Back at it

This is a continuation of my last blog, “What’s On My Mind.” It’s so hard sometimes to organize thoughts, so I just start to write. As I write, I go back and edit, then keep writing, then edit, and so on. Actually it’s always hard to organize thoughts for me because I have so much content going on in my head, in my brain, so many thoughts, observations, and “stuff.” I’ve got ADD brain which primarily manifests itself for me in two ways. One way is the ability to hyper-focus for extended periods of time, at depth, on a specific item, or work product, to completion. The other way is to start a bunch of things and not finish them. This is the most classic. I’ve learned over the years how to recognize it, discipline myself, and when to roll with it or not. I also have learned that they call it “the entrepreneurial brain” since the majority of entrepreneurs have the condition. (At least that what I am reading and hearing now.) I’ll talk more about this in the future as to how I manage it with exercise, nutrition, hydration, mindset practices, prayer, and more.

The way to make the idea of “start a lot of things but not finish them” actually be a positive thing is to have a staff of people that can run with them, manage them, do them, etc. My mind thinks in overlapping concentric or non-concentric circles. Everything is a layer or a domain that overlaps and connects to other items. Linear is not my thing, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s okay. There’s times when thinking linearly is necessary, but I have to force myself to think in that manner or have others hold me accountable to do so. I am finding that the best way to make this work in our company, and to not drive people crazy, is to have an integrator person, or persons, to filter things through; to cull the ideas; because EVERY idea sometimes feels right, but it’s not. And if it is, it might not yet be organized or clear enough to implement. How does it align with strategy? Can we afford it? Can we execute to that with our people? Are we ready? These are appropriate, and sometime frustrating, questions, but they are the right questions to ask. (I get bored easily.)

So today my partner and I, and our team of leaders and managers, meet for the first time for starting the implementation of “E.O.S.” the “Entrepreneurial Operating System.” This was introduced to me by my personal coach, Dr. Chuck Misja, earlier this year. Through reading the book “Rocket Fuel” and taking some tests, then further vetting the ideas, my partner and I made the decision to jump into it. Today and tomorrow are E.O.S. focus days. Vision- Traction organizing. Clearer strategy definition. Group work. I’m excited about it. Our people are excited about it. It will be hard, but it will be good. David Howard, the “biz-tech sherpa” and a trusted business consultant working with us, is leading us through the exercise and facilitating.

So, I was going to talk about our 3-D printer. That’s right. I had every intent, as I started to talk about organizing my thoughts, that the topic for today would be innovation, our 3-D printer, the “why” behind it, and some bullet points I believe you should think about as you consider tools, innovation, value-add, and market awareness. But now there’s no time for more posting. That will have to be another blog. I did manage to cover my mention of EOS from the last blog, I just didn’t expect to do it in this way. Such is the ADD brain. Like I said, I am learning to just write. The writing takes me where I need to go. It must be the right topic for today. Perhaps this will identify with one or more readers, and that will make it all even more worthwhile. If not, it was worthwhile to me. That’s one reason why I write. It’s cathartic. It’s worthwhile to me. It helps manage my over-active brain.

Be well. See ya next time

The Flagship Office- The Office for the Now

Back in early December of 2020, one of my outside board of advisory members asked me this question, “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” My immediate answer was brilliant, “I don’t know.” Subsequently the board members, my partner, and I, engaged in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s of having a substantial office space that was equipped for doubling the size of our staff, assuming everyone was in the office. “What do you think the odds are that everyone will return to the office?” “Do you envision a reality where 100% of staff will be operating together 100% of the time, with no offsite remote work?” “How do we justify the overhead costs with empty space?” “What’s the value?” Many of us are asking these same questions.

I recently participated in a PSMJ (Professional Services Management Journal) webinar about current compensation strategies and the future of human resources (HR) in A/E firms (Architecture and Engineering.) Multiple surveys were taken from the 300+ participants during the 1-hour session. All were dealing with the questions of remote work, partial remote work, in-office, out-of-office, and so on. Interestingly, while multiple hybrid work models were the largest percentage of the sampling, a follow up analysis showed that only 5% of people wanted to remain remote and work at home 100% of the time. If you had gotten answers to the same question one year ago in February of 2020, prior to everyone actually doing remote work, you would have gotten a much higher percentage.

