Sunday, December 30, 2012

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Monday, October 29, 2012

FM Providers Have Changed, It’s Time for RFPs to Change As Well

This week's article comes to us courtesy of Ron Segura, President of Segura Associates.  Ron's expertise in helping clients evaluate and improve their FM services is well known in the industry.  As you read his article think about your own RFP process and the expectations you have of your service providers.  Are the two in alignment?

Ron Segura
Once upon a time a janitorial company was a janitorial company. Firms in those days didn’t think to venture into integrated pest management or landscaping services. But today it’s a different story, and comprehensive facility management (FM) is the name of today’s game.

Clients now expect FM contractors to bundle services such as landscaping, integrated pest management, sustainability, HVAC services, general repair work, and more.

A cleaning company that does not want to grow continues offering a narrow scope of services. But FM service providers with an eye toward the future uncover ways to provide multiple services either in-house or through strategic alliances with other service providers.  By partnering with a pest management company or an HVAC firm, FM contractors can offer multiple services and pass on cost savings and efficiencies to their customers.

While FM contractors are providing more services than ever before, RFPs from clients have yet to catch up. Often RFPs include specs cut and pasted from RFPs the client found on the Internet. Sometimes these specifications include outdated information or processes that are cost prohibitive to provide. These poorly thought out RFPs box the contractor in, making it difficult or even impossible to provide the services the customer really wants.

"Too many well-intended managers are pressed for time and put together RFP's based on what they believe to be a ‘universal’ standard -- the cut and paste approach,” says Richard M. Fineo, MCR, director of development at DTZ-a UGL Company.

He continues, “Often times an old bid, or even a neighbor/colleagues bid, will appear to save the responsible party time in the preparation of the RFP and seem sufficient. The problem with this is that the specifications, which should drive the costing become an ‘approximation’ of what is called for -- a sort of ‘wink and nod’ at what is really needed.”

There’s little continuity when RFPs are put together this way. There may even be contradictions within the specifications themselves. For instance, the RFP might specify monthly stripping and waxing, but the industry doesn’t strip and wax anymore, it strips and finishes (or coats) the floors. This is also no longer done on a monthly basis because it’s not cost effective and there’s no need to with today’s more effective products. Those issuing the RFP falsely believe that in order for floors to look good, they need to be stripped and refinished each month, but what they really require is a solid floor maintenance program.

If FM contractors try to adhere to these RFPs, their cost estimates may be higher than the client wants. Or they may cut corners to come in at a lower price, and then the client isn’t getting the services they really need.

“If there was EVER a good time to bring in a consultant, it is during the critical RFP preparation stage,” Fineo adds. “Adherence to the RFP will become the strongest evaluation tool, and if it does not truly reflect the needs, wants and expectations of the person issuing the RFP, and ultimately the award of service, then the entire process is flawed.”

There clearly is a need to change the entire RFP process and to reduce the window of time needed to move through to the end where a bid is awarded.

A few years ago Stanford University revamped its RFP process with extremely positive results.

The first step of their process was to pre-qualify service providers to narrow the field of qualified bidders to a list of ten. This list should include companies with solid reputations and weed out those with less than stellar ones. Once these companies have been identified, the bidding agency should send out correspondence stating their intent to go out to bid for these services and request FM contractors to supply company information or marketing materials that demonstrate their interest in the work and their capability of carrying it out.

Those FM providers that respond are then afforded an opportunity to give a half-hour presentation on predetermined topics. Stanford allowed potential bidders to talk on four things: sustainability and their company involvement in this initiative; communication processes in place; technologies and products used in the performance of duties; and the transition process used to set up new accounts.

These presentations are evaluated by an RFP team, which might include a representative from the facility management department, the site manager who directly receives complaints or concerns from occupants, a quality control person, an outside service provider, and possibly a contract administrator or financial representative.

After the presentations, the RFP team scores the results and narrows the field of potential bidders to three, with the incumbent as a fourth. Many times the scoring methods used in this process utilize complex matrixes that dilute the evaluation until it becomes labor intensive and mechanical and decisions are based solely on price. Stanford kept the process simple and scored presenters from one to five on their green program, transition plan, training program and communications process.

It is then and only then that these firms would have an opportunity to bid on the RFP. The advantage is that instead of having 10 companies submitting bids, there are only three and these companies are prequalified to do the work.

Before providing the narrowed field of FM providers with an RFP, the RFP team will have reviewed its specifications and adjusted them as needed. The specifications will provide adequate information on building statistics and cleaning frequencies and reflect whether or not there will be a need for green or sustainable services. Stanford’s team combed through its existing specifications and found their current provider was not addressing some areas. These areas had been an issue on an ongoing basis and a cause for complaints. They adjusted their RFP to address these issues to better reflect the services Stanford required.

