the model are all digitized, and you can pull them up on a computer? So? So yeah, that was really kind of the point where it was like, sky's the limit, right?

Like I can be either someone that just kind of sits back and does back the same way that everyone's been doing them for 50 years, or I can be Evolutionary Mind that kind of pushes them in a direction that I think that they can go, you know, realizing that, you know, I don't have the answer to everything. So let's reach out, because there's tons of individuals, spec writers, architects, building manufacturer reps that have different perspective and might have great ideas on how to push specs in direction.

Evan Troxel

There's so many things in in what you're saying that I wanted to touch on. I don't know if we'll get to them all. But you know, Jeff, and I just kind of put it out there. Jeff and I worked together for many years at HMC. I was leading digital practice. And he became basically the only person what you were calling yourself the sole specifier HMC, right the head specifier. And what's interesting about that is Jeff, I don't I'm not going to ask you how old you are. But you're young.

Okay. And the traditional idea of a specifier, in an architecture firm is of a much older architect, right? I mean, just generalizing here. I mean, this is I was on a I was on a meeting just the other day, and it was very much an older demographic, let's just say. And there's nothing wrong with that. But just to kind of give people an idea that you fell in love with specifications. Nobody. And I'm again generalizing, but I'm just going to put it out there this way. Nobody goes to architecture school to become a specifier.

And you talked about being detail oriented, I think some architects are detail oriented, but they usually end up being a technical architect. And they usually do end up interfacing with specifications department quite often. But but they're usually the ones who are actually figuring out the waterproofing of the building and how the things actually go together to make it buildable. And so Wow, just a really interesting path on how you got there. And then I also got to experience with you kind of this.

Evolution is a word that we could use, right? To update the process and the workflows of how specifications happened at HMC throughout the life of a project as it is in the various phases of design and an architecture office. And I think that was something that I would like to get into today. I mean, for a couple of reasons. One is there's a lot of firms struggling with this exact same thing. How to do that, how to update their processes and workflows, and what are the what are the advantages to doing so right?

I think you and I were texting the other day. It's like, let's start with why. And then we can get to the how at some point, which I think also speaks to where you're doing what you're doing now at Deltec. Right, which is really much more on the column of the why are we doing this I mean, the product that you're working on is a tool that what becomes a how this is going to be accomplished, but got to have the tools gotta have the right workflows, you got to have the perspective, you got to speak the languages of specifiers, you got to speak the languages of architects, you got to speak the languages of manufacturers, and bring all that together, so that people then have a good tool to do all of these things.

Jeffrey Potter

It hasn't been an easy journey, almost, because specifications are, you know, they're last on everybody's mind. And there's this mindset, I think of, you know, if it's not broken, why fix it? And I would argue that specifications are broken, right, we shouldn't we shouldn't be using Microsoft Word, or similar platforms to do to produce specifications.

You know, there's, there's a big movement, I think, right now in the industry evolving around data, and what we can use for for data and you know, specifications are all data, right?

Like, you've got different products that you specify different manufacturers that you specify, don't you want to know, you know, if you specify product A, if it gets substituted 70% of the time, like, when do you want to know that? Because if that is truly happening, why are you? First off, I want to know why it's being substituted? Is it because cost? Is it because of supply chain issues? Is it because it's just not a regional favorites? And if you can find that answer to why don't spend the time specifying it, right,

Evan Troxel

and then further reacting to that change later on down the road burning hours to do so

Jeffrey Potter

Exactly, it all, and you're burning hours, you're burning cash, going through that substitution? And then, you know, you can run into issues where one project you approve the substitution on another project you deny it? And why is that? Why do you have conflicting answers to pretty much the same question on that same product?

So, you know, its specifications, I think, are just in its infancy with data driven decisions. And, you know, looking at the processes of how they are produced and how the project manual is put together. You know, it's, I think it's been very stagnant. You know, for decades, it's always been a specifier has a reactive approach, it's you sit back, and the team just feed you red lines, or red marks or comments or emails, right.

And a good specifier, in my mind is getting out there to the teams, and making them aware of the specifications, making them aware of the decisions that they have to make making them aware of the information that they have to provide you. And I think probably even in your case, you know, you, you probably get emails, or I've gotten emails where someone emails you, hey, I want a metal wall panel. Okay, like, I need more than that, right?

