Winning with the “New All 3”

Peter C. Atherton, P.E
Posted on: 06/19/24
Written by: Peter C. Atherton, P.E

“Better, faster, cheaper”. This is the old “All 3”, a timeless desire unlikely to ever change.

It wasn’t long ago that our professional services provider response to All 3 requests was to “pick two”:

  • We can design your project to be better and more cost effective, but it will take more time.

  • We can pull together some plans to meet your budget and time constraints, but you’ll need to assume more risk.

  • We can design you a top-quality project and meet your timeline, but it will cost more as we reprioritize our workflows and team.

However, with the rapid emergence and accessibility of more powerful AI and advanced technology, more of our competitors will not be so constrained by past norms.

Ensuring our growth and prosperity in this new era of unparalleled marketplace and practice space changes requires something both new and different.


Knowledge, client focus, good communication, and responsiveness used to be enough to safeguard our business and professional success. Although these are still (and will always be!) critical, more is needed.

“Knowledge, client focus, good communication, and responsiveness used to be enough to safeguard our success, but more is needed.” –Peter C. Atherton, PE

Knowledge – the facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education –used to differentiate us.

However, when the cost and availability of basic knowledge – technical or otherwise – is essentially free and immediate with an intelligent “prompt” into a powerful AI-powered large language model, what’s the advantage of paying or waiting?

The same is true in terms of design when a smart prompt placed within a powerful graphics model can instantly generate an image of possibility.


What WILL be worth paying for and appropriately waiting on is our ability to provide what I call the “New All 3”:

  1. Deep expertise and expertly applied knowledge
  2. Execution excellence

  3. Trusted relationships

Deep expertise tells us (and those we serve) what’s wrong or missing from even the best prompts and models.

Expertly applied knowledge is what allows us as obligated professionals to ensure public health, safety, welfare, and policy goals, while meeting budget constraints and investment returns on projects and pursuits that, by their timing and nature, are never technically, politically, financially, geo/ecologically, and jurisdictionally the “same”.

Execution excellence includes client focus, good communication, and responsiveness, and has become an expectation across disciplines.

Trusted relationships, both internal and external, are only increasing in importance as we become more digital and reliant on technology tools. Trust is also inherent in our duty to serve.


Succeeding with “better, faster, cheaper” is a good thing if done strategically and in sequence. If not, it can ultimately limit and commoditize us.

Whether project, proposal, or talent-related, our basic internal operations have many known inputs and well understood outputs and variables, making them ripe for automation and augmentation.

Using supportive technology to solve for the old All 3 internally can yield process and systems optimization – and in doing so, the promise of newfound internal capabilities and time and financial resources. These new treasures can then be used to increase capacity, lighten the load, and reinvest.

Similarly solving from an external marketplace perspective with so many different and less understood inputs, outputs, variables, and “unknowns” is less fruitful – and trying to do so limits us to what’s present and predicable, and to relatively simple and straightforward projects.

There will be demand for simplicity – and if this is the game we choose (or default to), we must be ready for the emergence of our industry’s version of Walmart and Target who will look to fill this market niche and put downward pressure on pricing.

For most of us, our best move is to leverage our newfound insights and resources to play a different and much more valuable and strategic game – one that expands opportunities and choice.

“For most of us, our best move is to leverage our resources to play a different and much more valuable and strategic game.” –Peter C. Atherton, PE


This game is about providing “net new value”.

The fact is most of our projects in engineering and architecture are not so simple. It’s also true that advancing them in silos or without grander consideration of community and resiliency needs, decarbonization trends, and the energy transition won’t serve us well individually – or collectively.

Solving for these, especially in the face of increasing costs, regulation, and technological change certainly adds complexity – but is also our opportunity.

Solving bigger and more meaningful, timely, and complex problems in more creative, thoughtful, and cost-effective ways – and doing so in consideration all five phases: planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance – is of great (and increasing) value to all asset owners and developers.

Delivering on such allows for a different ‘value proposition’. This then opens the door for more evolved business models designed to better capture the value we create – further adding to our opportunity.


The use of AI and advanced technology will be a key element to achieving this new level of success.

As entrusted professionals, it’s on us to learn what’s true and not fall prey to the hype.

Real change is coming and as we explore and educate others on all that’s possible, we must keep top of mind that:

  • What’s easy and quick is rarely the best or in compliance with the “standard of care”,

  • FOMO (the fear of missing out) doesn’t inspire,

  • MVPs (minimum viable products) are not full-on solutions, and

  • “Opportunists”, well-meaning or otherwise, who understand much less about what we do, may make promises that are just too good to be true.

What we do in AEC is growing in importance and need.

Playing a different game can help us to elevate on macro and micro levels while also achieving both incremental and exponential gains for ourselves and all those we serve.

“What we do in AEC is growing in importance and need. Playing a different game can help us to elevate on macro and micro levels while achieving both incremental and exponential gains.” –Peter C. Atherton, PE

To grow and prosper during this time of great change requires that we:

  1. Recognize the reality that the old All 3 is not enough.

  2. Understand and proactively build towards the “New All 3”.

  3. Become “better, faster, cheaper” internally.

  4. Leverage internal insights and resources to practice differently to solve bigger problems and create more meaningful opportunities externally.

  5. Evolve our business models to capture more of the value we create.

  6. Grow in our ability to lead our people and teams differently.

  7. Strategically redesign our organizations to support our new ways of working.

Unplanned change, disruption, and disintermediation don’t need to be our fate.

Our choice to individually and collectively evolve beyond the old All 3 is a powerful first step.

Winning with the “New All 3” is more of a marathon than a sprint – but we need to make sure we’re moving… and starting now to apply these elements strategically and effectively is our key to enjoying greater next-level success moving forward.

To learn more about:

  • Essential power skills and habits for next-level leadership link HERE.

  • Critical and strategic thinking for this new era link HERE.

  • All that’s changed, not changed, and become new over the past several years link HERE.

  • New era strategic planning and organizational evolution and link HERE.

This article was originally posted as a Next Level Blog on the ActionsProve website.


About the Author: Peter C. Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider with over 30 years of experience, having spent more than 24 as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms.

Pete is now the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC (, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow!, creator of the Next-Level Leadership Assessment, and author of the soon-to-be-released book entitled: The Team Success Ecosystem. How to Re-Design Work for Greater Engagement and Results!

Pete is also the host of the AEC Leadership Today Podcast and several AEC Leadership Masterminds, and annually co-funds and leads primary research to define the “Present and Future of Work in Engineering and Architecture”.

Pete works with AEC leaders and firms nationwide to grow and advance their success through new-era-focused strategic planning, next-level leadership development, performance-based employee engagement, and outside Board advisory. Connect with him at and on LinkedIn.

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