RFPs must be specific. If there are sustainability concerns, for example, the specification should list the goals the agency wishes to reach. Do they want to be LEED certified? Do they hope to use greener chemicals and cleaning processes? Is recycling important? How much do they hope to divert from the waste stream? Is saving water or energy a goal?

"Any good RFP also allows for input on the part of the bidder, an opportunity for the responsible bidder to go beyond the RFP and advise as to new methodologies and efficiencies that could potentially save money and improve performance,” adds Fineo. “This is an opportunity for free advice. Why wouldn’t you ask for it? It can be an indicator of whether or not your RFP respondent will become a true 'partner' or just a contracted service provider.”

And herein is another advantage of working with fewer bidders in the RFP process. There is an opportunity to work with them more closely to ask for advice and pick the brains of these experts. A good service provider will seize this opportunity to point out concerns within the specs, such as the need to strip and wax floors monthly.

Ask tough questions of those applying for the job, adds Fineo. "I welcome RFPs that include questions about recent losses. What have YOU (the vendor) lost recently, what was the reason and what did you learn from the experience?” he says. “I've landed more than a few contracts by being able to articulate the lesson, albeit painful, of an account that ended with a cancellation and how our approach in the future would include the lesson learned.”

Price is important but not the only thing, Fineo stresses. "Very often the responses to an RFP will be reduced to a matrix of the financial piece -- and little else,” says Fineo. “If the one and only goal of the company providing the bid is saving money, an unfortunate position to be sure, this should be made clear from the onset. If instead, the bids are honestly going to be evaluated for value that includes experience, innovation, sustainability, and of course financial value, etc., you can see the special importance attached to an RFP that reflects these desires and concerns.”

If companies truly desire FM contractors to bundle services, their RFPs need to reflect that. Developing a bidding process similar to the one used by Stanford can help companies get the services they desire at a price they can afford.

Ron Segura –President of Segura & Associates is a Consultant who assists its client’s in analyzing outsourced and In House cleaning programs, and assisting in the development and leadership of the RFP Process.


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Shift from Service Provider to Integrated Alliance Partner