The debate is real. The questions are substantive. We’ve seen big companies choose to not occupy new headquarters buildings, to cancel new leases, and to stay in current spaces. We’ve seen some say “we’re going to be 100% remote now forever.” We’ve seen some still going ahead with buildings equipped to house all or part of their staff. But the reality is, everything has changed. What was once the norm is now disrupted. It was going this way, but the COVID19 pandemic reality accelerated the process; it created the cause-effect response available in a connected, internet-based, digital world. Response to the remote-based work environment, hybrid models, or 100% in-office, are going to vary by industry, company, and position. All I know is that it’s going to be different.

Once again, the question: “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” I’ve been thinking about this continually, monitoring our experience, getting input from others on an Executive forum thread with PSMJ, listening to staff, to podcasts, gathering information, talking to clients, related businesses, and more. I’ve been watching the realities hitting retail in the pandemic and digital environment as well. We all know that the future, and the “now”, of “brick and mortar” retail is quite different. Smart retailer’s have gone digital, while also showcasing some of their work and products in specific stores. Outlier stores have been closed, inventory in the remaining stores reduced, and more invested in online and warehoused inventory. So what about the future of the “office?” What about the future of it in the context of professional services? How about more specifically in A/E? Here’s how I envision it.

Think “flagship store.” The future of “the professional service office” is a multi-dimensional experience for all who enter, all who are affiliated with the company, including staff, clients, vendors, affiliates, referrers, advocates, collaborators, students, recruits, and more. Just as smart retailers have put in place digital infrastructure while creating a physical retail location that is experiential, showcasing products, services, and supporting their brand, such is the future of the professional services office. What does this multi-dimensional office look like? What is the envisioned experience? What is it? What is it not? It will depend on the location, industry, work type, and so much more.

It is no longer simply a place to go work for 8 hours a day and go home. It is no longer a static space to just do work and collaborate with clients and staff. It’s a “watering hole” a “community well” a “gathering place” for the industry, domain, practice segments. It is a representation of brand through physical placement of things representing the work, through digital experiences accessible in multiple areas throughout the facility, where clients can access and reference the showcased services, engage electronically, or personally. The 3-D printer is continually printing samples of products and goods supported by the service. Spaces are nimble and flexible for collaborative teams. Spaces are hybridized. Glass is more prevalent in creating separation and visibility at the same time. People can talk to a representative like they do at a bank. Services can be ordered and procured on the spot if desired. Clients, supporters, and other people connected to the company can come and use common spaces as a “third space” to use wireless, collaborate, take a coffee break. Staff members work productively whether from home or from office based on the need, the work typology, and tasks at hand. Projects are displayed physically, and electronically. The space is a shared work space, brand support, resting space, and more. It is a media center as well. The podcast (if you have one) is produced from a studio in the office such as the one I produce called “The Creating Structure Podcast.” When not accessible, staff, clients, and constituents can have a virtual experience.

Everything we do, including the facilities in which we work, are an opportunity to support and express brand; to express innovation, attract, retain, support and care. The facility, in my reality, has always been required to communicate as much as possible about who we are in the physical expression of the space.

I’m looking forward to creating more of a “flagship” office experience. That’s what we are going to do. That’s how we will use the space. Now let’s see how much we can make it a reality.

Engineering and Value

I learned a long time ago that engineering is a means to an end. The process and expression of engineering should deliver value to the client, and the end user, to create safe, serviceable, components, parts, and systems, and in many forms. Engineering is part art, part science. It becomes a way of thinking as we do the work. My familiarity is with building systems and components, building science, structural and systems engineering for buildings, and most specifically for specialty systems know as curtain walls. These systems also are described as cladding, facade, architectural components, and building envelope. I am going to break down some items and factors that I’ve found to be important in executing engineering work in the proper context. It applies to the broad categories of engineering as well as the specialties I’ve noted. Value-based engineering has these types of mindsets and expressions:

Connected: It’s connected with client. It begins with the end in mind. Work backwards from the clients goals and desires, whether labor savings, redundancy, risk mitigation, manufacturing efficiency, optimization, or all of them.

