Sunday, September 30, 2007

“Officle,” or “Awficle?”

A few weeks ago I was attending one of the major trade shows and sitting in on a case study presentation a friend was giving when one of those horribly awkward moments we all dread occurred. The case study centered on a major restack project in very trying circumstances, including the move to an open plan standard in order to accommodate growth. Not only was the staff of this professional services firm leaving private offices, but the new workstations were significantly smaller. Even Partners of the firm were making the switch due to space constraints. Needless to say, no matter how good the project was from an aesthetic design and implementation perspective, this project team had a very tall mountain to climb.

It was in the context of explaining this situation that my friend created the moment all speakers dread. In describing how the project team designed new amenities into the project to offset the sense of loss he mentioned that they installed sliding doors on each cubicle to enhance privacy, and quipped “some staff are even calling them Officles now!” Immediately from the middle of the room a loud bass voice boomed, “How are you spelling that? A-w-f-i-c-l-e?” Needless to say, the room went suddenly and painfully quiet.

My friend stumbled for a few awkward seconds, then recovered and went on. But the damage had been done. The presentation was itself, in fact, a perfect case study of a very good project that didn't get the credit it deserved because of the expectation gap. Sound like any open plan projects you’ve been involved with recently?

The fact is that offices are an emotional issue, and that will never change. When space and finances are constrained the temptation to increase space efficiency and improve operating costs becomes very seductive. But all of that advantage comes at a cost. As the FM leading or managing a large open plan transition project you have to anticipate and respond to the real, perceived, and emotional needs of your customers. This project team was on the right track, providing new amenities in the effort to overcome the negatives associated with squeezing the space. That is an important tactic, but it is only one. Here are a few others that you should have in your bag of tricks.

Know the “why” and sell it hard. The knowing comes from having done your homework, from having developed and analyzed multiple options until you arrive at a fact-based conclusion. Great. Now inform the staff. Don’t expect an initial positive response no matter how much you communicate or how hard you try to sell the outcome. And don’t become defensive over the reaction. It’s natural and part of the transition process. Your job is to help staff make that transition. Instead of meeting their initial resistance with a defensive or hurt attitude, continue to inform and advise.

Develop a set of guiding principles. Establishing clear project expectations and rules of the road at the outset will keep you on track and help diffuse the occasional wayward gripe. These principles should be viewed as your “True North.” They are litmus tests against which options and issues can be judged, helping to clarify and simplify the project. Again, communicate them broadly and draw the connecting line between them and your final solution.

Engage influencers from among your customer base as part of the project team. When you do this, make them a real part of the team. Let them help you identify the issues, options, and solutions. Give them an equal voice in the process and include them in all of your activities. Take them on the factory tours with you. By walking with you they will develop an understanding of the issues and be able to represent the project to their contemporaries in a way you cannot. Including them demonstrates to staff that you are making the effort to consider and respond to real issues even in the midst of a challenging project environment, you are not simply shoe horning people into the smallest possible footprint without engaging them. One big thing to remember is paying for their time. Include staff salaries and fringes in your project budget for these “non-FM” types you want to include on your project team. If they have to do it as an added duty you’re going to lose the priority game more often than not and be left with a sometime partner that you can’t count on and who is ineffective in their role. Buy their time up front.

Periodically ask all employees for their input. Do this only when there is an issue that has potentially significant affect on the office culture or project acceptance. Keep the surveys tightly focused and make sure that you share the analysis and conclusions. Later on you can draw another line, between this input and your design solution. For example, in one recent project we surveyed staff regarding operable windows at our new headquarters facility. Because of the fifty year tradition of operable windows the response was predictably strong in their favor. However, the survey identified tradeoffs required to support the choice for operable windows, such as difficulty managing the HVAC system to maintain comfort levels, project elements that would have to be cut in order to pay the additional cost, etc. It is easy to do surveys today using electronic survey tools which are readily available, but be thoughtful and strategic about using them.

Give something back. Everyone knows what the acronym WIFM means and everyone expects an answer. Your customers are no different. They are giving up space and privacy, make sure you give them something in return. This might be upgraded finishes or furniture, the ability to accessorize their space on the project budget, some limited form of personalization, or possibly other perks such as subsidized gym memberships or increased personal technology. There may be additional costs for providing these, but it will be a fraction of the cost of redesigning and reworking space because disgruntled staff lobby for and get changes after the fact.

