Contemporary Work

I’ve got my work gear now able to fit into one Italian leather soft shell briefcase. Its got one center compartment, a pocket in back with a zipper, and a couple storage pockets inside. It’s got a strap so I can throw it over my arm and go where I need to go. I can run my business and life from anywhere with this bag and gear. In addition, I have my mobile device. I can’t work without it. The gear includes a Dell Laptop computer, power cord, key for electronic signature, earbuds for meetings or privacy, work journal (5 × 8 Picadilly with grid paper,) positive focus journal sheets to record wins, and some coaching reference material to remind me of my focus. I also have an emergency power supply for my phone just in case I need it. I use secure wireless when out of my physical office, which is typical. If it is not available, I use my WiFi hotspot on my mobile device.

I’ve got connectivity via SharePoint, MS Teams, and the company VPN. Meetings with staff or clients are done exclusively via MS Teams, except my Creating Structure podcast which is done via Zoom.

I can write proposals, do meetings, review work products, PE seal and sign documents, and sign legal documents, all electronically. I can meet with staff, leadership team, clients, vendors, banker, accountant, lawyer, agents, all via virtual means.

If the grid goes down, if I have any connectivity issues, and I am in region, I have a physical office as a back up. Isn’t that funny to say? It used to be that remote connectivity was the back up. That’s not the case any more for me. I’ve got a great office, but at this point it’s really optional. Clients don’t care about my office. They just care about results. They care about accessibility and responsiveness. They care about value, work product delivery, schedule maintenance, and integrity.

That’s speaks well to my current position and infrastructure. It’s speaks well to our core values at http://www.wheatonsprague.com which are “communicate, integrity, collaborate, client conscious, capable.” Nothing restricts us from supporting this regardless of context or location.

In fact, for me, and for many professionals in service related businesses, the phrase, “I’m working remotely,” is irrelevant now. So is “I’m in office.” I’m either at my work or not. I’m either at my “desk,” wherever that is, or I’m not. I’m either on or off, available or not available.

I couldn’t envision 30 years ago, that there would be a day I could run a business from anywhere, work from anywhere, connect via many platforms. But here it is. It’s only going to advance and accelerate more, as long as there’s a grid, power, access to food and clean water. But that’s the subject of another blog post.

Push the edges, but take nothing for granted.

What’s your gear, office, and connectivity look like?

Imagine- Achievement vs Effort

A VISION for those in Professional Services:

The standard form of pricing professional services work among architecture and engineering firms still mostly involves some form of “gross up” cost estimating based on predicted labor investment at a defined labor rate. Even when setting fees on a “top down” basis or “cost of construction,” there’s still a “bottom up” exercise in regards to budgeting labor. Almost all firms “monetize” their time in some way by also filling out time sheets. The hours are loaded into the accounting system by project, by phase, by labor code.

Re-imagining

Let’s just imagine for a moment instead, a professional services business based only on results and value. There’s no time-sheet in the traditional sense. The business is not selling their time for a labor rate, but is focused solely on outcomes.

What is the issue? The time-sheet, recording time by increment, by labor code, by job number, on an hourly basis, is focused through the lens of effort– a justification model, “People like us focus on monetizing our time, documenting that effort, billing for it, while we hope to get the right results on the project.”

The opposite is a business focused through the lens of results- an achievement model, People like us produce results like these for fees like this.

Imagine:

  • Everyone is paid a salary – no hourly workers at any level.
  • There’s no discussion about “billable time,” only expected outcomes within time frames.
  • The focus is entirely on an achievement and income model:
    • “People like us produce results driven by value, scheduled completion dates, project milestones and deliverables that are billed at pre-determined values.”
  • The expected work week is to “complete the targeted work”- no exceptions. Work status is either “done or not done,” or “on-track or off-track.”
  • Jobs are billed based on percentage basis according to the fee and progress against the deliverable, not the time accrued.
  • There’s no accounting for time, but only revenue, only outcomes. We determine the percentage complete based on the results achieved vs the results planned. We set the fee based on the value to the market, region, project type, client.

What about Time and Materials ( T & M hourly) work, you ask? Perhaps there needs to be an excpetion for certain activities, but then why not charge more for T & M work than for fixed fee work. (We can’t achieve the margin a fixed fee can allow when we bill T & M.)