As end users become more sophisticated in their operations they understand through experience the real advantages of optimizing product delivery processes.  It is natural that they should want to extend those advantages to key services, both provided and received.  Supply Chain Management (SCM) is often thought of as a manufacturing discipline, which it indeed is.  Today, however, SCM principles are being adapted to the services side of business as well, with rewards and dividends to both sides of the provider / end user relationship.
For many this is a fundamental change requiring acquisition of new skills, knowledge, and mind sets.  These folks must learn to walk first, but getting up to “business speed” cannot take too long.  Others have the requisite skills and knowledge but need to extend them to new areas of their business.  In both cases, overcoming ingrained cultures running counter to the initiative is paramount and something that should be thoughtfully done.
Across industries and market sectors companies are looking for service providers who want to partner with them at new levels.  Whether the end product is machinery, financial services, a new building, or operational in nature; optimizing the delivery process is now a holistic agenda that encompasses all required resources.
What Is Driving Business Integration?
For starters, better educated and more demanding customers.  As organizations improve internal management systems and mechanisms they develop new intelligence about themselves, their competition, customers and yes, service providers.  Business intelligence is a greater differentiator now than ever before.  Process improvement, Six Sigma, metrics programs and other initiatives of their ilk are changing the way we understand and organize our work.  As that intelligence matures it begins to ask new questions, test new ideas, and probe for new advantages.  Extending that intelligence beyond the boundaries of your own organization by challenging business partners to match it in their domains and align their processes with yours is a natural next step.
Competitive intensity has increased in recent years, partially the result of economic stress.   Focused by the need to survive some companies have pared away non-core businesses, reduced or expanded offerings, or taken advantage of opportunities to expand and grow.  Behind all of these strategies is a single imperative – succeed when others do not.  The oft-quoted exhortation to “Never let a good crisis go to waste” has been taken to heart. These activities amount to a reshaping of business, each incidence an opportunity to streamline processes.  Many companies have gone after these opportunities with zeal and more often than not they challenge their business partners to match them stride for stride.
Customers seek to minimize the number of business relationships they must manage.  Their goal is to lower the amount of management friction that is applied to the business of doing business.  As a result, strategic business alliances often form in which multiple businesses collaborate in competition against other alliances.  It’s not just your company competing for business anymore, it is your alliance competing against other alliances.  That means each alliance partner has a vested interest in each partner’s business performance; and it motivates alliance partners to plan, act, measure, and communicate in similar fashion.  You cannot do that when your processes, standards, and tools are different.
Fulfillment of customer requirements has always been the primary business purpose - it has not always been the primary business activity. Although SCM began as a manufacturing discipline, business in general is moving from a production-based model to a fulfillment-based model, improving business speed and alignment.  The foundational principle at work here is that of connectivity, creating networks of entities that share business intelligence and act together in synchronized fashion.  As this model moves further down the chain efficiencies and advantages are increased to the advantage of all in the network.  Inherent in this model is the recognition that individual firms depend upon resources controlled by others in the network.
Integration Tools
Deployment of secure and integrated information technologies across the customer – provider alliance enterprise enables process synchronization and speeds the flow of information.  In classic terms, such seamless operating protocols make pulling resources vs. pushing them possible, thereby avoiding stranded investments for inventory, space, and management systems at each level of the alliance.
Common measurements and language are critical elements.  Each partner in the alliance may elect to retain measurements they feel are uniquely important to them but which are not relevant to other partners; all partners, however, should adopt common measurements and language for tracking and reporting enterprise activity.  If, for example, the customer’s five most important Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) are expressed as cost per end unit or cost per revenue unit, then the alliance partners providing support services to the customer should provide measures of their business that feed into the customer’s metrics in similar fashion and language.
The human part of the equation requires specific attention.  The degree of transparency required can be a challenge.  Sharing business intelligence and allowing visibility and integration of key processes may be a new dynamic for some.  Employing managers who have a collaboration orientation, are comfortable working with a range of technology systems, and who understand process design should be a priority for any firm engaged in an alliance business model.  Linking compensation to alliance performance strengthens the leverage towards implementation of cross-enterprise best practices.
Information is the Currency of Integration
Integrating and managing the supply chain seeks to assure that the right part shows up at the right place, at the right time.  The goal of services integration is to speed information to the point of need exactly when needed, thereby enabling the deployment of services in the most efficient manner.  The opportunity to integrate services to the level discussed here is enabled primarily by technology and information systems.  Information becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes wisdom.  Wisdom, when acted upon correctly and speedily, becomes advantage.
Condition-based service management systems proliferate today.  I get an email from the car dealership with an appointment date and time when it is time for an oil change in my vehicle; not based on distance driven or elapsed time but on the actual condition of the oil and operating conditions of the engine, and on the day of the week and time of day I prefer based on the history of previous visits.  Sensors communicate automatically when set parameters are reached, triggering a process that results in my pulling into a service bay.  In building management an exact parallel occurs when an outsourced HVAC maintenance provider is dispatched to service a unit by automated sensors linked to intelligent building systems.  This model can be applied at multiple levels, even to stocking paper for copiers.  The fact that cloud computing largely eliminates the cost of deploying these technologies is speeding their adoption.  Service vendors lower inventories, redeploy capacity, and reduce costs.  Customers have greater visibility, can forecast more accurately, and have more control over cash flow.
The philosophies behind service chain integration are not new: Deep integration of business processes by alliance members who are invested in each other’s success, who are intensely customer-centric, who trust each other and accept accountability, who are driven by a desire to achieve process excellence, and who share business intelligence willingly.  When merged into a cohesive operating system each becomes a force multiplier for the others, improving service quality, cost and efficiency.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Are Productivity and Email Mutually Exclusive?

I recently worked a major development project and found that the 600+ emails a day were completely paralyzing me, and I knew I wasn't alone.  I announced that I was implementing a new policy of "Planned Neglect."  Essentially, I said "I will look at emails first thing in the morning and in the evening, no more than thirty minutes each.  If you have a crisis that I absolutely must participate in then come see me or call me.  You know where I am and you have my numbers.  Use them."

As a result I discovered that,
  • My ability to focus concentration on the most important matters and tasks increased dramatically
  • My productivity and value contribution soared
  • The quality of personal interactions improved
  • People respected and even cheered my stance, and
  • I enjoyed the project and life a whole lot more
This was not me running away and hiding from the world.  I did not limit my accessibility to the team, in fact I improved it.  Lesson learned?  Some day email will go the way of the Dodo Bird.  Until then it needs to be managed, as does any other good tool that turns into a time killer.

Your productivity and value quotient are the most important assets you contribute - protect them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Destined to Live the Good Life in Zambia

As a project manager in a corporation I work on a wide variety of projects.  All are important, most are enjoyable experiences, and all connect me with new people.  But no project in my personal history has captivated me like the Destined to Live the Good Life Orphanage project in Kitwe, Zambia. 

The story is only at the beginning and far from complete, but already an inspiring one.  It is a journey as they say, one that will evolve over the next several years.  Pastors Deborah and Steve Powell have been traveling to Kitwe for seventeen years, and founded the orphanage several years ago.  With no facility they placed children in host homes to provide security and nurturing.  In the summer of 2010 they were able to open the first phase of a facility with thirty residents.  The emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth of these children, aged three to fifteen years at the time, has been breathtaking.  With the security and education provided by the orphanage they have gained new confidence and a new vision for their future.  And that is what it is really all about, isn't it?