Collaborative: Create a context where we are working in a shared reality with the client. Break down barriers, seek collaborative solutions. A shared reality puts us figuratively in “the same boat” or in “each other’s shoes.”

Competent: The fundamentals have been mastered so that the principles and practices can be utilized in an increasingly elegant manner, and with confidence in the accuracy of the solutions

Codified: One must be aware of the minimum requirements as outlined in building codes, standards, or applicable governing authorities.

Communicative: Keep an ongoing dialogue with the client. Let them know what is being done, inform them of our progress. Use email, instant messaging, phone calls, virtual meetings. Clients appreciate concise, informative, ongoing feedback to support collaboration. Engineers typically struggle with the idea of need to communicate regularly and just the reality of being communicative. Communication is the differentiator.

Concise: Solutions should be understandable, able to be interpreted, and as straightforward as possible to implement.

Clear: Solutions, drawings, reports, sketches, narration, should be clear and logical, simple to understand.

There’s more to this conversation and additional categories to discuss, which I will do in future blog posts. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Checking in: News and Updates

It’s been quite a while since I’ve checked in and provided some updates about our businesses, the Podcast, perspectives, and other matters. These are posted at random in no particular order.

New Staff: We’ve been blessed at Wheaton Sprague (www.wheatonsprague.com) to add three new staff members in our Design, Drafting and Modeling Department (DDM). There are some really solid people available with the changes in the marketplace, the shifts, the ebbs and flows. We’ve added some high quality additional capacity, new capabilities, and experience. Each person is from the industry side of our work, and brings experience in custom fabrication, custom curtain wall design, drafting, building information modeling, gasket design, problem solving, and more. We’ve added two more architects with deep technical experience in delegated design and engineering and one 25 year industry veteran.

BIM2020: (#BIM2020) Our building information modeling initiative, growth and advancement continues, working with primary modeling software platforms like Inventor, RHINO and REVIT. This will bring continual improved value, intelligence, data, and expanded options to clients using a variety of platforms, applications, algorithms, code, and data to solve enterprise and project level problems. Engage with us in this space.

The Podcast: My Creating Structure Podcast https://creatingstructure.buzzsprout.com/ (#creatingstructure) has seven episodes uploaded. The eighth episode is about to post this week. Our podcasts all run about an hour, and we’ve gotten 522 downloads as of today. I’m please with the engagement so far, and thankful for everyone listening. I subscribe to the Seth Godin “Smallest Viable Audience” mentality (https://seths.blog/2017/07/in-search-of-the-minimum-viable-audience/) so I am happy with the results so far. I’m grateful for all who listen. Plus the seven episodes offer a “who’s who” list of business and technical professionals, all influencers in their own spaces, and all of whom have great stories bringing unique perspectives to the discussions. The next guest is Max Perilstein, Communications Strategist focused on the Glass and Glazing world, but our conversation covers sports production, broadcasting, marketing, glass, glazing, people, advocacy, energy issues, and so much more. It will be uploaded this week. Other guests on the prior seven episodes can be viewed from the Podcast site or via all other major Podcast platforms hosting the show. I hope you’ll subscribe and join the conversation.

Shifts: There’s quite a bit of shifting going on in the market right now. There are businesses making preemptive moves and cutting some of their technical staff. There are others moving locations, consolidating offices, or making decisions to buy out more services and reduce personnel expense. This has created a bust-to-boom environment in availability of quality people. I predicted this from the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic cycle. We’ve seen the market go from having almost no one available to having a multiple choices of quality people. Backlog is currency in this regard to inform decisions on hiring. Cash flow certainly helps as well, but backlog is a key driver informing near range or long range decisions.

Staying Close to Clients: In this economy, people want to work in a B2B environment with known entities with people they can trust; businesses with staying power, remote work capabilities, well funded, a strong network of people within, and a proven track record. We’ve doubled and tripled down on client support and client management, especially in the fundamentals of schedule adherence, quality of work product, communication, and client-centered solutions. Get these things correct and it will keep a business busy, and growing. There’s also longer term aspects on which to to plan and align with clients, but if we don’t get the fundamentals right, there’s no need to talk about broader vision or long term strategies. Double down on commitments and communications to clients and key prospects, and win.