Alternatively, we simply stop working entirely on the effort-based model of billing for time. No T & M, ever. We work for clients that value the fixed fee model. For those clients that aren’t willing to pay a fixed fee we take the position of, “People like us produce the type of value where we believe a fixed fee is the only reasonable approach.”

Imagine this business, where everything is results, outcome, achievement driven rather than time-effort driven. Imagine piloting a project or a group that tests this approach.

Imagine quoting projects from the top down only, “We think a project like this should cost this much”. Our thinking is centered on the mindset of, ”Our business costs this much to run per year so we need to sell X-times that cost in executable backlog to be completed within this time frame”

Imagine.

Backwards

I think that we often have our values reversed; or maybe it’s just me.

Why would we want to sleep longer in the morning on our day off ? Don’t we want to get on with our free time?

Why would we want to spend the best of our energy during the work day prioritizing answering emails? Shouldn’t we save it for later, when we have used up most of our creativity on more important problems or value propositions?

Why would we consider it a win, like we’ve cheated the system, to skip a workout day, or a good nutrition day, as if we deserve it? Don’t we want to pursue health every day in some form?

Why do we prioritize the tyranny of the urgent over that which is important? Do we always want to be responding to other people’s priorities for us to the exclusion of everything else?

Flip the paradigm. Own rather than be owned. Initiate rather than just respond. Rethink the value system. Start in some measure immediately.

“Limbo”

There’s a word and phrase in my culture that we may speak to ourselves when we feel stuck, delayed, or unable to make a clear decision- “I’m feeling like I’m in limbo.” Or “I don’t like being in limbo.”

The other day I woke up in that space. There was a conflict in my mind between two major issues that unexpectedly presented themselves, issues that required attention, disrupting the exact timing on another major event I scheduled many, many months ago.

My first thought was, “I can’t be in limbo anymore about this.”

Then I reflected. There really is no “limbo.” Limbo is a mental construct. Limbo is the tension created internally between what I want to do versus what the situation is requiring me to do now; the true NEED versus my WANT or DESIRE.

Limbo is a signal that I am not living in the moment. That I am not being present in what’s before me.

Once I made the shift, I moved out of that tension. There is no LIMBO.

I get to choose. You get to choose.

Strategies and Scripts – Client Relationship Repair

I’ve found through experience, different tones and patterns of communication that get better response than others. This is important in communicating with clients, whether in prospecting, retention, or restoration of the client relationship. In this post I focus on an example of how to communicate to clients when there’s been a fracture in the relationship; when we didn’t deliver what we promised. For example, when we fail to manage to expectation, we miss a deadline, quality suffered, our delivery wasn’t the same as outlined, our communication was poor, etc.

This form of communication and the initiation of attempting to address the issues, opening the door to listening, seeking restoration, is not intuitive. Most hide behind the failure, make excuses, or blame the client. This type of effort must be learned through caring and through practice. I’ve got all sorts of examples of various forms of writing emails or letters. I’ll provide one here for readers to use as an example, but remember to put in your own words. It has to be sincere. Cutting and pasting is not the intention. The intention is to communicate tones. I will explain why as well.

Here’s an example of one where our client just wasn’t satisfied with a tough project we did together. Before I provide the example here’s another important item. We must give the proper amount of time for things to settle before we come back to it. Pushing, badgering, and trying to reach the client too soon afterwards, will minimize or negate the very thing we are trying to do to rebuild and restore. It also can be very insincere and give the message that it’s all about us wanting to feel good rather than really providing value and care to the client.

Here’s an example (the names are random.)

Hi John

I hope all is well. I am not sure if you want to hear from me or not but I thought I’d give it a try. I saw the cool LinkedIn post from your team on the project we worked on together. We were proud to work with you and your team. I know it wasn’t all the experience you expected. The job looks great. Congratulations on a beautiful project.

If you’d like to reconnect I’d be happy to do so, whether just personally or also professionally. If there’s anything I or we can do to repair the relationship with you and your colleagues at your business, I’d be happy to lean in to that process. If there’s too much energy required for you to do that and you don’t have any interest, I understand.

It’s a great industry we work in. I am glad to have been a little part of the work you did and the time we had together.

Either way, thanks for the post on the project and thanks for giving us a shot together in 2019.

This message got an instantaneous response from the client, receiving a response within 5 minutes (less actually.) His response was “Thanks for touching base. No hard feelings here. It was a difficult job.” This was the first part of the email response. He also indicated that he appreciated and respected me reaching out. He mentioned that things were better when I was involved in the work, but that I can’t be involved in everything. He mentioned that collaboration suffered (one of our core values.) He didn’t say he would work with us again, but he didn’t say no. He left the door open.