Like, I need the whole, I need the whole book, I just don't need the cover. Story. Give me the story and just offer that there's like a zillion questions. And I just think of right off top my head, well, what's the material? What's the gauge or the thickness? You know, how's it attached? What's the finish coding? You know, do you have a basis of design? Right? Like, that's probably the most simplest question that can be answered. And so it's, it's really, you know, making sure that everybody understands, you know, what information is in a spec, how it can be provided to a specifier.

Team member? And then how can you extract that same information, and ask the proper questions to get data from it so that you can drive you know, the next project decision, or you can drive master update. So one of the first things that I did, you know, kind of once I got, I don't want to say full control of the masters. But one of the things I did was I want to know how often each spec is is used within a given year. I mean, I think the library when I left was northward, northward have about 1000 sections.

And so you think, like, do I have time to update 1000 sections? Like, no, I don't especially prioritize. Yeah, you can't and it's like, well, this section hasn't been used in five years. So do I need update it? Like, you know, how many times was it used prior to that? So one of the one of the things I did was I got with you know, someone That new SQL basically went in the the database of the software that were, we were using and extracted.

How many times each spec was used in that given year. And, you know, from how I realized, Wow, pretty much every project. Like the first 50 sections are exactly the same, right? Like every project needs joint sealant, every project needs paint, you know, insulation, chipboard, it's all the same. And so it's like, okay, I can focus on that, and limit the RFIs and substitutions on those, which then gives me more time and more time for others to focus on more important tasks.

Evan Troxel

Yeah, one thing you said earlier? Well, there's there's two things out of that most recent, I'm gonna start with the second one first, which is establishing context was really important for you, right? When somebody says, I need a metal panel, that is too vague, and my, what we're doing at Tect. And I know you know, this, but just for the benefit of the audience, is that person to person conversation is way faster to find that information than somebody jumping on Google and typing in the words mental panel, because guess what, like 2 billion results come up, right?

Yeah. And so you as a specifier, in a company that does certain types of architectural prod projects, has a shortlist. And, you know, the various contexts that that those might fit with. And so you need to know that information. That's where the kind of data driven stuff that a lot of people are pushing out there actually falls apart, right, which is the contexts don't exist in the data. People have the contexts. So that was that's just part two.

Now let's jump jump to part one, which is you said something earlier that people usually forget about specs, or they wait till the last minute, it was something he said something to those Yeah, alludes to that. And that was really why the big driver, I think, well, that was one of the big things we wanted to change right with the process at HMC. And I don't know how successful it was. But the idea was, and you can probably speak more to the success or failure or wherever it landed on the spectrum there.

But I'm giving people ownership by having the specifications being driven by decisions that were made in the model was kind of the path to ownership. That's how we saw it, right? When somebody is putting in a wall assembly, and they're deciding what those layers are.

They're building the spec, and it's giving them a view into the specification, because they're the ones adding the assembly codes to the elements so that it pulls the right section automatically into the spec. And that is a behavioral change that is easy for people to make, because they're already doing the model building, but they're oblivious to the specification.

Well, now we're marrying those. And it's helping. I mean, there was a lot of other pieces to the process that were put in to get you on the team sooner rather than just the reactive person at the end trying to button everything up, which was a huge problem, right? When you're a sole specifier with an architectural team of 250 people with 100 different projects going on, like how do you do it all?

Well, part of the answer of how you do it all is you understand the project by being a part of those teams, and not just some outsource person who sits in the corner downstairs. Right? Yeah, totally. So that was I would love it, if you could maybe speak to some of the experiences that did come out of this shift in the process that we did there. And just to help our design community out there understand why it's important to think about a new workflow process.

Jeffrey Potter

I'll start by saying it wasn't a complete success. But it wasn't a complete failure. You know, it was a learning experience for sure. And, you know, worrying that a one size approach doesn't fit everybody, you know, we set a good process in there, right, like most back firms, or most architecture firms with dedicated spec riders, you know, they probably get involved around schematic design, design development, right? And then you communicate from your team or with the team from there. And you develop a project manual or maybe an outline spec or

Evan Troxel

they're going down the list of QA QC for a schematic design deliverable and like at the very end is outlined spec. It's like, Oh, crap, we got to do an outline. Yeah,

Jeffrey Potter

exactly. And so you know, that right there is, well how do we engage the spec type spec writer team or individual earlier right, and it's the biggest success out of all that process revision was Getting people to at least talk or think about specs, like have it in the back of their mind like, oh, yeah, I need I need specs by the end of the month. Let me let me talk to Jeff on the email Jeff, right like that, right there is is a great improvement to what it was.