Thanks for reading. I’ll provide more updates in the near future.

Remote work: Time Give and Take

Our offices, our entire business, are presently working 100% remote (not working in physical Wheaton Sprague office locations) due to COVID19 considerations. Even when we returned to office from Mid-June through November 26th, we were probably 50% remote on any given day. Here’s some reflections on how I view my time thus far, associated with remote work.

I save 30-40 minutes per day not driving back and forth to work

I need an extra 30 minutes per day with slower technology, not having triple monitors, and less access to my best “gear” from home; plus a dozen other little I.T. issues.

I save 15 minutes per day not making my lunch (yes I make my lunch)

I need an extra 15 to 30 minutes per day in extra work of engaging with staff via remote means.

I save days and days not traveling to see clients across the country

I need days to connect remotely with clients and drive engagement, do virtual meetings, track people down. I lose the energy and connectivity that being with people face to face brings.

What’s the net? Is it a gain, or a loss? Is it equivalent in the time equation? I’d say it’s almost equal. We gain and we lose. There’s the PERCEPTION of having “way more time.” It’s all contextual. I like the convenience that some of it brings. I dislike the lack of community, in a place, building energy and momentum. I like not having to drive as much, but I miss the transition driving to and from another space; the demarcation. I like being in my own space, but I miss being able to go interact with people (in three dimensions not two.)

I know this; we were made to need each other; to work together; to be in community. We have a form of it now, but it’s not quite the same.

It’s not better or worse to be 100% remote. It’s just different.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th, November, 2020, was one of the best days of the year at our company. It was an increasingly positive end to one of the best weeks of the year as well. We had six specific outcomes that manifested themselves in one day after many months of ongoing work, engagement and investment (time, energy, etc.) Those six outcomes included three new hires, one client-initiated interaction around additional monies due to extended project costs, and two contract extensions.

I don’t ever think about Friday the 13th and the superstition around that date. In fact, I didn’t even remember it was “Friday the 13th” when I went to the office. It just was a Friday in November. I brought the best Friday version of myself to that particular day, along with the best Friday version of our people. I engaged in the work, responded to clients, and took care of the business of the day.

Positive, thoughtful, caring, innovative, connected, collaborative, actions and stewardship over an extended period of time, day after day, week after week, month after month, eventually produce in-kind; in like manner. When we are on a really good path as well, assessing what’s working by monitoring results and running with it further, these actions can produce multiplied, positively-leveraged outcomes.

Superstition about a numbered day, or a specific number, like “13” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not showing up due to a doubt or worry is just a self-created setback. It helps to bring about the very outcome one may fear.

Keep standing, keep showing up. Trust in the provision of God as truth is acted upon and deployed in actionable behavior and energy.

Communication- Alignment

We should have all heard it by now. Communication is the number one predictor of project success, client retention, risk minimization, sales capture rate, and more. It is the differentiator in so many ways.

One tangible activity and expression of communication is “alignment” and it is a big-impact activity. Anyone can seek to align with clients and to understand their reality, the reality of the work, and to seek mutuality.

Aligning with clients is about working to share the same realities. It’s improves by working in a concurrent manner. Do things like scheduling project kickoff meetings, creating “real-time” dialogue through appropriate platforms like phone, virtual meetings, email, text, frequent check-in’s, and more.

We often work in a “box” and assume everyone knows what each other is doing. It doesn’t work that way. Life and work are too dynamic. Be the initiator. Passivity leads to more opportunity for failure.

Adapt a mentality of fluid conversation, relationship building, and listening. Share work products. Begin with the end in mind. “Work backwards” from the client’s goal definition in order to build a project plan, assess the value proposition, find the unique selling propositions, to build a schedule, and more.

I find alignment to be one of the single biggest predictors of success with clients. It’s just one manifestation of communication.

How’s your alignment today?

Curtain Wall Engineering

Curtain Wall engineering, a subset of the delegated design and engineering field, is a worthy craft and endeavor. Here’s some principles I practice and promote, personally and organizationally, to bring successful outcomes and value to clients.