Why the response? Probably a number of reasons. I faced the reality of the situation and didn’t ignore the experience. I knew they weren’t happy. It’s easy to hide or not have the courage to be transparent and humble about it. I sent an email with no expectation, didn’t excuse, dismiss or blame. I made it clear that if he didn’t respond it was okay, and that I would understand. I sent the message 18 months or more after the last interaction. Remember, we can seek to reconcile but we can’t force it in any relationship. All we can do is make the first step, be humble, and seek to understand. That way we can have no regrets, or at least fewer regrets. Reconciliation takes two parties, two people, not one.

One other thing to know. They say it takes ten-times as much work to secure a prospective client than to retain one. I’ll bet it takes ten-times more than that to rebuild if trust is broken or fractured.

I’ve won and lost clients. I’ve made all the mistakes. The longer I work at my craft, the more careful I become about delivering the value expected. But the struggle doesn’t go away. We’ve got to be vigilant and to care. Why would we not seek to at least acknowledge the problem? How important is a relationship? Very important. It’s all about the relationships, and Integrity is everything.

Lean In

Lean in to the hills; the upward struggles; the view is better at the top

Lean in when the pain is unavoidable; identify the source

Lean in to good times and enjoy; there’s no guarantees

Lean into that special moment; it may never come again in the same form

Lean in to tough times; experience is gained

Lean in to relationships; there’s nothing more important

Lean in to journaling, to expressing thoughts on paper; personal growth takes place in this context

Lean in to listening; much learning takes place

Lean in to change; it’s one of the few constants in life

Lean in to hearing different views; it expands our mind whether we agree or not

Lean in to being flexible; sometimes the magic is found there

Lean in to growth; no one will do it for us

Lean in to understanding; no one can take it away

Leaning is a mental posture.

Leaning in is better than leaning out

The Least Recognized Design Variable

As I stated in my last Blog, time constraints, those things such as schedule, ship date, move-in date, budget (which relates to time available to invest in the design) and other milestone deadlines are part of the design variable equation. What do I mean? I mean that the content, depth, elegance, or otherwise, of a design solution, is dictated by numerous boundary conditions, one of which is the required schedule, budget, and “done date.” However, in my experience, most often this is not viewed as such by the technical professional. “Hey, it takes whatever time it takes to get it done,” is often the attitude.

No. Not true. It takes the time we have allotted, the solution set, scope, and delivery we have sold to the client, and that they have purchased, to get it done. I dive a little deeper with some observations and comments below.

Parkinson’s Law.” This is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This is so true. I have seen it over and over. I don’t think any design, service, or product would ever be completed if it weren’t for deadlines, whether externally or internally imposed.

Do you need a solution in an hour, a day, a week, a year? We can provide that. You may not like the one-hour solution, and patience will wane with the one-year solution. Any good technical professional can tell you something that will work, sketch a solution, or provide a recommendation in a short period of time. It will likely be heavy, bulky, conservative, not elegant, but it will be a solution. If the client has $500 to purchase engineering vs. $50,000, the design will be impacted. If they have a day vs. a week, the design will be impacted. We can’t provide the same level of value and design in both contexts.

If we let design expand into “the void” until we think we’ve perfected it, we will reach the asymptotic stage where the curve flattens out, running almost parallel to the horizontal axis forever, never reaching the desired outcome (whatever criteria we have established.) Remember, there’s no perfect design, no perfect work product, no perfect solution. There’s complete, correct, finished, polished, specified, scheduled, completion of the work product, service, solution. Get it to the defined, specified, standard of care, and ship it.

How about an example from the building industry. Do you want quick turnkey delivery of your building for occupancy? How about a tilt-up precast or pre-engineered metal building? Not an elegant enough design solution? Better modify your timing. Do you want hand chiseled split-face stone, marble floors, custom bronze doors, glass from Europe, stone from Italy? If that’s the more elegant design solution, then get out the calendar and push the move-in date out a couple years.