Because people weren't necessarily forgetting about specs to the last moment, or they, they might not have understood the process, but they realize that, oh, I can go to Jeff for questions or for Jeff to help to explain it. So, you know, from that process, redesign, if you want to call it, you know, it evolved even even more by the time I left. One of the biggest mistakes that I had, was saying that I wanted to be more a part of the team, and not realizing the unintended consequences from that.

Evan Troxel

Are those you should you should tell everybody what the Oh, yeah,

Jeffrey Potter

definitely. More emails. More unnecessary emails. Because when people think this ASCII everyone, right, yeah. When when it was like, Yeah, I want to be part of the team more so I can understand the project. It's like, okay, cool. We'll see see you on emails to our mechanical engineer. Be careful what you wish for. Yes. Yeah. And, and I started getting more, more emails, I'm like, Why? Why am I in these and it didn't hit me at first, like, wow, I'm getting like 50 emails a day, like the mechanical engineer to the civil engineers that have nothing to do with me. By how many projects?

Yeah, like, hundreds, right. And it became, you know, kind of a nuisance and actually having to tell people like, Don't put me on these emails, like, unless I need to do something, like either put it in a Bluebeam session, which is where it should go, or email me. And, you know, I took from that realizing, like, Oh, me saying I wanted to be a part of the team were more about the project, like that was the team's response to what I was saying. And from that, I was like, alright, not gonna say I want to be a part of the team. But I need more information about the project.

So I can visualize it in my head. And so I earlier right, and so, prior to me leaving HMC, I set up what we had called a scope of work meeting, scope of work meeting and a level of expectation meeting. And so we have the scope of work meeting first. And that was essentially 15 minutes, understanding what the project was like to show me a couple of renderings, so that I can picture the project in my head. You know, I'll develop a basic table of contents suspects from there.

You know, and we'll discuss about that at a later time. But it was essentially just, alright, here's the project, because if you get a spec checklist, for me, it's like, okay, is this you know, where is this in the project? What am I visualizing, oh, this metal panel is a soffit, not a wall panel, okay, that, that can lead me to change the spec a little bit for the team at the beginning, so that they're not having to do major edits on it later on.

And then the level of expectation meeting, I realized, we never set even in our own job descriptions, like, what were the expectations when it came to specs. And so I wanted to learn what every team member what their expectations were, of me for that project. And what I expected from them, right, and I expected communication, I expected them to update me on project deadline changes because that affected my my workload, my workflow.

I expected them to communicate design changes to me product changes. And with me, they expected some teams expected me to be a source of communication between them and manufacturer reps, or to provide insight to make sure they're making the right product decisions. Other teams wanted me if they were younger, had younger team members wanted me to be more like a mentor, and to sit down with those team members and kind of go over specs and how they, how they kind of fit with the drawings and details that they're working on.

And, and so, you know, that initial process that we had worked on probably like three or four years ago, it evolved quite a bit. You know, we never made it into the whole Revit integration portion of it. Because it was difficult to get certain team members to understand that they had to add in the assembly codes. And with those assembly codes It was just more time to the project right and add more time to the project isn't necessarily a good thing.

Even though it saved me, you know, it cut down my work by by half, it just never would never realize, right, like, I'd seen some teams do it. And, you know, ultimately I was working with digital practice to get those assembly codes into the families and smart details and stuff. But it, you know, it was just taking too long, by the time I left, it still wasn't there. So but that is essentially, you know, that's where it would have gone if I would have stayed order, then in close to a full automation is we could get, you know, I like to think of the 8020 rule. So automated to 80%. And give me in the team, the remainder 21 of

Evan Troxel

the things that we wanted to do was redo the entire standard detailed library, out of Revit components so that those assembly codes could be attached to each one of those components, which would then allow for that automation that you're talking about. And that is an incredible amount of work for the different. I mean, Project typology aside, if you were just to pick one, it's a huge undertaking, because then it it engaged another team, right, which is our I forget what they were called.

