Thursday, May 31, 2012

Construction Activity and Materials Costs Moving Higher

Buildings Magazine reports that non-residential construction activity is up 2% from last year.  Most sectors appear to be on the rebound except public works.  Overall commodity increases are running slightly higher at 3% on average, with steel and carpet (6%) and paint (8%) leading the way.  Lumber and brick are trending down, plywood remains essentially flat.

One can make one's own determination on the future trajectory of this chart.  Some will interpret it as a sign of gathering turn around momentum while others will suggest that the pull back in government spending in the public works sector is likely to create future drag.  Time will tell.

For now, however, activity is up and price increases appear moderate.  Those, at least, are positive signs.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Count the Paper Clips

If you read this blog even occasionally you know that I am a big fan of data and metrics in managing the FM domain.  Our group routinely tracks, analyzes and reports data on the full breadth of services we perform.  As a result we are tuned in to the pace of our business and can almost feel minute shifts that signal change we should be aware of.

We are now reaping the daily dividends of a grass roots effort begun several years ago when “count the paper clips” first came into our lexicon.  That was the direction given when a manager asked, “What should we count?” upon hearing that we were going to undertake a metrics program.  It was a brilliant answer.

That response started us immediately.  If we had said, “Let’s design a program.  We need a system before we can start,” or asked “Who has the knowledge and skillsets we need?” we would have been stalled at the start.  The answer “count the paper clips” mobilized us to immediate action.  We did not have a system, program, or organizational structure, but we knew we could count them and we did.  While we were at it, we counted everything else.

As a result, we now have data going back several years on every facet of our operation.  Over time our capabilities and sophistication have grown.  When we started we knew how to count.  Today, we capture, analyze, project, and plan strategically based on what we know for certain and can predict with high accuracy.  We can anticipate shifts in business patterns before they occur based on well established relationships between disparate data points.

The payoff for us is not simply that we are able to do a better job with greater accuracy.  The job is also more fun.  By enabling our staff with training and giving them a vision we have allowed them to learn, participate, discover, and grow.  The great bulk of the work is accomplished by line staff who are in direct contact with systems, processes, and customers.  Virtually all team members have been trained in basic statistics including data gathering, data structure, pivot tables and pivot charts, data smoothing, analysis, and how to format and report operational data.

This metrics initiative fueled the start of our Continuous Improvement initiative when it came along soon after.  Unlike some others, the Facilities staff knew and understood the importance of data driven planning and were familiar with the routines and discipline required to be effective in the quality improvement effort.

Every month line managers gather to review metrics and analyses that have been produced by staff.  We track and analyze details to identify trouble spots and opportunities.  We investigate causes, analyze data, and adjust operations. We have seen our Customer Satisfaction scores improve markedly while getting more done and focusing our efforts on what really matters.  We work hard at it and the results show it.  Our group is rightfully proud of their abilities and we serve our organization better than we did before.

And it all started with counting paper clips.