About three years ago I proposed an alternative way of constructing the orphanage.  At this point it appears that the development will be more traditional, but that is not the point.  That initial thought motivated investigation, new enthusiasm, and a series of new connections.  It was the beginning of a journey that is leading us to a place none of us imagined.

Last Monday afternoon I joined Deborah in presenting the vision, mission and goals of the orphanage and project to the design studio class at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture.  Under the much appreciated auspices of Professors Alice Kimm and Eui-Sung Yi, the studio class has adopted our project for the semester.  The end deliverable will be a set of master plans for the continuing development of the orphanage.

It was an amazing experience.  While funding for the development remains a goal, we see USC's engagement  as evidence that we are moving in the right direction.  Future plans include completion of master plans and construction documents, a field trip to investigate site conditions, and pre-construction activities leading up to development.  When complete the initial phase of the new development will support one hundred residents with housing, education, a medical clinic, and the ability to be partially self-supporting through agriculture and trade.

A key goal of this project is to create a new model for developing orphanages.  A model that is simple yet which provides high quality services.  A model that is affordable in order to improve financial stability.  A model that engages and teaches local townspeople, giving them new skills and helping them improve their lives and future.  A model that can be duplicated by many people in many places.

In early work the students have been investigating similar types of projects in similar climatic and economic environments.  Understanding how to design facilities and systems that are relevant to context, supportable by local workers, sustainable both environmentally and operationally, and which further the goals of the orphanage is an important goal of this research effort.  What they have developed in the short time since the start of the semester is striking. 

There are several things to be learned even at this early stage of the project.  Good ideas often take time to mature and require faith to proceed.  Good ideas attract good people, who then adapt the vision and help make it better than it was.  Good ideas create positive change, and  a new future.  

Destined to Live the Good Life.  It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Stay tuned for periodic updates as we progress. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summary Thoughts from the Workplace Strategy Summit

The IFMA Foundation’s Workplace Strategy Summit held last week at Cornell University was a big success.  It was unusual (at least in my experience) as it brought leading academics and design practitioners together with end user FM’s.  It was an opportunity to hear what thought leaders have on their minds and to place it in a real-world context as FM’s validated what they heard against their own experience and context.  Hosting the conference on a university campus was pure genius in my opinion.  The environment encourages a collegial exchange of ideas with the freedom to question and investigate. 

Here are a few of my own observations and musings coming away from the conference.

Evidence Based Design Is Essential to Workplace Evolution
Much more than programming a project’s requirements, evidence based design should challenge assumptions and old ways of doing business, and illuminate unrecognized truths.  User based research must inform design instead of design dictating use.  That seems like such an obvious and simple statement, yet project after project proves that it is often not the real practice.  As Frank Duffy said, “Buildings are not complete entities.  They share the environment around them and serve the organization that lives within them.”  If we truly think that way then we should also act that way.  Research which leads to evidence based design can only be effective when it is embraced by the user organization.  Part of that “embracing” is paying the bill.  While design is often thought of as a commodity by end users this attitude stifles innovation and makes positive change more difficult.  If you are building a cookie-cutter project then fine, decide based on the bottom line.  But if your project seeks to drive positive change or affect culture in a significant way, then hard data-based research that challenges what you think you know about your organization is important.  I would suggest that it may be the most important indicator of the probable success or failure of your project.  As one researcher at the event expressed so eloquently, “What you think you know about something is not research.  Show me the data!”

How Work Gets Done Is Changing
Some will tell you that distributed work is already the norm.  Everyone is mobile, everyone has technology, and everyone is looking to be less costly and more efficient in what they do.  Work is becoming more fluid and blended. On one hand this combination is helping to atomize work, breaking it down into discreet packets.  People who do not know each other and who do not work together in the traditional sense are able to collaborate and deliver successful projects.  On the other hand distributed work demands increased individual and group agility.

Innovation comes from the combination of high productivity and multi-level endeavor.  In some measure it is no longer about creating jobs.  Rather, it is about making people more productive.  Some may suggest that the “atomization of work” is making it less fulfilling with an assembly line feel, but the trend and energy behind this shift cannot be denied.  More productive people working in virtual environments that breed interaction and idea exchanges contribute energy and value.  One of the learning’s from the still early stage of virtual work is that often the most interesting information comes from people you do not know.  On the other side of the coin, the cost of coordinating distributed work is not being measured and needs to be much better understood than it is at the present.

