Behind the Build: Interview with Dwane Lindsey, Architectural Applications Director at FGM Architects

Resistance to change is one of those timeless issues that continue to challenge organizations across various industries. Most people are creatures of habit, so folks can be skeptical when something new comes along (even if it's ultimately for their benefit). 

The good news is that if you can demonstrate that fresh processes and tools actually make teams' lives easier, they are more likely to adopt new solutions. 

Dwane Lindsey, Architectural Applications Director, FGM Architects, is fully immersed in implementing and managing change. So much so that he often refers to himself as the "change director" in his organization.

As someone who's been in the AEC field for almost 30 years, Dwane is fully adept at navigating change and encouraging teams to evolve. 

We chatted with Dwane and asked him to share his career journey and thoughts about implementing tech in an organization. 

Check out our discussion below. 

Tell me a little bit about FGM Architects and what you specialize in.

FGM Architects, or FGMA, is an employee-owned architecture and interior design professional services firm. We have eight offices across the United States, including Chicago, Oak Brook, and O'Fallon, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Reston, Virginia; Fort Worth and Austin, Texas.

As for our practice areas, we cover a handful of markets. We specialize in education design, which includes PK-12 and higher education. We also do faith-based design, which covers churches, including their facilities, gathering, and education spaces. We also get into municipal and public safety projects—police, fire, village halls, and recreation facilities. Then there are federal projects, which we've worked on quite often in the last couple of years. In addition, we handle corporate projects as well as mixed-use and multifamily housing.

Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming the Architectural Applications Director.

I've been in the AEC world for almost 30 years now. I started off with an architecture firm out of school and slowly became the CAD manager at the time. We were using AutoCAD r12 back when I started and eventually converted the firm to use Autodesk Architectural Desktop.

I was leaning toward the licensed architect path, but then technology steered me in a different direction. I ended up working for an Autodesk reseller for a little over nine years, where I taught, supported, and implemented all the Autodesk products.

After a while, I got hooked up with a general contractor in the Chicago area and wanted to manage the technology side as well as the virtual design and construction. That's when I shifted to more of a software-management role, implementing new products in and outside of Autodesk.

Throughout that journey, I worked with multiple offices and implemented technology, standards, and more efficient workflows. Then, Wrigley Field renovations came aboard, so I threw on another hat and became the project's lead MEP coordinator and 3D coordinator. That was onsite for almost three years.

Throughout my time with the GC, I have maintained my relationship with FGMA, going back to my days with MasterGraphics in the Autodesk reseller channel. They were looking for somebody to oversee their technology and software, so in February of 2020—immediately before COVID—I was hired as the applications director.

Now, my role at FGMA is to oversee our design and construction software and technology. I look at our staff as a whole, from pre-design before anything even hits paper, all the way through construction. 

We're not a CM or anything like that. We perform construction administrative tasks, including RFI’s, Submittals, Punch Lists, and Site Walks. I handle a wide gamut of software that is utilized and that I’ve implemented across the board.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at FGM Architects? Why?

The biggest thing is being able to make our users more efficient regardless of the technology we utilize. Obviously, Revit is a big part of our platform and workflow. It's great to work with our current BIM team to understand how we can make our design staff more efficient when it comes to producing our CD deliverables. We strive to become more efficient in producing models that are more readily usable outside of just the design world.

Whether those models go to our CMs or GCs or are used for rendering purposes, visualizations, AR, VR, etc., we're always asking, "How can we best utilize what we're actually creating, not just for construction documents?"

I think that's probably been the biggest thing for me. It's opening up efficiencies and lessening the load on our users.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

The biggest challenge is change. I refer to myself as the "change director" versus "applications director" because, really, my role is about changing workflows. I'm trying to take the 15-step process to make it a 10-step process or whatever it might be. I'm all about reducing the number of picks and clicks or tasks you have to do to complete something.

That could mean utilizing technology because the previous process was using paper. Think of a punch list, for instance, where people go out and handwrite notes and take pictures on their phones. Then, they return to the office just to retype all that information and put it into a document.

I'm always finding ways to utilize technology to streamline processes where you're doing the majority of the work while still capturing the data. That way, you just come back to generate a report and share that information.

The hardest part is getting people to change the "old ways." But as long as the technology is easy to use or explain, I can start to overcome the challenges of resistance to change.

I had one person just recently, after months of conversation, say, "All right, I'm going to be that old person, new tricks thing. I've been pushing back on this, and it's time for me to get with the times." 

It's nice to see that the products we use and the ease of implementation have allowed some of those naysayers and laggers to actually come on board and utilize the technology.

Are you using Autodesk Construction Cloud on any unique and/or challenging projects? If so, what has been the impact of using Autodesk Construction Cloud for these projects?

The big thing for us with Autodesk Construction Cloud has been the design collaboration. We have eight offices across the country, so how do we effectively work when we have people in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Virginia all needing to work on the same model? 