Any time you are on a project that has this Private to Open transition element in it, you are in for a ride. But, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, develop connections, increase credibility, and deliver excellence. Make sure you take full advantage of it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Graduate Certificate Program in Facilities Planning and Management

Ohio State University's City and Regional Planning program is offering a distant-education graduate certificate program in Facilities Planning and Management. This curriculum offers working professionals an opportunity to expand their education from the convenience of your home or office. Enrollment deadline is November 1, 2007.

Four courses will be offered between January and December 2008. Each ten-week course is taught at a graduate level by a faculty member at Ohio State University. Students can participate at their convenience each week from any computer with an Internet connection.

There are no scheduled class meetings. Participants view audio/video lectures, discuss issues, work on projects and consult with faculty. The courses include hand-on experience that includes case studies, team work, and in-depth projects. All courses are available for transfer to other universities toward a graduate degree.

The following courses are scheduled to begin in 2008: City Planning Administration: January - April: Learn the essential skills for managing a planning department. Programming Environments for Human Use: April - June: Learn about how to program and evaluate the performance of facilities and landscapes. Real Estate Finance for Planners: June - August: Learn the essential elements of real estate finance including market analysis, pro-formas, taxation, and financing mechanisms. Practicum in Facilities Planning and Management: September - December: Integrate the learning from the curriculum into a final project that they design in conjunction with the faculty.

Upon completion of all four courses, participants receive a Certificate in Facilities Planning and Management from the Ohio State University. Registration for January is open now to November 1, with payment due by December 1.

Each course costs $1,110 or the certificate program may be paid up front for a discounted rate of $4,000.

For more information contact:
Jennifer Evans-Cowley
Phone: 614-247-7479

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Miss My Morning Coffee

Several years ago I accepted a position with a new company and was immediately invited to join the division’s senior management team for coffee each morning. It was important to me because being included validated my standing in the organization and, as a newcomer, it was a great way to learn the culture, personalities, and methods of the key decision making group.

One of the things that made this daily session so useful was its informality. It wasn’t a management meeting, it was a group of friends having a cup of coffee at a nearby restaurant. We discussed family issues, sports, and yes, business. In fact, I would argue that many of our most important and best decisions were made in this setting. It was a time when we could let the organizational facades fade to background as we talked conversationally and honestly about the pros and cons of various initiatives.

Because of the various business segments we represented, resource constraints, and sometimes different views on the correct future direction of the organization we were bound to have different perspectives at times. It wasn’t always non-confrontational, but it was always respectful, relaxed, and informal. Out of this process came consensus-driven decisions that all were invested in. As a result this team worked together over the course of several years to affect a remarkable set of changes. We designed and built a new headquarters facility while simultaneously relocating two other major sites and developing an offshore presence. We changed all of our core processes, successfully implemented significant technology programs, and eliminated organizational and geographical stovepipes that had been hindering us for decades. We moved from a “I don’t know, let me get back to you” culture to having real time metrics on key operating information and a balanced scorecard that executive management routinely checks. As a result, our stock in the C Suite has gone sky high.

Now, however, the corner restaurant with the very attentive staff (who used to let us in well before opening) is too far away. The days are too hectic (but no more more so than they were before) and we all seem to have different agendas (didn’t we always?). I still have coffee each morning, usually alone in my office. I have become my own counsel, and sometimes I’m a lousy counsel.

On second thought, it’s not really the coffee I miss at all. The good news is that I can do something about this. Excuse me, please. I have a few calls to make.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Understanding Data Visually

If you have looked at many graphs and charts displaying metrics data you have no doubt scratched your head from time to time and asked what the chart is really trying to tell you, or why someone thought it important. The graphic portrayal of data should have one, and only one purpose; to make understanding of the data clear. Here are a few simple pointers:

Don’t measure and report something simply because you can. Measure and report what does or can make a difference.

Think about the timescale. Just because you can track it in real time doesn’t mean you should, or that it should be reported that way. If the variances over time are small, or if the opportunity to use it as a lever for positive change is small, then consider reporting the item on a quarterly basis.

Simplify for clarity. Too many charts confuse or hide what is really important because they include unimportant information and/or get too cute with the graphics. Graphics should be used minimally and to clarify, not to make the chart a piece of art.

Watch the value scale. Logarithmic scales are generally hard to interpret because we tend to take spatial relationships literally. If you have values with large spreads consider weighting them or annualizing them to normalize spread. is one of the best websites I’ve seen about visual presentation of metrics data. Take a tour and look at samples of good and bad metrics reporting. Then look at your own metrics reports and ask yourself if you are really telling the story the way it should be told.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Green Construction Processes

See Greg Zimmerman's article at,%20leed for an excellent summary of issues that surround green building projects. Notably, Greg comments on mindset changes that FM's are faced with when building Green.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Data Center Optimization: Increasing reliability, decreasing energy consumption Thursday, September 27 1:00 p.m. (EST)

Building Operating Management magazine is presenting a free webinar that many of you may be interested in. Here is the basic info, with a link to register.

