Sunday, August 26, 2007

Virtual Project Management

As collaboration technology continues to improve more and more projects are utilizing distributed project teams. Today it doesn’t matter so much where the project is as much as where the talent is. With virtual teams, however, there are new issues, especially if your team is comprised of people who do not have a history of working with each other. In that case you have trust issues as well as time zone and cultural/language barriers. Yet the expectation is that you will deliver a very high quality product. Here are a few tools you can use.

Most important on the list, I believe, is developing a sense of trust with members individually and as a collective group. In order to build trust you need to do three things: exhibit integrity, be consistent and fair, and demonstrate that you care about others’ interests, lives, and success. In other words, get personal. The more you develop strong interpersonal relationships the more cohesive and supportive the team will be. In this virtual age it is even more necessary to be intentional about building team chemistry.

Critically important in any project scenario, but especially so when your team is scattered across the country or across the globe, is exhibiting integrity in honoring your commitments. If you say you are going to be there, be there. If you say you are going to do something, make sure it gets done as and when promised. And it goes without saying (but I will) that meetings must be well planned, resourced, and tightly executed.

On the process side it takes more diligence to maintain consistency in virtual teams. Decision making, problem resolution, performance measurement, schedule and budget tracking all have defined processes that can be impacted by time, distance, and lack of visibility. The key here is to improve visibility into the processes and outcomes, and maintain high accountability.

Thankfully, the same technology capabilities that help create the challenges of managing projects remotely and/or with distributed assets also provide the tools to do so. Project wiki’s, blogs, collaboration websites, etc. are all readily available. With them you can improve project transparency, speed, documentation quality, version control, and overall communication.

The age of 24x7 projects is upon us. You really can have work on your project occurring around the clock and anywhere in the world, even while you sleep. The real test, however, comes when you must decide who gets to do the conference call at 2:00 a.m. their local time. Welcome to our new world.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Streamlining the Dreaded Weekly Project Meeting

Don’t you just hate them? You know what I’m talking about – those weekly project meetings that the entire team must attend and that last for hours, and in which about 10% of the content applies to you. You get dinged if you don’t attend and run the risk of missing that 10% that may be really important to you, but they kill an entire day.

A better model for large and complex projects is what I call “Discreet Communication & Decision.” In this model each core working group has its own committee and they meet once or twice a week as needed to manage the details of their particular project element. For example, a large corporate HQ construction project might have a committee for construction, one for technology, one for security, one for communication, one for relocation, etc.

The chairs of each committee together with key corporate sponsors form the project’s executive committee, which also meets as frequently as needed. This group is charged with communicating key project information among themselves and passing it down to their constituencies, identifying issues and making decisions or elevating them along with their recommendation. They also make priority calls to realign resources when needed. When run properly these, like all good meetings, are run to an agenda that participants have seen before the meeting and had a chance to develop their information for, have specific assignments, focus on good project and communication practices, and have a high accountability standard.

The advantage to this model is that meeting content is relative to those attending, information is condensed and shared with those who really need to know, and decisions flow much quicker.

I have seen this model used effectively on two large projects. The first was the relocation of a large electronics manufacturing company to a military base that was still active but transitioning to civilian ownership and use. The project’s executive committee was comprised of the COO and CFO, with committee chairs from Facilities, IT, Security, Manufacturing, Distribution, HR, and Legal. Each had their own sub-committees to chair which focused on the details of execution. In the second example, a large non-profit organization used this governance model for the renovation of an existing manufacturing facility, converting it to a large religious facility complete with a 3,000 seat auditoreum and state-of-the-art multi-media systems. This project had over 800 volunteers directly involved, but was effectively managed by a group of 15 individuals with one tie-breaker at the top.

This governance model works and it works well, but it needs some things in order to be successful. Strong executive mandate and participation, well articulated project goals and values, and consistency. Use this system well and those fifty people who have been sitting in the room for hours can be doing something really productive!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Article Published in SoCal CoreNet Newsletter

The following article is published in the current issue of the Southern California CoreNet Chapter newsletter, Real Estate Perspectives. Please visit to see the entire newsletter and learn what the premier CRE organization in the region is up to. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to support the December gala event – it is shaping up to be nothing less than spectacular!

CRE Projects Change More Than the Building
By Ken Burkhalter, CFM

Corporate Real Estate executives do not always think of themselves as change agents, but that is exactly what they are. Almost by definition, the very purpose of the CRE function is to create and manage change. Lease actions that change office locations, building new facilities, relocating operational units, business expansions and contractions all place stress on organizations at multiple levels. It may be “business as usual” to you, but for your internal and external customers it is everything but normal. Work priorities are shifted, old routines and patterns are changed, and personal lives are affected, sometimes in very significant ways. Regardless of the reason for these changes everyone knows who is leading the charge on the project. They may be reluctant to call the CEO and express their views, but your number is there just waiting to be pushed.

Several years ago I participated in a large development project, moving a long-established non-profit to a new campus. Its history had been one of excellence in its field, inattention to “unimportant” infrastructure areas, and several failed attempts to move to a new facility. Soon after joining the staff the opportunity to attempt another development and relocation project presented itself and from the outset it was obvious that this time it would work. The opportunities were nearly without limit. Aside from the design, construction and relocation project, large initiatives to upgrade technical infrastructure and skill sets were required, all of which were embedded in the culture of the organization - a culture which would undergo its own transformation. In short, change, and a lot of it

When you are tasked to lead a large CRE project there are big questions to be answered. How will you be effective at leading this project? How will you develop broad-based participation and cooperation? How will teams be organized? Who do you need to encourage? Who needs skill support? Who is at risk? Who are the most important stakeholders? Who are the most important influencers? These questions and a host of others will likely begin to swarm around inside your head the instant you hear the “go” decision. Some of the most important questions, however, will be ones you ask yourself.