Autodesk Construction Cloud has been beneficial for us as it provides a much better workflow than we've had in the past.

We're actually migrating all of our server-based projects to be cloud-hosted in ACC. I’m also well into the process of implementing the Build platform, where we get away from paper or multi-step processes. Now, we can utilize Sheets, Issues, Photos and access documents in the field all in one platform.

It's no longer, "I'm going to go to this platform to look at my documents. Then, I'm going to go to another platform because I need to do Issues," or "I need this other platform because I'm doing a field walk." 

We can now do that within a single platform.

How has Autodesk Construction Cloud driven more predictability and confidence in your projects?

People are more confident that models will work more efficiently when working with a multi-office team or even with external teams. They know that the process is going to be streamlined. We're not sending files back and forth; processes like uploading, downloading, and sending files every week have been eliminated for the most part.

From the design collaboration side, teams understand when they start getting into projects, they don't have to do what they used to do every single week, 

Then, on the Build and CA side, we're starting to get teams to work consistently across projects.

Let's say one person has been on this project for six months and then does some CA. But then, they're done with that project and need to jump over to another one. They're doing something completely different from a CA standpoint. We're starting to eliminate that process. Every project is essentially set up the same way, and you're going to be working with the same tools throughout the project.

How has partnering with Autodesk helped make your projects more successful?

Streamlining our processes and eliminating inefficiencies has saved billable hours. When it comes to profitability, we can say, "Hey, we're not spending X amount of hours on a project; we're only spending Y amount of hours on a project." 

Also, it's so rewarding to improve people's lives. Honestly, if they're working 60 or 70 hours a week, can we reduce that by a few hours a week for a better work-life balance? That's a win. It’s also important to FGMA’s team culture. If we're implementing something that will make it longer to do, we definitely don't want to go that route.

That's project success for us, at least from my standpoint. On the technology and software side, success is being able to spend fewer hours on the project but being able to do the same amount of work. We're always looking at ways to do that, which will likely change in the future with everything that's coming around with AI and all that fun stuff. 

But that's how I look at it, and obviously, that trickles up from a raw management standpoint of, "Are we more profitable in our projects?"

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at FGM Architects?

We continuously evaluate new innovations and technologies. We also value working with Autodesk and participating in beta tests and discussions at Autodesk University. 

When you start to look at technologies that aren't necessarily ready or even available to the public, it's good to have the ability to provide feedback and say, "Hey, you guys, you're talking about this tool and how we might want to utilize it. In my world, this is how I see that working. This is how we look at that process and what you're trying; this is how we think it could work."

Even during some of the beta testing, we can ask, "How does it work? Well, let's see if this piece could be a little bit better, or maybe this could be streamlined, or we could add more features here." 

For me, it's not only seeing what's coming, but it's being able to provide feedback to the product teams to say, "Hey, when this is utilized outside of the Autodesk walls, per se, this is how we utilize it, and this is what our teams are saying."

That feedback loop has been great because when it's ready to be rolled out and implemented, I'm ahead of the game in how it works and the backend of it. But then I can also engage our users and explain, "Hey, these are the workflows I know you're going to do, and this is how we do it." 

That goes back to implementing change. Again, folks can say, "We've done it this way for X amount of years, and we have very certain processes that we do." Well, we're going to do the same thing. It's just going to be a slightly different path. Hopefully, that's an easier path because that's always the goal.

It's ultimately about understanding what can be used, what can't be used, and what's not ready to be used. When we talk about everything happening in the world with new technologies, AI is an especially huge internal topic for us. We're thinking of how we can use it and how it works.

Also, what is Autodesk doing? What is the XYZ program doing with it? I think that will be a big thing in the coming years. It considers how tech like AI is integrated into projects, processes, software, etc.

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?

Expand your horizons. 

Maybe you're saying, "I want to be an architect" or "I want to be a project manager," and you have a path that you want to follow. 

Don't be afraid to explore and understand the bigger picture. 

If you want to be a project manager, for example, you can learn more about how that role operates in the larger scheme. If that's a project manager on the construction side, go into architecture for a few years so you grasp how that field operates.

If you are on that architectural path, go work for a CM or a GC and understand the construction world. Because when you are in architecture, it will help you understand what that side of the world is actually looking and asking for. 

That's one of the things that has benefited me greatly, having those broader perspectives. The fact that I was in architecture. And I've been in construction. And I was on the software side.

When a team comes to me and says, "Hey, our GC is asking for something," I pretty much understand what they're asking for and why they're asking the question. The more well-rounded you are in the entire AEC world, the more you will benefit as you advance in your career.

Remember that technology is just a tool. The knowledge is elsewhere. If you're so focused on technology, you're going to miss out on the actual peripherals of how a building gets put together and documented—all the different parts and pieces that actually go into designing and constructing a building.

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.