Attend this free Webcast on high-performing data centers for a comprehensive look at their role in energy use, IT sophistication, sustainable practices and 24/7 operations.Produced by Building Operating Management magazine, this free, online, 75–minute Webcast will introduce you the best practices and latest technologies you need to ensure your data center operates consistently and cost-effectively.

Presented by Steve Spinazzola, Vice President of RTKL, an international architectural, engineering and planning firm, the Webcast will address many important topics related to a fully functioning data center, including:• the growing demand for uptime• what IT knows (and what facility executives don't)• factors making existing data centers obsolete• how these trends affect an organization• planning for the future• energy efficiency and green designRegister for this free data–saving (and job-saving) Webcast right now.

Negotiated Fee Contracts Have Their Place

Most Owners are reluctant to issue a major construction contract without knowing the bottom line cost. Getting to that point, of course, requires lead time for design evolution and documentation so that contractors can bid. There are times, however, when the advantages of getting the Contractor on board as early as possible warrant the acceptance of some additional risk. The question then is which project delivery method should be used, Fast-Track, Design-Build, or Negotiated Fee.

Negotiated Fee contracts offer many advantages, including early engagement of the Contractor while avoiding the contractual and schedule intricacies of other project acceleration methods. Certain project conditions strongly favor this option. Examples would be a hyper-critical schedule or the need for contractor participation in pre-construction activities such as value engineering, project estimating, and constructability reviews in a project where the Owner wants to retain as much control as possible.

In Negotiated Fee projects the selection of the Contractor is based upon a review of qualifications, appropriateness for the work, availability, and the negotiated fee points. RFP’s for a Negotiated Fee contract should include all of these and other routine due diligence questions, and your follow-up should be just as complete. Negotiated Fee contracts may or may not include a Guaranteed Maximum Price, depending on the state of design documentation and allowable time (use AIA Document A-411 for projects with a GMP, and AIA A-414 for those without a GMP).

The heart of the matter (assuming all of the contractors you are considering are qualified and appropriate) are the fees that you negotiate. These are provided by the Contractor in its RFP response and may be accepted as-is or further negotiated. Typically these include overhead and profit rates expressed as a percentage, a set amount per day for General Conditions, and the Change Order mark-up rate. Also consider locking in hourly labor rates and unit costs for typical items. Remember that General Conditions should be a set fee for a defined time period (day or week), not a percentage of the project cost. Finally, make open book bidding and Owner review and/or participation in the sub-trades buy-out process a firm requirement.

While some Owners may feel there is risk in this methodology the fact is that the Contractor is assuming more risk by setting these rates and agreeing to opening the books during trade bidding and buy-out, which protects the Owner against any attempts to embed additional costs. The Contractor also shares in the responsibility to deliver at the expected overall cost since they participate in value engineering and provide cost estimating services during the design process. Significantly, this model eliminates protracted bidding exercises between design completion and start of construction, thereby, saving time and money without compromising value or quality. The advantages of this delivery method go primarily to the Owner in increased speed and flexibility.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Call It What You Will

Six Sigma, Lean Sigma, Continuous Improvement and a few other labels you could name all define initiatives aimed at improving organizational performance. Regardless of which one you are called to execute, there are a few common strategies to ensure success.

De-mystify the initiative. Often people will trapped in set thought patterns and need help breaking out, or do not understand the real purpose and value of the initiative. The answer here is to keep it simple. Overcome complacency and resistance by being transparent and as always, communicate, communicate, communicate.

Consider beginning quietly. Instead of making a big splash with lots of hype, simply select a small number of projects that will demonstrate improvement and value, and go do them. Set up the teams, assign leaders, give them clear charters, and then get out of their way. In four to six months all should be complete and your teams will be able to point to their improvements. Before long you have several improvements, a new culture, new team-based relationships, and emerging leaders.

Speak clearly. All of the various systems seek to improve speed, quality, and cost. Too often, however, the goals or results are stated in these bottom-line numbers. That may mean something to the CEO and CFO, but be meaningless to those who have to do it and live with the changes. For example, in the construction business we always state the project in terms of its performance against the scheduled completion date and cost. Delivering a project early not only saves project costs, it also accelerates revenue generation from the new project. Saying that the client can begin shipping 10,000 units a day thirty days earlier than planned is sometimes a more powerful statement than telling them you saved $100,000 on project costs.