But you know, the project architects who were like a Standards Committee of sorts, who would decide what everything actually was going to become called, because there's five words for every different thing out there. So how are we going to get more standardized around that kind of thing, so that we can then attach keywords to those things so that people can find those things when they're looking for them so that the spec ultimately gets built when those detail components, or 3d families get placed into the Revit into the BIM model?

Wow, it's just an incredible undertaking to change all of that, and it does take years to do it. Yeah, and there's lots of red tape and sticky goo along the way with the teams fighting over what to call something right like that, at the most basic level, getting beyond that is even difficult.

Jeffrey Potter

Just gypsum board is a great example we're sheathing right it it seemed to always defer back to well, what are the specs? Say? It's like, okay, this is what they five things. Yeah, exactly. Right. And so it's, you know, you talked about the the four C's that CSI has clear, concise, correct and complete. And, you know, I always like to add a fifth one consistency, you know, like, like, that's a huge part of architecture.

I can't imagine being a contractor or even a bitter trying to estimate a set. And you go through and you're like, okay, the spec says chipboard, one DCE. Tell says wallboard, one detail says gypsum board. The other one says, board. Yeah, drywall, are these different products? Or is this all the same one and like, you know, like, it's got to be, it's complicated.

And that is something that, you know, we were fixing, but you're right, it takes years, it takes a lot of individuals to get that going. And when, you know, Project hours billable hours drive industry, they extremely difficult to do it on a timely basis, because by the time you do that, that first round of details, or first round of Revit families, probably already outdated, to be honest, you have to project

Evan Troxel

deadlines, always when when it's competing for somebody's time to actually do that kind of work as well. And you're right, like things do evolve over time, you would hope that you would get to a point where the standards have been set, and then only the standards evolve instead of five versions of quote unquote, standards. Right. For Yeah, the naming conventions, for instance. Yeah. Anyway, yeah. It's, it's, it's a long and troubled story.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, it is. And, you know, my experience is only a limited agency. But, you know, I would imagine that a lot of other firms are going through the same problems, right. You know, updating, keeping up to date Revit families, in details, standard details and keeping up with with industry changes, and, you know, you just talked about California alone, and the changes in the code the last five years having to add continuous insulation to the outside of the wall.

I mean, that that changes everything in terms of the assembly and, and how, how, how all those pieces fit together and how do they interact and, you know, how does one material affect the performance of another and, and, you know, just one example You know, if you do have poly ISOs, and your eight installation, rigid insulation, poly ISO, and it has a foil face on it.

You know, this wasn't talked about when I first started at HMC. But now, there's a recommendation that you put in a bond breaker between the plaster and foil face because the plaster, the alkalinity, and the plaster will eat away the foil over time. And so, you know, that's something that wasn't talked about five years ago. I recently learned about it probably about two years ago.

And so, you know, trying to keep up with with all of that, and in how does that affect your specifying? Do you want to specify a different product? Or how does that currently affect projects in construction right now and that you're working on right, like, like it has this wide impact across many different avenues within a firm, and not to change topics, but you know, architecture, I feel like is more scientific than what it was 1020 3040 years ago, in

Evan Troxel

science building,

Jeffrey Potter

it's huge in as architects, even as specifiers, 10s of 1000s of products, like we're never going to know everything about it. And that's where building reps come into place. Right? Like they are the experts in the industry operates in these silos. That is, it doesn't benefit anybody. Right. And, and I'm not a big proponent of public bid the way that it's currently written into law now, because it, it promotes those information silos, right.

Like, you can't really bring in a rep early on in a public bid project. expect much out of them. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Because why am I going to give you all of these hours if I'm not guaranteed the work at the end? Right, like, like, and that that inhibits the project?

Why, you know, it doesn't make sense to me, right. And so that, you know, that was kind of a side mission of mine, a couple years ago, and realizing that it is going to take a huge effort to kind of get the industry to realize that not that I want to inhibit competition, or cut out the little guys. But we've got to come up with a better process of getting the key stakeholders involved early and often, and make sure that they are through the life of the project, you know, so that we can get the best product for the owner at the end of the day? Yeah, absolutely.

Evan Troxel

I mean, there's so many lessons learned in there, I think, you know, maybe maybe there's some things in there for some future episodes, I wanted to talk about your shift to what I say working in the profession to working on the profession. And why you chose to do that, I think you kind of set it up earlier, in a nice way, talking about this kind of team to team project to project struggle, and every team is kind of at a different place, and they see a different amount of value in it.