Virtual Work Arrangements are Fundamentally Changing the Workplace
Just as the work is being changed the physical requirements of the workplace are also being changed, sometimes dramatically.  IBM’s Toronto office, for example, provides 2,500 seats for 6,000 employees.  Certainly some of those folks are deployed to client offices, traveling, etc.  Still, it is a remarkable example of the growing trend.  In addition, companies are now allowing staff to match their space to their task on a daily basis – in someone else’s facility!  LiquidSpace is one example of a solution that allows you to rent the space you need for a day or an hour.  The advantages here are obvious:  Employees can arrange access to space that matches the current need when it is needed, the company avoids capital investment, and the employee is more mobile and agile.  Think of it as outsourcing the free address space model. 

There is a very important mind shift in all of this.  The FM perspective for those supporting virtual work organizations should change from the old labor market and real estate model to a new labor market and space market model.  Both elements change, both are flexible.

The Workplace Strategy Summit was the brainchild of a few people (Michael Schley, Frank Becker, Jim Ware, Diane Coles, et al.) who recognized it as a good idea and committed to making it happen.  Good on them.  I don’t think they had any idea how successful and how pivotal the summit would be.  Kudo’s also to the IFMA Foundation for supporting and sponsoring the event.  Let’s hope it is only the first where academics and FM’s rub elbows.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

IFMA Foundation Workplace Research Summit

I am attending the summit here at Cornell University in beautiful, and I do mean "gorges" Ithaca, NY.  First time here and I am looking forward to both the conference and experiencing the surrounds.

This summit is focused on informing the workplace research agenda.  Attendees include academics and design practitioners who are some of the most important and influential critical thinkers on workplace issues, and facility management professionals from a wide range of organizations.  If this evening's kick-off reception is any indication this will be a lively and engaging event with free flowing information and debate.

In my conversations this evening I was struck by the fact that everyone seems to be dealing with issues surrounding the changing workplace environment.  Regardless of what type of organization one may represent the push to increase collaboration, realign workplaces and work processes to improve efficiency and accommodate younger workers, and lower real estate and operating costs is front and center on the FM agenda.

Presenters include: DEGW founder Frank Duffy; Frank Becker of Cornell University; Alexi Marmot of University College London; Noboru Konno of KIRO in Japan; Susan Stucky of IBM; Michael Joroff of MIT; and Philip Ross, founder of the Cordless Group and the Worktech Conferences.

It is an impressive line up to say the least.  Stay tuned as I update between and during sessions via Twitter posts.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Crowdsourcing FM Soltions

Some will tell you that crowdsourcing is one of the main drivers in the race to the future of business.  In crowdsourcing work traditionally performed by one individual (usually an employee) is outsourced to many people in an open call.  Those responding to the call may compete for the work or be part of a virtual collaboration team.  Open competition enables a close talent match to the specific task or project and generates ideas from multiple perspectives that would not otherwise be available. 

As you might suspect, there are a number of online venues to bring those with need and those with talent together.  Innocentive, CrowdSource, YourEncore and Elance are examples of sites where you can connect with talented people all over the globe who are waiting to help you solve everything from graphic design projects to hard science and engineering problems.

All well and good, but how does this help FM?

Crowdsourcing is not just about finding talent to work on your projects.  It is also about capturing information and intelligence in more efficient ways that allow deployment of resources to solutions rather than data collection.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the second largest school district in the U.S. with over 700,000 students on 730 campuses and a budget of over $7 billion USD.  In other words, it’s big and it’s complex.  In 2011 LAUSD deployed a smart phone app to staff and students which allows any of them to immediately submit work orders complete with GIS data, photographs, and text information.   In other words, the district is crowdsourcing its inspection and work order data entry system.  Every staff member, parent and student brain and eyes are now remote sensors feeding real time data to the system – a much more efficient methodology than relying on a call center.  Now, resources that went into locating and reporting problems can be applied to fixing them.

LAUSD’s partner in this effort?  IBM’s Maximo.  Think IBM is investing in this effort for the benefit of one client?  I don’t.  Maximo is one of the industry giants and I suspect we will be seeing and hearing more about this technology shift.

Crowdsourcing benefits can be significant.  Reducing the cost of labor, increasing the alignment of need and talent, lower labor costs, improved cycle time, a distributed workforce that can respond on a targeted basis on a global scale are reasons to consider crowdsourcing.  That said, it does require a different mindset with a focus on “tasks” as opposed to “jobs.”

A modified version pre-qualifies talent and establishes a pool of competitors who compete for each assignment.  This option provides a higher degree of control and therefore confidence, and is typically adopted for more complex tasks. 

Quality typically matches and often betters that provided by dedicated resources in both open and closed variations of the model.  This is not necessarily because the talent is better, but crowdsourced workers are not multi-tasking or burdened by administrative requirements.  Also, crowdsourced assignments typically have tight specifications and the buyer has a customer mentality – “get it right before getting paid.”

