Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pick the Right Project and Get It Approved

I once attended a Project Management seminar where the instructor reminisced at one point about the “good old days” at a former employer. He described life as a PM in a global conglomerate, planning and building all kinds of facilities projects. Trouble was, many of those very well executed projects were the wrong ones, and the resources that were allocated to them were then unavailable to help cure real and systemic problems troubling the company. I am sure you have similar experiences, don’t we all? How then do we pick the right project and represent it to decision makers so that it gets approved? Here are a few starter thoughts, I am sure you will have more to add.

Projects should be evaluated on their merits, not assumptions or agenda. Define both the problem/opportunity and solution sides of the equation with data and analysis that is structured in the language of your organization.

Don’t forget to calculate and value the benefits of a project. Too many business cases quantify cost avoidance but do not anticipate or promote other positive implications of the proposed project.

Understand how your company conducts financial analysis and present your project proposals in the same manner. Use the same tools and methods. For example, our CFO always games various options to a significant issue in a decision tree format he particularly likes, depicting the timing and NPV of each option. When we began presenting project briefs showing options in the same format our success rate went up, the decision cycle time was shortened, and our frustration equivalent went way down.

Shareholders trump stakeholders. Remember who and what our decisions are really intended to benefit. Often, as in the case of the seminar leader, projects get approved and executed because of their own momentum or who the sponsor is, not because of their real benefit.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Choose the Right Change Management Tools

Research conducted over the last fifteen years tracks the use of change management tools and senior management satisfaction with the results. The research yields a few of the usual suspects, but some of those you might have thought passé are highly valued, and a few much-ballyhooed strategies are perceived as less satisfactory.

In the power tool zone, those that are used most often and have the highest satisfaction rating, you will find tools such as TQM, Mission and Value Statements, Core Competencies, Benchmarking, Process Reengineering and Strategic Planning. These are joined by Supply Chain Management and Strategic Alliances which have gained momentum in tandem with globalization. Less preferred tools include Lean Operations, Six Sigma, Offshoring, and even Collaborative Innovation. Customer Relationship Management has made the biggest improvement in its position since 2000 in both the use and satisfaction domains.

It may be instructive to note that staid old Strategic Planning takes home the prize as the most effective and frequently used change management tool. A key value that managers remark upon is that Strategic Planning forces you to take off the blinders and check your assumptions at the door. The “tyranny of the urgent” affects all of us and can rob us of energy, resources, and creativity. Setting aside time for purposeful strategy development allows us to refocus on the bigger picture.

It goes without saying of course (but I will) that no tool will work if it is not the right one for the job and if those who employ it have not been trained.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Business Case for Green

I know, you’re thinking “not another article on Green! AAGGGHHH I can’t take anymore!” To which my response is, ‘yes you can.” But I’m not going to preach in this one, simply list a few data points that confirm the growing acceptance and demand for Green in the Real Estate industry. For example, did you know that…

  • 70% of Business Roundtable members have adopted Climate Resolve
  • U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) now requires Energy Star and LEED certification for all of its projects
  • 600 U.S. mayors have committed to Kyoto-like reductions
  • AIA2030 seeks to attain net zero emissions by 2030
  • ASHRAE 189 puts Green requirements in code form

And if you’re still wondering about the business case, think of it as an equation:

Improved Operating Efficiency + Improved Energy Efficiency + Reduced Water Consumption + Increased Recycling + Reduced Toxic Chemicals


Lower Cost, Higher Demand, Higher Occupancy Rates, Higher Rents


Competitive Advantage

Buildings are the largest contributor to emissions, contributing more than the manufacturing and transportation sectors. If we can be the biggest contributor on one side of the equation, then there is no reason we can’t be the biggest contributor on the other side as well.

It’s good to see we’re gaining momentum.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Implementing Technology Projects

Over the last several years our group has implemented multiple technology projects which cover the full spectrum of our operations and services. Work Order Management, Maintenance Management (CMMS) , Building Management (BMS), Room Reservation and Support, Automated Visitor Center Reservation and Fulfillment (hoteling), Metrics Management and others. These projects have had profound effects on the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of our services.

“Fine,” you say. “But we’re a small organization and don’t have deep pockets.” And I would reply, “Neither do we.” In fact, the most rewarding thing about this series of projects is that we’ve done them ourselves with internal resources. In the course of doing them we have developed in-house expertise, a very close working relationship with our IT friends, and delivered extremely capable products that are aligned with our culture and requirements.

Good for us. Why do you care? Because after having been through this evolution I am convinced that most mid-size and many smaller companies have the resources and knowledge to be successful in a similar initiative. I think many are intimidated by the scope of these efforts and so default to procrastination or outsourcing. The former is a bad business decision, and while the latter is certainly a viable choice it is not the only or necessarily the best option.

A few things we learned along the way that may help put this in perspective for you:

Data is King. At the beginning we didn’t have much data and found that a lot of what we thought we had was anecdotal. Our first effort was to collect solid data on our most important processes and issues, even before we began requirements gathering. The data then informed the requirements process and was foundational to our success.

Tools Are Cool, But Processes Rule. Again, before we began designing systems we went through a process redesign of all core business processes. We mapped Is and envisioned, tested, and institutionalized New. Only when we were comfortable that our core processes were in excellent shape did we move on, deferring less critical processes to later in order to keep momentum on our side.

Keep It Simple. When we did begin building systems we worked hard to stay focused on core processes, simplicity of use, data and system integrity, and open architecture to enable integration. We resisted bells and whistles that were seductive but did not support the core requirements established at the beginning.

Technology Is Just An Enabler. It can be hard to remember why you’re doing all of this when you get into the project. Technology does not generally change your business, but should improve your business in ways that matter. Time, cost, quality, and overall customer satisfaction is the name of the game. This is really just a restatement of the end goal, and a caution not to get caught up in technology for its own sake.

Here’s the interesting thing. When we began this process several years ago I was vocal in my reluctance to take the “do it ourselves” approach. I was concerned about long term supportability of unique applications and worried that we might not have the resources and stamina to be successful, preferring instead to adopt off the shelf solutions that have wide market acceptance. I was wrong. Our group has done an excellent job. Some of our staff developed themselves into technologists, some are now expert data custodians, and we now have a much higher degree of visibility into our operations. We know our processes inside out and have very good working relationships with service partners, such as IT and others in our supply chain.

And I know this; there is nothing unique about us. If we did it then I am convinced many others can as well. I am not suggesting that commercial applications and the use of consultants is a bad thing. Not at all. But I am suggesting that home-grown applications that are customized for your specific circumstances are within your reach and capability. A major added benefit of course, is that you get to do it yourself, learning new knowledge and skills along the way, improving yourself and your organization.

I’ve observed presentations where major corporations showcased their FM technology projects, costing millions of dollars and taking years to complete. Ours took the same amount of time, cost a small fraction of the outsourced solution, and meets our needs exactly. Am I proud of our team? You bet. But again, there is nothing unique about us except our willingness to attempt and our will to persevere.