And it as that soul specifier and you see all these issues that you want to correct, it becomes incredibly difficult to do that at scale in a firm, let alone the entire profession, unless you go to a company that is doing it for the entire profession. So maybe you can talk about your shift to Dell tech in those terms. And let us know, let let me know if I'm on track with kind of laying it out like that. And where you see it going?

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, totally. You definitely are. Because, you know, there were a couple of reasons why they had a career change. But you know, one of them definitely was? Do I want to have a firm? Impact, firm wide impact? Or do I want to have an industry impact? And it was really revolved around the question is if I stay at HMC, can I impact the industry the way that I want to?

And, you know, I had a great game plan and a great vision to kind of revolutionize the specs and the process at HMC and make it a well oiled well function machine. Right, that was going to be next gen. Evolutionary, I had a process in mind of have, you know, who to hire for spec writers how to train them because we all know, respect writer shortages and so I wasn't gonna go that route.

I was gonna go you know, more of an inexperienced, not even an architecture student but someone who was at least interested in younger Potter. Yeah, I guess right. and train them up to be a spec writer and had this whole plan in place. But ultimately, it was, you know, I couldn't have a big impact. The way I wanted to and so I made that the shift to Dell Tech because I can have that industry wide impact in revolutionising specs to one of the big things that we're working on is an assembly driven mindset, you know, get away from, you know, just just talking about stucco, Portland cement plaster and thinking of the entire wall assembly, what does that outer layer, right?

Evan Troxel

I totally agree with what you're saying about the assemblies. And the reason I say that as an architect is because that's when during the design process, we draw assemblies, we think in assemblies as, as an element. And that's how BIM works. That's how the software earlier in the design process works, even when it's undefined, it's still you're still thinking of these things in terms of assemblies, and not individual products.

And I think this is an important thing for people who are on the supply side to hear, because they tend to focus on their products, and not necessarily how it's matching up with all of their nearest neighbors in these assemblies. And how much value could be brought to the project teams by bringing that information with your products to help them so that they don't have to do this level of interaction 300 times on a project, right, because as soon as I'm done with your product, now I have to go do it for the next product in the assembly, and then the next product in the assembly.

Or you could have already done that and provide a super, I'll say invaluable service to a design professional by saying, here's how it works in an assembly like this, here's how it works in an assembly like this. And I'm willing to help you. Fine tune that for your application. But here's a huge head start.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, well, even one step further. You're looking at product A, but we also have product B, C and D and can give you the whole complete assembly, and it's totally warrantable. Right, like, like that is you know, it's some of the questions that should be asked, like, if you're looking at a specific product, look at the whole assembly and see if that manufacturer has different products for that that whole assembly, right, like you look at E is a great example.

Right? Like most of those manufacturers, if not all have their own weather barrier. But they also provide the XPS or EPS, insulation, whatever it is. And then they've got the top coats and you know, the primers and the last to complete that assembly. You know, and there's other stucco manufacturers that can do that with that as well. And so yeah, you're right, like that assembly mindset is huge. And it's, it's a complete shift in thinking.

Because when you you know, you're drawing out the assembly, you just think about stucco, right? Like you pawn it off to another individual and say, Hey, go look at the specs for stucco. And but how does that? How's that doing a justice, right? Because if you're making changes to just the stucco, doesn't that affect other portions of the assembly?

Or may it like like it very well could and then it gets missed, and then you can potentially end up with RFIs or change orders. I just cost money and time to process and, and so, you know, it's it's definitely as a specifier, who's used to thinking individualistically it's a it's a definite change, to think of things in assembly. But I think we have a good grasp on it at Dell tech and where it needs to go. And you know, it's been, I think there's a couple more challenges down the road. But I think we're we've got the tools and the mind in place that we can easily accomplish that.

Evan Troxel

I think one of the interesting things about this data driven approach, and it goes back to something you said earlier, which is you want to know what the things were that people were were specifying most often so that you could prioritize which ones to give the love and attention to when it came to updating the masters. But at a place like Deltec with with the products that you're working on.

You're going to be able to it's kind of like a recommendation engine almost it's in terms of like Pete what people are used to on Amazon or Netflix or whatever, where it's like, Oh, I see you're looking at this product. Here's where how we see it working in these types of assemblies, which gives the design professional a huge shortcut. And then you as kind of being a platform of sorts, can then over time, see what people ultimately end up with which is going to push those to the top of the list and give people further shortcuts now.