Crowdsourcing as an FM strategy.  In some ways we’ve been doing it since the beginning, but not like this.  Use it to gather condition and work order data, or source talent to solve specific problems.  It is another tool in the kit, another option, and another opportunity.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Power of Surprise

Listen to Soren Kaplan describe an epiphany he experienced in a Paris coffee shop, and the journey it led him on to discover the power of surprise.

Most in business think surprises are negative and work hard to avoid them.  Whole bookshelves are filled with volumes teaching us how to avoid surprises.  Yet, surprise can be a monster motivator.

Surprise can lead to investigation, discovery, and change.  Surprise can create new businesses, change perspective, and enrich lives.

Good job by Soren here.  Enjoy the listen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Facility Management's (FM) Role in Sustaining Recovery

Investment capital will become more available as global economies emerge from extended malaise .  Competition for that capital will be intense.  Important and challenging business and social issues are present everywhere we turn.  A growing and aging world population, demographic and power shifts, healthcare costs and capacities, geopolitical stress and transition,  the protection and sustaining of natural resources to name just a few.  The list could go on and on, each important on its own merits.

Therein lays the problem.  The list is long, capital is short.  There is not enough money available in all of the world to fix all of the world’s problems.  What are we to do?  What role can FM play in the search for solutions?

FM has a responsibility and a need to lead in the development and implementation of effective solutions.  While we are not charged with saving the world from all of its ills we are the stewards of a large portion of its assets, represented by the existing built environment, new facilities and the natural resources consumed in their development and operation.  How we exercise this responsibility is determined by our day to day actions and the decisions we make. 

How then shall we go about contributing in a manner that informs our organizations, elevates FM’s leadership role, properly preserves and deploys capital, and stewards natural resources for which we are both consumers and interested in sustaining?  Here are a few thoughts.

Recapitalize the built environment:  As recovery makes investment capital available we must make good decisions about where and how to invest.  Much of that investment must be in recapitalizing the existing built environment, including facilities and infrastructure.  It is too large and too important to do otherwise.  Further, recapitalization extends the useful life of assets and avoids unnecessary diversion of funding to new development, which also lessens consumption of resources.  Your job:  Perform condition assessments and develop informed strategies and plans.

Improve FM’s financial skills:  As capital comes available there will be enormous competition as long pent up initiatives in all areas of business reach for the same resources.  New product development and maturation, sales, marketing, research and talent will all be consumers of what is a finite resource for every company.  FM’s ability to understand the business as a whole and develop solutions that solve enterprise problems and make economic sense will be a lever for increased capital flow to projects that make a difference.   Your job:  Improve financial analysis capabilities inside FM and develop strong links with your CFO.

Build effective business cases:  Effective business cases begin with objective analysis of accurate business data which leads you to the right projects and initiatives.  Once you have the right capital investment strategy and portfolio it is up to you to effectively make the case and gain executive approval.  The very best plan and strategy in the world is absolutely useless if not acted upon.  Too often FM fails in gaining project approval because it does not present a balanced and compelling case.  Your job:  Improve or add effective communication and presentation skills to the FM suite.

Develop a long term budget lens:  Not that FM can drive this one, but we can encourage and inform the dialogue on investment return.  The traditional short term focus on investment return marginalizes long term benefit generation.  Investors require a quick return so we build projects and operate in ways that maximize short term return.  Sometimes in doing so we accelerate future capital deployment.  Not paying attention to a growing deferred maintenance backlog is one example.  That backlog will most likely continue to grow, asset condition will continue to deteriorate, and eventually (sooner rather than later) it will need to be replaced.  The short term focus also works against adopting new technologies that improve building efficiency.  In today’s world of rapidly changing technology this issue is not to be discounted.  More efficient buildings provide greater productivity, lower operating costs and higher occupancy rates, each a key competitive lever in its own right.  Your job: Present business options that explain Total Cost of Ownership over the entire life of the asset.

Improve your sustainable profile:  Sustainability has moved deep into the consciousness of the business world primarily because it makes good business sense.  Nearly everyone cares about doing the right thing, but when you can do the right thing and improve competitiveness and the bottom line you have a real winner.  That is why your Board of Directors is putting pressure on leadership (and don’t think they aren’t) to improve sustainability.  You should be doing it for yourself as well.  Sustainable initiatives can improve quality, lower operating cost, allow redeployment of resources, extend life cycles and a host of other good outcomes that you care about because they make your life easier.  FM is one of the biggest levers for sustainable performance and should be one of its biggest champions.  Taking a leadership position on an important issue with executive level visibility which provides social and business benefits improves FM’s credibility and perception as a savvy and visionary partner.  Your job:  Become a Subject Matter Expert in sustainability and how it can be leveraged to improve your business.

