Project Management

Project management is many things. The term project management is a broad category. It can be defined and manifested in different ways. There are key aspects and processes to the role of project management that need to be executed in order to achieve success. Project management in one company differs from that of another, yet there should be some common ground, some similarities, across all of project management in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry.

All companies bigger than the ability or availability of an individual owner, or group of owners, to manage at the project level, are dependent on project management to determine the success of their projects, their profits, quality, and ultimately, the success of failure of their client relationships. That’s right; everything intersects at the project manager level and in the project operational domain. The success of project management determines the future growth, size, scalability, and health of the organization.

Project managers are the gatekeepers of each company’s clients, values, projects, profits and quality. This should produce a sober reality on making clear their roles and responsibilities. This is easy to say, and difficult to do.

Project management involves both quantitative and qualitative skills and attributes. This includes what we define as “hard” skills and “soft” skills. The things we are trained for in school, the operational tools we learn to support project management tasks like scheduling, budgeting, accounting systems, CRM platforms, and more, ultimately do not determine its success. Tools help support and define the work. But the success of project management, any good fruit, is produced from a proper mindset, people skills, knowledge of the work, a solution orientation, discipline and accountability, along with the tools to support the work.

Here’s a high-level view of some key aspects to project management. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few basic areas of impact.

  • Communication:
    • This is the primary differentiator. Focus on communication. If there’s one thing to do, do this thing. Clear, concise, timely, polite, professional, appropriate communication. The means is contextual to the need or client preference; email, phone, letters, instant messaging, texting, DM’s, WebEx, Skype, Face to face, and other. All forms; and it must be timely; concurrent; “real time”. Tools and platforms used in our companies should support communication in the best manner possible.
  • Scope and Contract management:
    • We’ve got to remember the project scope and make sure to benchmark to it. Knowing when to shift and when to draw the line on scope creep is a key to maintaining profitability while building a strong client relationship. Trust is the key. Build trust.
  • Document management:
    • Keeping track of documents, timing, logging documents, updating our teams, etc.; this includes things like ASI’s, CSK’s, bulletins, addendums, BIM updates, owner changes, and on and on.
  • Earned Value Tracking (EVT):
    • EVT is about measuring the real progress of our work as it relates to the budget. The goal of EVT is to estimate as accurately as possible, the percent complete on the project (the spent amount) vs. the budget we must work with.
  • Schedule management, milestones, submittals:
    • If we don’t establish a schedule, we won’t succeed. The schedule typically drives everything. Creating benchmarks and milestones along the way, allows us to stay on track. Schedules rarely appear to be realistic by the time the project gets released, but we must start somewhere. I’ve yet to see a single schedule maintained exactly, except perhaps the “turnkey” moment when the owner will be handed the keys to open and occupy the building. We must constrain the work. In fact, time constraining is a design variable (more on that in another blog.) Also, look up “Parkinson’s Law.” This is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Have a defined “ship it” date and stick to it.
  • Meetings
    • Project meetings, design-review meetings, huddles, post-project review meetings, kick-off meetings; all serve to create collaboration. We must share in each other’s reality (ours and our client’s) to drive awareness, stay aligned, and maintain milestones. We’ve got to be aware of business and people dynamics and manage them (B2B and H2H items.) Meetings should have a clear start and stop time. There should be an agenda, proposed outcome and solution orientation. Stick to the end time rigidly. I was not good at starting and stopping on time for many years. It sent a bad message. Stick to the end time, have a person designated as the timekeeper, stop 5 minutes before the end of the meeting time, and clarify all actions or “to-do’s”, who will handle it, by when, and then adjourn. We are following the EOS format for meetings more and more and I highly recommend it. I find virtual meetings via MS Teams, with the ability to screen share work products and collaborate on screen, to be highly effective for many meetings. I prefer face to face meetings in some contexts, but that’s another blog post on when is virtual vs. face-to-face better.
  • Process
    • In our company we created a project management process that’s taken about 6 months to define from the ground-up. My partner and I stayed out of this deliberately because both of us had defined and led a PM process effort in prior years, but without it ever being “owned” and accepted by everyone in our organization. We now have a “swim lane” process chart from which responsibilities have been defined and key scorecard metrics have been developed. The team of project managers, with insight from other “subject matter experts” within the company, developed the process with an outside facilitator who works with us. This is being implemented, can be a point of reference from which to manage change, and to improve upon. Define process and build consistency. Create specific scorecard metrics and drive clarity. Perhaps I’ll write another blog on process and how best to develop to achieve buy-in and accountability.

