The Relationship Builder

22 Jun, 2016 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

User Profile: Christine Massoud knows that to make a big project run smoothly, people skills are just as essential as software skills.

Christine Massoud is the regional director of the Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) department at Rogers-O'Brien Construction, leading the southern region of the company's projects. At the Texas–based contracting firm, Massoud supports all of the company’s on-site project teams and oversees the implementation of VDC processes, including building information modeling (BIM) integration.

Cadalyst: How did you become interested in architecture?

Christine Massoud: It intrigued me when I was growing up: some kids wanted Barbies but I wanted Legos! And when I was 9 or 10, I remember seeing the blueprints for factories my Dad was building — I even got to visit the lab where they were printed. Then we moved from Egypt to the United States, and my parents began encouraging me to consider my potential career paths. That was probably the first time I could think about possibilities and opportunities as if I could reach for whatever I wanted.

In high school, I learned AutoCAD v14, and I got to help draw the floor plan for our new house; that was exciting. That was before they had mouse commands, so I got really good with the typed commands.

After earning your Master’s degree and working as an architect, you made a transition to VDC management. What caused you to adjust the course of your career?

As I pursued my education, I realized that I liked the problem-solving phase of architecture. The early design stage was great: creating beautiful pictures, meeting with clients, flying to different places to get inspiration. But the part that came afterward — drawing up page after page explaining how I had solved each problem — was exhausting to me, instead of intriguing.

What’s your work like at Rogers-O'Brien Construction?

I spend about half of my time on VDC-related tasks: making sure jobs are set up correctly from the beginning; looking at the return on investment (ROI); figuring out what our technology strategy will be. When setting up jobs, it’s important to match each member of the VDC team to the appropriate task. The team comprises VDC specialists and quality managers, and everyone has their own skill set, experience level, and work style.

The other half is spent supporting all the on-site project teams — everything from software updates to preparing proposals for conferences. Building relationships with project managers is hugely important. I visit all of our job sites weekly, or more often. They can be several hours away, so I try to take one of the team members with me; it’s good bonding time, and I can learn more about their jobs and families.

Our company uses a variety of software including Autodesk Revit, Revit Architecture, and Revit Structure; Navisworks; FieldLens; GoodReader; and Bluebeam. Although I still go in to examine models periodically, these days most of my work is conducted in the Microsoft Office suite and Viewpoint project management software.

The Forest Park Medical Center was the first fully VDC-integrated project that Rogers-O'Brien completed in San Antonio, Texas. Image courtesy of Rogers-O'Brien Construction.

What are the most difficult and most enjoyable aspects of your job?

The rate of change within the company is quick, but it never seems to be fast enough. It can be frustrating that we have to conduct a lot of surveys, get approval from a lot of people, before implementing something new. But we have buy in from the top, and that’s been the biggest blessing — they trust us. If we need two more staff people added to a project, for example, that’s what we get.

I really enjoy leadership and mentoring; those are probably the most enjoyable times for me. This year, I was nominated to be part of my firm’s Leadership Group; we receive guidance as we work to become better leaders, and we also act as mentors to others within the company. I’m also an advocate for seven individuals as part of the Advocacy Group. Outside the company, I’m a member of the engineering steering committee for the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders; I give advice, including software recommendations, and help students apply for VDC internships. Those kids start learning Revit in seventh grade!

You pointed out that you’re a minority in your field, in a variety of ways. How have you dealt with that?

I know that being a woman in construction is not an easy thing. And in addition to my gender, there is my skin color, and the fact that I’m an immigrant. If you’re going to have a problem with me, I’ll give you plenty of reasons! The only way I can combat resistance and discrimination is by building more trust.

I was given some great advice, in the form of a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” On one project, the only way I was going to convince the superintendent to pick up an iPad and look at drawings digitally is if he trusted me, so I had to build up our relationship first. In the weeks before the start of that project, I repeatedly visited the site just to ask, “How can I help?” and get the team whatever they needed. It wasn’t necessarily the most welcoming crowd — at one point, the superintendent told me to get out of the job — but in the end, that team was such a success. And that lesson translates to everything else in life: you’ve got to build that trust.

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