I can see a huge benefit to that but it takes the more people using it the better Right. And that's where, I mean, that's not your job. That's somebody else's job. But that really is what can ultimately benefit the whole profession is, is when you do hit kind of that network effect of scale of people actually using it, and tick checking off these boxes that then drive these recommendation algorithms, right. Yeah.

To make it easier for more people over the long haul. I mean, there are countless hours wasted right now. Just and that's what people charge for on the design professional side, right. They charge for their time, and they're wasting their time. Re envy reinventing the wheel on every single project coming up with an assembly that's totally been done before, right? Oh, yeah. Yeah, most of the time, like 99% of the time.

So it seems like there's there are lots of kind of spoils to be had in this place. And and, again, I kind of feel like it's only really possible at an industry wide scale, not really at a firm to firm scale. I mean, of course, firms would benefit from doing this, it is an incredible amount of work. But then what about all the other firms that are out there that we are all in this industry together like that? That's something that I think is another point of view that needs to be brought up?

Jeffrey Potter

Totally. And we we have this? I think you and I have talked about it, and we we develop the source specifically for it was the capture of knowledge and information from older generation employees or people within the industry

Evan Troxel

are like this, working on project teams. And yeah, I mean, yeah, putting that in one place on like a company intranet, right? To share that information. It's still incredibly difficult.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah. And that's something that we're trying to get to on a much bigger scale at Dell tech. But even within firms, I, you know, I think they struggle with information management and, and how do you capture that that knowledge? And just, you know, right, before I left, you know, you talked about reinventing the wheel. I mean, you you talk about exterior plaster wall is something that I've specified, and teams have done hundreds of times over the last six years, right, someone wanted, I'll reinvent it and yeah, and do something different. And it's like, why are you?

Why are you wasting my time? Why are you spending your time wasting your time when we've done it this way? It works. It's proven, right? Like, you're not gonna have any issues. We've done it in all different types of climates in California. And, you know, there wasn't a way to bring all that knowledge that we've spent previously trying to figure that out, trying to figure that assembly and spread it out.

You know, and bringing up informational silos, there's informational silos within firms within the industry, in trying to break out of those, and, you know, architecture needs to be more of an open source community. Right. Like, like, I know, there's a huge risk factor in architecture, it, it's that thinking of, we don't want to do something new, because then that opens up the risk of lawsuits and all this and we don't want to do that.

And, and how, okay, that's understandable. But are we supposed to grow as, as an industry if we just keep everything so close knit? Right, like, you know, we need to be sharing information, sharing resources. You know, it's not necessarily sharing firm secrets on, you know, how to get clients or, you know, I don't know, maybe super secretive assemblies or something like that.

But, you know, common details, you know, why aren't we sharing those why common assemblies? Why aren't we sharing those? You know, why aren't we sharing a this product over here, like, this rep was really good, or this rep was really bad, or communication was bad, or the install was bad? Or, hey, you know, we don't hold contractors accountable a lot.

So it's a this installer over here didn't didn't work out really well. You know, so just be aware, like as architects, we should know that so that we can make sure that when we're doing CA, we can make sure that the work is being done properly if we hit that installer, or hold somebody accountable to make sure that that installers doing the job, right. You know, it just the communication is so close minded, and in my mind, it's got to be an open source of sharing information, all sorts of resorts.

Evan Troxel

I mentioned earlier, Jeff, that you are a young example of a specifier and you clearly have a passion for it. I know you're, you're not in the weeds as it were on projects anymore, and you're more concerned about it from an industry wide level, but I'm wondering what What do you see? Because I think you're actually really good at sharing. And I think you're really good at talking about what it's like to be a specifier.

I know that you've had some really provocative and compelling LinkedIn posts, and you have a blog, and you've been on other podcasts talking about this stuff. And that is that those are other traits that I don't see in some of the older generations of specifiers. Because it takes a lot of effort, right? I, there's lots of reasons why. So what I'm wondering is, what are some compelling reasons why someone would consider becoming a specifier?