As we approach the end of the year, I am asking myself how we can improve project management in 2022 and beyond. It’s an ongoing process in perpetuity. How about you?

Note: A prior version of this blog was published in November of 2019 in the publication “US Glass Metal and Glazing” when I was blogging for them. The blog has been updated and modified here with more content and experiences in this new post.

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.

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.

Checking In

Welcome to September. Hard to believe that it’s already “that time of year” where we are looking at the end of summer coming soon, the end of Q3 2020, and the planning for 2021 business. Crazy how time flies, even in a COVID19 environment (or perhaps ESPECIALLY.) I thought I’d take the time to catch up again for a minute on a variety of topics

The Creating Structure Podcast: We have posted two podcasts, and the next one will record tomorrow, September 2, 2020. The first two sessions have a total of exactly 100 downloads as of today. Thank you for the support. Spread the word! We will continue to interview people around topics of business, architecture, facade, construction, and more. We record and upload every other week, so the next post will be around 9/8/2020. You can subscribe through Buzzsprout, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many other major platforms. You can find us here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes

Glass Build: The last Podcast session was centered around relevant topics for #GlassBuildConnect which is happening through September. NGA/Glass Magazine will post our session the week of 9/7/2020. I think many in the field of curtain wall, glass, glazing, delegated design, and construction will enjoy the content.

Expansion: We have other affiliate company entities associated with Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc. One of them is Wheaton Engineering & Consulting of NY, LLC. This is our New York State entity. We provide engineering, design, and consulting services for all types of facade, exterior cladding, curtain wall, in many forms and functions, to the entire State of New York. If you have any questions or needs in NYC, or other NY State metropolitan areas, please go to the “contact us” section of our website at http://www.wheatonsprague.com and you can send an email to the “info” email address.

Calling all Curtain Wall Engineers: We have job openings right now for positions centered around our Minnesota office and our Ohio Office. I say “centered around” because of the manager to whom the recruiting effort is attached. We prefer “in-or-near-office” candidates, but remote are considered as well, based on the times we live in. There’s a Senior Engineer opening for our Ohio office, and an Assistant Engineer opening in our Minnesota Office.

Focus: A quick word about focus. There’s thousands of “things” that we can do or get into, but we need to prioritize. “What are the most important items?” “What are the ‘game-changers’ (urgent and important)?” “Which ones offer the highest ROI or ROT (return on time)?” “What will have the most profound positive ‘stewardship’ impact for the business, staff, clients?” Once we sort this out, and this should be done with inputs from others to help clarify the goal, then define it clearly, put a timeline to it, and execute. It’s easy to always respond to the tyranny of the urgent, but we’ve got to make time for the important as well. Seek to SIMPLIFY. Growth and new initiatives fundamentally create more COMPLEXITY. Part of our job in leading, managing, and stewarding, is to seek to simplify and create order. Prune the branches. This is particularly hard for me as a visionary person with a growth and multiplying mindset. Having a great team of integrators, operators, and implementors is key. They are the “glue” in the “growth” process.

Again, welcome to September 1st. Hang in there. Focus on today, look ahead to the anticipation of tomorrow. Take care of family, friends, and the neighborhood. Control what you can control. Focus on mindset improvement. It’s up to all of us to help make it a better tomorrow by bring a better us to the table. Make it a great day.

