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.”