Jeffrey Potter

That hours hours are so much better, right? Like, you're not compared to compared to like, I'd work maybe. Yeah. Project. Yeah. You don't have to travel to team meetings, maybe not put in the overtime,

Evan Troxel

like to do those dog and pony shows in front of clients,

Jeffrey Potter

like, like, backs are, they will always be here. Right? We will never get rid of them. I don't envision us ever getting rid of specifications? Do I think that the free part CSI format is going to stay forever? I don't think so. And I hope not. I hope that changes. But, you know, being you know, if I had to give advice to someone who was thinking about specs, and why they want to do specs, it's a position that's an it's a need.

Right now, we don't have a lot of younger generation spec writers. And so when this older generation retires, there's going to be a need, and if you're good at its job safety, right. And, you know, yes, you know, architecture firms, if there's not work, they let go of people, but spec writers are some of the last people that that they let go. So job safety is huge. And also, being at the forefront of, I think this revolution that's happening in specs can be huge.

I mean, we need young fresh minds, to get this ball going more and to visualize how it can be done more in the future, I think, you know, this could be completely wrong. But this older generation, they think of this technology. And it's like, yeah, you know, it's been talked about for 1520 years, I haven't seen yet. So you're gonna be out the door in 10 years.

So it's not my problem type of thing, right? Or my processes and broken, like, let's just keep doing it that way. And it's like, yeah, but But why do we need to keep doing it that way? Right. Like there's better, better ways to become more efficient, better ways to be more productive, better ways to be more accurate. And when it all comes together, how does that tie in to model delivery?

You know, I don't envision backs in 10 years being delivered to an owner for bid in 1000 page plus manual? I just don't I hope not, at least and so as a younger individual, don't you want to be a part of something like that? That is, you know, I think the BIM market is flooded, the Revit side is flooded with a lot of startups and individuals that are revolutionizing you know, a lot of aspects of Revit and kind of have been thinking but back, there's none. I mean, you can be a huge change leader, if you want to go this route.

Evan Troxel

Yeah, there's only a few players in the specifications market. And it is ripe for an a revolution. I mean, if we go back to a word you used earlier, it is in dire need of a revolution, when you think about it from the perspective of making design decisions, as a specifications can be a tool for making those design decisions during the process of design, not after the design has been done. And we're seeing that trend with all kinds of tools.

We're seeing that with rendering tools, we're seeing with modeling tools, where these things are asking us questions earlier, they're forcing us to think about things earlier, which then leads to engaging with product manufacturers earlier, which leads to figuring these things out so that you don't have to figure them out too late when it costs a lot more money. Right. Yeah. So yeah, this is kind of ripe for effort and disruption.

Definitely. And as Jeff says, you could definitely be a part of that. So I think that this is a this is a great call to action. I just wanted to finish up for this conversation. I hope that there's many more in the future. If you were handed a megaphone Jeff, and you could blast out a message for the building industry to hear and we've probably already hit on many elements of of this throughout the conversation, but what would you say? A with your megaphone.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, no, that's a great question. And previously, I've always given the answer give your get your CDT. Right. And I think that's important. But I think, you know, I'm coming off that a little bit and just saying, open the communication channels, they start talking to one another, don't be, don't let risk stop you from innovating. Don't let risk stop you from communicating to manufacturers or other architecture firms. You know, be open minded, be open source with that information, and put it somewhere so that it's captured. And LinkedIn is a great place to put it because it's captured there forever. Yeah, just that if I had the megaphone, that's, that's what I would say to the industry right now.

Evan Troxel

And you alluded to kind of this dearth of, of interest or talent in the specifications arena, within architectural practice. But I would ask the question, who's going to solve that for you? specifiers? Yeah, they're everybody else's worried about their own their own thing, right. So it's really up to us, it's up to the ones who are in it to be the megaphone, as it were, to attract people with really interesting stories about challenging problems that are done and that are handled in specifications.

Like, I'm sure you have stories of very weird things that have happened on projects over the years. And it's it's fun to dive deep, and get into the building science and think about the project in these really different ways. And there's a lot of really interesting work going on in that area. And who better to be the megaphone for specifications for the future of specifications than specifiers. Yeah, I think that there's a huge opportunity there, and it shouldn't be missed out on hopefully the show can be a part of getting that message out as well.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, I would hope so. I think so. Those are all great points as

Evan Troxel

well. Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time to join me on Peopleverse. Today, it's been a fantastic conversation. And like I said, I'm looking forward to many more.

Jeffrey Potter

Yeah, same here. Thank you, Evan. I appreciate it.

Evan Troxel

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