Collaboration: Good engineering is collaborative engineering. It engages the client. This includes their project manager, designer, fabrication manager, field installer, and other vested constituents.

Construct-able: Solutions must be practical, able to be constructed with available materials, sequenced properly.

Client Centered: Collaboration starts with the client. It’s about mutual solutions, not the engineer’s solution alone. Start with the end goal and work backwards. This is simple on some projects, more complex on others. And most tradespeople are not used to engineering professionals talking to them, respecting their opinion, valuing their input. Win over the installers and project managers, and win the client long-term (and learn something in the process.)

Code Compliant: Our solutions must be compliant with the building code, which is the minimum standard for buildings and structures. Mastery over the code and applications of AISC, AA, AAMA, ACI, ASTM and other reference standards is critical. We’ve got to have “the right tools in the tool chest.”

Communicative: Communicate regularly. The number one predictor of successful outcomes, client retention, good solutions, and lowering of risk, is communication; no question. And just because a direction was established at the start of the project doesn’t mean it’s going to bear itself out at the end. Keep the client engaged in communication and be consistent.

Correct: We’ve got to be technically solid, technically correct, make proper judgements and support it with the math and physics. The “numbers” have to be right to protect the client, the project, the public and the PE in charge.

Creative: All projects are not created equal. All installers do not practice the same techniques. All architects want their project to bear the unique “signature” of their firm. Owners want a product that is attractive to tenants. Every problem has a solution. Be creative, both in engineering approach and in the elegance of the solution. Say “yes” as often as possible. Find a way. Back it up with the numbers, or develop a blended solution.

There’s much more, but let’s stop here for today. Of course, we need to make use of the most effective use of the tools of the trade; software, hardware, templates, allowable stress rules, product information, vendor support, 3-D analysis programs, and more. Those are support elements, not the value propositions. It’s what we “do with the tool” that provides the difference in the outcomes.

Master your craft, and deliver value in increasing measure.

Work Backwards

Clients engage design professionals for the RA or PE stamp, the expertise, the capability, or the capacity. But the value does not reside in the statutory compliance and capability. I’ve met plenty of practitioners that couldn’t engineer client-centered solutions. The reason? Well, there’s a lot of them, but I say it’s mainly from not thinking like the client; not “working backwards” from the necessary or desired solutions. The engineering supports the solution for the client, not the reverse. The engineering has to be satisfied but we have to “think backwards” from the envisioned end result to the start of the design and engineering process.

Think like clients. Think like a builder or a constructor who happens to be an engineer or architect. Get inside the mind of the builder, the glazier, the installer, the fabricator. Get into the “voice of the customer.” Listen. Respect their role. Work to solutions that are simple, sequenced, practical.

We exist for the client; their problem is our opportunity. Their complexity is our unique selling proposition. Every client and every project is unique.

Work backwards to help achieve value.

COVID19 RULES

Since we are going to be in this environment indefinitely, here’s some things we’ve learned along the way and some observations on managing a professional services business in this reality.

Lead with care First: Health and wellness for clients and staff is #1. It always has been, but even more so now. Care 1st.

Over-Communicate: This is almost always true, but again, more so now. We always THINK we are communicating enough, or appropriately, but that’s rarely the case. Take nothing for granted. Communicate often, and with clarity, by any means necessary.

Get the 1-1 level: Check in at the 1-1 level with everyone that reports to you. Set up new reporting and accountability structures to accommodate the need to be “agile and nimble” in making sure no one is lost in the fray each day.

Virtual meetings: Make generous use of virtual meetings. I prefer MS TEAMS for internal meetings, WebEx for external meetings. TEAMS is a big value for driving engagement.

Office Environment: Make a safe space of beauty somewhere; make it invitational. We did so with our porch and the ability to eat, greet, meet outside through summer and into autumn.

Financials: Share the state of the business with everyone. Make it relevant to their space and contribution

New Sales, Marketing Progress, Project acquisition: Bang the drum loudly. Celebrate wins with everyone in the organization or in our respective domains (depending on size of company)

That’s all for today. I could go on and on but these are at the top of my mind.

Share your observations, insights and feedback. The more we share successes, the better we all will be. There’s enough of the “pie” to go around for everyone.