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.