Innovate:  Innovation can be a game changer.  Whether it be by integrating technologies in a new way, rethinking your business/service model, developing new space paradigms that improve collaboration, or partnering with other parts of your business to add value – all have potential to improve FM’s performance and value.  Innovating, however, requires taking risks, something that many FM leaders are reluctant to do.  Risk is minimized by thorough due diligence and that should be your approach.  Have a good idea?  Think it through.  Engage others.  Model it.  Run a small pilot project.  Innovate!  Your job:  Be alert and receptive to new ways of doing old things, and new ways of adding value in your area of responsibility.  Be willing to fail on occasion on your way to wins that make a difference.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Getting A Stalled Project to the Finish Line

I’m sure we have all had the experience of working on a project that seems like it will just never end.  When that happens each team member has a responsibility to share in ownership  of the problem and the solution.  In highly analytical environments just getting a project approved or started can seem daunting.  Once it is approved, however, tight execution and driving to the finish line should be everyone’s focus.

Why is it then that some projects, even those with solid work invested in them, can’t seem to finish the last five percent of the course?

When a project is stalled project leadership or organizational management have the primary responsibility to get it back on track.  What can they do to get it reinvigorated?   Let’s start with these…

  • Ask the hardest question first:  What am I doing or not doing that is contributing to the delay?  Leadership’s number one responsibility is to remove obstacles to the success of others.  Are you really doing that?  Are you getting past the happy talk and searching for root causes, then taking ownership for those that only you can effectively mitigate?  Better yet, are you the root cause because of indecisiveness or lack of attention?

  • Use analysis as a decision tool, not an implementation tool.  Once the project is authorized and funded the time for analysis paralysis is past.  If you did not take the time beforehand to conduct thorough due diligence then it is probably too late to do it now.  When projects are approved they come with a schedule that has consequences for late delivery.  Post-approval is not the time to be developing options – it is the time to get the project done.

  • Change the mindset of the project team.  If they are bogged down they know it without you telling them, and they likely aren’t feeling very good about it.  Here you need to be a bit of a cheerleader while also instilling a new sense of urgency.  As a leader you can step in to motivate, assist and remove barriers, but avoid the urge to take over at all costs unless absolutely necessary.  Let the team retain accountability for the outcome but help them get to it successfully.

  • Augment skills or knowledge.   You may find that the team has designed a good project but does not have all the skillsets/knowledge it needs to implement it successfully.  For example, solving a vexing process issue may require the intimate knowledge of those closest to the process to investigate, process map and re-engineer a solution.  As good as that solution may be it is useless if not implemented correctly.  If implementation requires technical expertise, say developing or modifying an application, then the team may not have the requisite expertise.  Get it for them.

  • Re-plan the project.  Refusing to recognize reality by sticking to a plan that everyone knows is not working only further demoralizes the team and adds unnecessary pressure.  This is where leadership must be candid with itself.  Take a breath.  Recognize reality.  Develop a new plan to complete the project from its current state, communicate and vett the plan with the team to achieve their buy-in, then work the plan…and work it hard. 

  • Kill procrastination.  If you were too uninvolved in the initial effort then pick up your game.  If you were indecisive then make this project a priority and move it along when it is in your own space.  Stay better informed and create a sense of urgency by requiring frequent status updates.  Ask what the team needs from you to break current deadlocks and then deliver the goods.

Not every project (at least in my world) runs perfectly.  That does not mean, however, that they must be unsuccessful in the end.  In fact, overcoming the challenges of difficult projects is a big learning tool, experience addition, and character test.  Successfully recovering a project in trouble is a big plus in any project manager’s toolkit.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Could Big Data Drive Public Policy?

Interesting blog post about the potential of using data to drive public policy decisions, as opposed to our current "politics first at all costs" mess.  Not to make a political statement here, but regardless of your political persuasion the current polarized environment is anything but effective.  I wouldn't mind giving data a real chance as the author suggests.  You can read the post here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life Is A Balance Act

“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.”  -  Euripides

It has been a busy summer at the office and there are no signs of a slowdown anytime soon.  New projects and schedule pressures, the annual management exercise commonly known as “budget planning,” and preparation for significant life changes have all been on the front burner of late.  Sometimes it seems as if everything in life is on the front burner.  What happened to the back burners?  Where did they go?

A few days ago I was having a conversation with a friend and he was relating his own tale of “life lived without balance.”  Offering him sound advice (I thought) I reminded him that balance is an elusive standard and to the extent we equate our level of happiness to the time balance of our lives we are likely to be disappointed.  Worse yet is when we feel guilty over the lack of time balance.

My theory is this:  Balance is achieved when the moments and events that we value most in life are rich and have deep roots that touch us emotionally and spiritually.  It is not about equal time.  It is about the quality of our relationships and experiences.