Start with Zero

When my partner and I created the business, we started on day one with zero; zero dollars, two computers, some software, two clients and two projects; one project for him and one for me. We had zero revenue but we had purchase orders. That’s what we worked with. We built systems, tools, applications, and engineered work products that brought value to clients.

Fast forward to now; 25 years later. I’m getting back to this approach; to recommitting to creating new things, new services, practices, and applications, from zero. I mean, being an entrepreneur and business builder, that’s how I started; I took an idea, made it a reality, and built something that never existed prior. That’s what happens in all new businesses in some way; something comes from nothing; from simply an idea.

So we start with zero. We start with our time, our tools, and our existing infrastructure, which is way deeper than it was 25 years ago, and we build. If you want money, you’re going to have to really give me a good reason. How about selling the service and idea to the client first and coming to me with a purchase order? That’s the ultimate litmus test; the ultimate positive ROI.

Starting with zero doesn’t mean we don’t need money. It doesn’t mean we don’t get funding at some point if there’s good reason. But it does provide better accountability around creating new things and it puts everyone in the organization on a level field.

Start with zero and validate from that point forward.

New stuff

This morning I got an email informing me that I received my Texas Professional engineering license (PE.) It’s one of 9 or 10 states that I never really pursued or needed. Previously at our company we had another TX PE, but he moved on to another firm a few months ago. I decided it would be best to maintain it myself, and get another staff member registered as well.

The timing was great. We have a Texas client now with 3 new projects. It’s interesting to me how when we pursue certain activities, as a company and as a person, when we take action, expend energy, invest, and build, that stuff happens; stuff we expect and stuff we don’t. Activity produces more activity. It’s action-reaction. And there’s collateral benefit that happens as well. People talk, things happen, lives are touched and results are produced.

It’s good to act, to invest, and to see the results. How’s that going for you? Do something new today and await the results.

Workflow and Development

There are two basic forms of “workflow” or “new practice” development:

  • That which we create (innovation and new category.) This needs to bring value to clients and they become part “creative partner” with us (from a “what if” and testing scenario).
  • That which our clients require (get competent and optimize)
    • They define
    • We build/design to spec
    • We execute
  • The Truth moving into the future
    • We all need in our businesses to develop one or both of these.
    • It needs to be done while being connected to the market; with the user/client

The details, the building, the success of the service or product, is up to the builders and operators

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy

Dichotomy; a contrast between two things

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy is that our energy, ideas, our vision, are deeply needed, yet our businesses are worth much more without dependence on us; without us having to be present to do transactional things; to not have to handle the day-to-day. We are supposed to be building an enterprise rather than doing a specific job.

Being free to devote our attention to the places where we provide the most value to clients, and to our business, is what creates the best opportunity for everyone to benefit; being unencumbered by everything else to the fullest extent possible

This takes constant effort and intention.

I recommend a “not to do list.” The list facilitates what we are supposed to be doing, and provides a reminder to delegate everything else.

Dynamic change should happen in perpetuity in order to keep this process advancing.

What’s on your not to do list? What’s your focus?

It’s a constant battle and effort to make it happen.

Post Project Meetings – Defining Experience

Post project review meetings are arguably the most important project and team meetings in an organization (and a required SOP now at my company) since it defines lessons learned; what we did well, what we did not, how we can improve. It helps identify “the experience” of the team and the client. It’s ALL about the client’s “experience.” The team’s experience is equally important  (client experience is only as good as the team experience and service to each other)

There’s many hotels, restaurants, auto dealers, contractors, engineering firms, professional services corps, ALL TOUTING the SAME THING.

Which one’s do you like to frequent and write checks to? Those with whom you have a positive experience or a negative experience ? Positive experience (gratitude, smiles, fair price, great value, delivering on what has been promised) means repeat business and growth.

Post project reviews are necessary for company and professional advancement.

All progress starts by telling the truth. These meetings are great truth revealers and tellers. We learn and grow through doing, celebrating wins, and fixing problems.