Am I willing to be the first one changed? One of the more interesting and sometimes challenging aspects of being a change agent is that you will be the first to be changed. You will be bought into the project and committed to seeing it through before most others are engaged or possibly even aware of a coming change. That fact alone means that your relationships will change, at least in the short term. The project may mean a different role for you, represent a difficult risk/reward scenario, or present any number of other challenges for you personally and professionally. Getting others involved and “bought in” quickly is important to developing momentum and minimizing any chance of isolation. How you lead from the front and help others to understand, accept, and internalize the project and its goals will speak volumes to the team around you and help reinforce your credibility.

Who will I lose by implementing this change? Possibly one of the toughest questions you will have to answer is how the change will affect others that you depend upon. In large projects, especially those involving relocations, it is not unusual to lose up to twenty-five percent of the key leadership staff. The project may position the organization for substantial and rapid growth but it almost certainly will come at the cost of losing some talent. And the talent game is the number one game in business. You may have some who are so important to the project or organization that special retention measures are appropriate. Such cases are rare and need to be dealt with delicately and quickly. Regardless, you can count on unplanned staff changes occurring, often at the seemingly worse possible time. To get ahead of this curve one of your highest priorities must be a strategic and candid evaluation of the project team and key staff during the earliest stages of the project. Upon thoughtful reflection you may realize that some will just not be able to be successful in the project or the changed post-project environment, or you may be able to predict who will have particular difficulties in making the required shifts but are important to retain. In either case, you have the opportunity to approach them honestly and share your thoughts, beginning a dialogue and process that can help them make the best decisions they can make, and protect you against unwanted surprises.

Will I be around after the change is made? Not a small or unlikely question. Just as others will find a changed operating environment after completion of the project, so will you. If you have been focused on leading a multi-year project then you may have been uninvolved or on the periphery as the organization continues to constantly flex and evolve. When the time comes to turn your attention back to your original job, will it still be there? If it is, will you be cognizant and positioned to join step as you meld yourself back into the day-to-day life of the organization? Thinking about this early on provides the opportunity to put safeguards in place, not thinking about it until too late opens the door to an unpleasant surprise. Given the chance, it is likely that you will be able to negotiate protections for yourself and turn your engagement as project leader into an even greater win, both for you and the company. But it doesn’t happen by accident. An honest and transparent dialogue with corporate leadership is in order. You should walk away from the end of those discussions with agreement on the project charter and goals, your lines of authority and accountability, and your role after the project is complete. Some of these will certainly change over the course of time, but being a partner in their formation and acceptance gives you a seat at the table when changes do occur, allowing you to influence the outcome.

In the end the project I mentioned earlier was a success. We were able through intentional process and consistent communication to keep the leadership team together while honoring and assisting those who had played an important role but needed to make transitions. The new physical plant with its enhanced capabilities and appeal became the springboard for rapid growth, the development of important new partnerships, and the formation and launch of several new programs.

We set out to build a new campus for the organization. In reality what we affected was a dramatic makeover of the institution, its culture, and its reach. And that is often the case with large CRE projects, regardless of the business of the organization. Development projects simply have a way of testing and challenging, often leading to change in areas that had not been considered a part of the project when the process began. Inevitably, they are a part of the outcome. Those that understand this avoid the pitfalls of unplanned effects of the project process while allowing themselves to be strategic and intentional when taking advantage of opportunities.

Careful consideration should be given when you are asked to lead a large change initiative. Before accepting the charter, think about the 360 degree future. Plainly speaking you need to ask yourself: Am I willing to pay the price this change will require? Leading is always difficult and change is often threatening to people. Leading positive change, however, can be one of the most important, empowering, and dynamic things you will ever do.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

More on FM Trends

IFMA convened a panel to determine which industry trends will have the most significant and lasting impact on the FM profession. The results have been published in the Facility Management Forecast 2007 which ranks the trends as follows.

Linking FM to strategy
Emergency preparedness
Change management
Emerging technology
Broadening diversity
Aging buildings

If you think about this list for just a moment you realize that the business of doing business is still number one. When we read articles and attend conferences, however, the focus often seems to be on the current buzz topic. A few years ago it was ADA, today it is sustainability. This statement is not meant to suggest that these topics are trendy or unimportant, but it does intend to note that they are supportive of the grander scheme, not the end unto themselves as sometimes presented.

Look further at the list and you will note that several of those listed are old friends. Emergency preparedness, globalization, diversity, and technology are all topics that we have been dealing with for some time. They are not new to our radar screen and they may never leave it. But the priorities have shifted. Each has had its turn at or near the top of the list.

One new one that I suspect will gain stature in coming years, aging buildings, is at the very bottom of the list. It is not just our buildings that are aging but a large share of our infrastructure as well. The massive infrastructure projects of the 50’s and 60’s are at or nearing the end of their planned lives and the bill is coming due. We have deferred investment to the point that the pain is becoming real. The requirement is large, meaning that there will be no easy answer. Like everything else, the issue needs leadership and as FM’s who are actively engaged in creating and managing a large portion of this infrastructure, we can have a voice.

I encourage you to download the entire report from the IFMA website at .