As a project manager I structure nearly everything I do.  I develop schedules, juggle resources and people, strategize, collaborate, and mitigate risk.  I plan the work and work the plan.  But never in a single project plan have I seen a task labeled “be in balance.”  In fact, my experience is the opposite.  The demands of professional life compete with and often trump those of my personal life.  If I am to be happy, healthy, and balanced I must find a way to tip the scales in my favor.

In other words, it is up to me.  I must take responsibility for my own balance, happiness and sense of fulfillment.  And so must you.  Recognizing that there are times our lives will be weighted primarily in one area allows us to focus that time more efficiently.  Getting through that period as quickly as possible and then taking time to rebalance our relationships and recharge our own batteries is important.

Time imbalance can occur for any number of reasons.  Project deadlines, business travel, health crisis, and personal pursuits such as after-hours education are all examples of life and work realities.  Each brings its own bit of stress.  The issue is not avoiding them, because you rarely can.  But you can learn how to make the most of time that is available to you in ways that maximize its value.  For me that means quiet solitude, a morning stroll on the beach with a cup of hot coffee for company, or time spent with my wife when there is nothing particular we have to get done.  For you it might be playing Frisbee catch with the dog, hanging out with friends, or reading that book you’ve been staring at for months. 

Whatever it is that works for you, put it to work.  As Albert Einstein said, 

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Your Transparency Is Showing

Whether you know it or not, your actions and motivations are more transparent today than ever before.  Those around you observe and note, not just how you respond to things you are directly responsible for, but for those you have a less defined but still important relationship to as well.  Stakeholders, both internal and external are observing, forming perceptions and opinions, and acting. 

In today’s era of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) we are held to a different standard of engagement.  Co-workers, leadership, and customers expect us to take a broader view of our responsibilities and the wider reach of decisions and actions.  They expect us to be accountable not just for the details and bottom line of our job, but for the effect of our efforts beyond the parameters of this year’s performance goals.  They expect us to care about the effects of what we do.  This is not a new phenomenon.  None other than Peter Drucker connected the dots between our actions and our responsibility for them on a broader scale.

“One is responsible for one’s impacts, whether they are intended or not.  This is the first rule.  There is no doubt regarding management’s responsibility for the social impacts of its organization.”

Sometimes knowing what we should feel responsible for and how to act are not always easy.  The old adage “do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons” is a good place to start.  Adopting that principle as a foundation simplifies what can become a complicated equation at times.  When individuals and organizations operate from this perspective transparency illuminates motivations and increases acceptance and support for good efforts.

In today’s world increased visibility and instant communication platforms foster instant judgment making and perception decisions, often without the benefit of the full story or proper diligence.  Society generally expects us to be aware and accountable.  The degree to which we are perceived as being good or bad actors on the societal stage is important to us as individuals and organizations.

Parallel development of increased awareness of actions, improved access to large amounts of data and the ability to analyze it, and enhanced sensitivity of stakeholder communities combine to increase transparency.  The question is not “Am I transparent?”  The real question is, “How will I act to assure my transparency is a positive force?”

Many companies today are actively engaged in CSR efforts.  Some are large scale and visible, and get press because of the corporate logo they are associated with.  Some are small but no less important, undertaken in a “everyone do what they can” spirit. Some of these are important and beneficial, changing the lives and future of workers in distant parts of the world we never thought of or cared about before.  I wonder, however, how many CSR programs amount to little more than “CSR-washing” (to borrow a phrase from the Green world).  As is often the case in life, I suspect that the difference between substantive programs and those which seek primarily to bolster marketing efforts is one of motivation.

In the HBR article “Leadership in the Age of Transparency,” Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby set out guiding principles for acting responsibly.

Take ownership of the things you are directly responsible for.  With increased communication, measurement and analytic systems we can today understand the effects of our decisions and actions in ways we could not before.  That fact alone brings accountability for the extended impacts we create. 

Take action even when the impact cannot be precisely measured.  When we understand or learn that harm is occurring on our behalf we have a responsibility to act even if we are not directly causing the harm.  A good example of this would be taking the initiative to train supply chain partners producing products in a way that is detrimental to workers or the environment. 

Take interest in those things that we may not be directly or indirectly involved in but which have a connection to our activities.  In the article Meyer and Kirby use the example of an oil company that is helping to develop an affordable and clean-burning alternative to cookstoves uses widely in undeveloped regions of the world.

The issue of responsibility, whether corporate or personal, is really an issue of integrity.  I am not suggesting that each of us is responsible for everything we see and know.  I am suggesting that we are responsible for those things that we are involved in and for which we have the capability to affect or influence.

Transparency, responsibility, and integrity are linked in a way that cannot be broken.  It is not about an agenda or cause.  It is not about a current trend or market share.  It is about....

Doing the right thing        The right way       For the right reasons