My Misconceptions about DBIA Certification — and Why I was Wrong

By Robert R. Smedley, AIA, DBIA

Note: This article also appears in the first 2019 issue of Integration Quarterly magazine. You can read the full issue here.

Rob Smedley

To be honest I didn’t expect to learn much from the DBIA certification process. In my 35 years in the industry, I’d seen design-build done right, I’d seen it done wrong — and I’d seen most everything in between. Since DBIA certification is a notable achievement in the AEC industry, I decided it would be a good idea to add the letters after my name. But learning? That didn’t really cross my mind.

“What more can I learn that my decades in the industry haven’t taught me?” I thought.

A lot, it turns out.

The DBIA certification process exposed me to important subject matter I had little appreciation for or much knowledge of previously – and what’s more, it inspired new ways of thinking and challenged me creatively and technically.

In retrospect, I wish I had done it sooner. But I was held back by common misconceptions about the certification process, misconceptions I hope others in the industry will discount as they consider the value of DBIA certification.

Misconception #1: I’ve been doing this for so long. I’m not going to learn anything new.

Your DBIA instructors will represent the very best of the AEC industry. Your colleagues will be a mix of owners, contractors and design professionals, representing different perspectives – varying in terms of years of experience in the AEC industry, geographic locations and project types.

You’ll spend much of your class in discussion. Your instructors will facilitate thoughtful and challenging conversations, allowing everyone in the class to see design-build from others’ perspectives. They’ll give their two cents, and you’ll give yours. And you’ll all grow from hearing about design-build experiences from new angles.

Misconception #2: It’ll be boring and I don’t want to give up a workweek for it.

It can be easy to drag your feet when it comes to committing time and money for something like this. We’ve all got very busy work and personal schedules. And three days of being held hostage in a classroom may not – or, okay, definitely doesn’t – sound all that appealing.

Going in, I had anticipated sitting in the very back checking emails and dozing off. Instead, I ended up in the front row on the edge of my seat for three days. Each instructor had a unique style and dynamically interacted with the course participants, who also added to the experience. It’s rare to be surrounded by so many other professionals with a passion for design-build, but it’s perhaps even more extraordinary to be in a room filled with so many different, knowledgeable perspectives on the same issue.

The combination of a common interest and varied experiences made for inspiring, intellectual and stimulating discussion. My future workweeks now benefit from having participated, it was a well worth investment of my time.

Misconception #3: Certification isn’t that important.

I was wrong. Period. By 2021, design-build is going to account for 50 percent of all project deliveries. When a change agent enters the mainstream like this, a push for certification comes with it. Think of the crush of certifications years ago when LEED entered the industry consciousness. Get ahead of the power curve and become a recognized leader in the industry now.

Perhaps more importantly, I discovered that adding those letters – DBIA – on my business card and email signature had much more of an impact on me personally than I would have ever thought. Having spent three days with so many talented and experienced professionals I felt a connection with a community of peers that made me a better design-build practitioner. My organization also took note and recognized the importance of this achievement, as did the owners, contractors and design partners with whom I do business on a daily basis.

Point being: Make the Commitment and Sign up.

Whether you’re an old-hand at design-build or an emerging leader within your organization, you will benefit from being around world-class DBIA instructors and associated professionals during the certification process. Those letters after your name will mean more to you, your organization and your colleagues than you can imagine.

Robert R. Smedley, AIA, DBIA is the Design-Build Manager for Buildings at RS&H. He has more than 30 years of experience working on diverse projects for both public and private clients. As Design-Build Manager for the RS&H, he is responsible for working with Project Delivery Teams to implement Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) best practices and techniques – enhancing the opportunity for collaboration, teamwork and likelihood of project success for all project stakeholders.