What about modern tools of technology? Can’t they “hack” the time variable and do more work in less time? Sure, in theory. Those tools can enable a more elegant design in a short period of time. What I’ve found over the years though is that the tools of technology are often misplaced in the mind of the technical professional in this way; they become the thing we are serving rather than them serving us. If you’re my age, you’ll remember when the prediction was that things would go so much quicker the more advanced the tools became. Unfortunately, many lose site of this and use the tools to dive deeper and deeper to a point of diminishing returns, rather than using the tools to advance the design solution more quickly. Step back. Assess. Regroup. Do this often. Plus, there’s this thing called complexity. Simplicity is undervalued. Systems fundamentally create more complexity. The more capable an IT platform, computer, software, the more complexity can increase. Sometimes we need to step back, sketch and idea, assess “1st principles” and re-state the scope and deadline.

Schedule, time to perform, ship-dates, timing, all are part of the considerations in design. Schedule is a design variable. I recommend this be kept in mind when deep in the midst of “the work” and the scope and end goal is getting murky. Keep the end in mind.

What’s on My Mind?

What is on my mind? That’s a good question. For anyone that follows this blog, you’ll know I haven’t written for some time. Seth Godin says there’s no such thing as “writer’s block” any more that there’s such a thing as “talker’s block.” But talking is easy, writing is hard. Talking feels less permanent; like standing by a stream watching the water flow by; it’s there and it’s gone. Not that the words we speak have no meaning; they do, but it feels less vulnerable, less permanent. What we write is fixed. It’s harder to take back. It’s permanent, or at least it’s memorialized in a more fixed manner, like a photo of the stream; a fixed point in time. No taking it back

Why so long between writing? I don’t know. I am busy running the company, Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., and affiliates. I have been devoting more time outside of that to the Creating Structure Podcast, which is now producing Episode 23 and with two more scheduled coming up in August and early September. Those take time to produce; the show notes are like a mini-blog in themselves. I’ve been busy with The Garden (see Instagram posts and other articles in prior blog posts.) It’s summer and I spend less time inside. I’ve been really busy with family matters, friends, and adjusting to post-Covid19 lifestyle. Actually I don’t think there is yet a “post Covid19” reality since the pandemic rages on. It’s just a different state of another “normal,” a new adjustment. Actually it’s worse than prior to, and during Covid, from my point of view, since now there seems to be this expectation to live in both realities. I find it less sustainable, therefore, prioritization of choices is required more than ever. There’s just a tension in the air.

The above are all just excuses of course. Even as I write this, I am starting to FEEL better. Why? Well, I like to write actually. I spend most of my writing time crafting emails, drafting company briefings, writing memos, proposals, work products, and more. But putting this out to the public, and to the followers of the blog, feels different. It is different. I am crazy enough (call it what you will) to think that I might have something to say; that perhaps my experiences might positively impact one person. Even if that’s not the case, it impacts me. And writer’s write because they need to. They write for themselves. One writer said, “If you really want to make an impact, write something that would make your friends feel uncomfortable reading. If you want to make an even deeper impact, write something that will make yourself unconformable.” I’m not quite there yet. I’m able to be just vulnerable enough to do this; to share these thoughts in writing with the world.

What’s on my mind, though, you ask, since I still haven’t answered the question? There’s a lot on my mind. Organizing it and sharing it in a substantive way is the tough part.

What about REMOTE WORK. Well there is no such thing anymore as “REMOTE WORK.” There’s just contextual work; work from various locations. As a business owner I used to work “remotely” often since business ownership is more of a lifestyle than a job. Now I never use that term. First, working in different contexts now belongs to almost anyone that is in an office environment or working a traditional “office job.” It’s no longer in the realm of the business owner alone. I actually feel better about that. I never say “I am working remotely.” It doesn’t matter- not at all. I say things like, “I will be working from my home office this morning,” or “I will be working from my car, between appointments.” (Yes from my car.)

If I turn on “out of office” for auto-response to email it’s because I am on “personal time” or “handling matters that will not allow me to stay in top of email in real time.” There is no more “out of office.” Do I have a physical office? Yes. I am there sometimes five days per week, sometimes zero days per week. All that matters is whether I am engaged or not; whether I being productive or not. Never has it been more obvious to manage by results or outcomes than now. Manage to results and outcomes, not appearances.

What’s on my mind? I don’t know. Have I gotten to that part of the blog yet? “Hey John, what is your company doing about return-to-office vs. hybrid work vs. work from home? Which one are you guys doing?” My answer is yes. What? “Yes, I said.” We are doing ALL OF IT. Is there one better than the other? I don’t know. It’s all contextual. If we are not creative in our approach to people and work contexts, we will struggle with retention and recruiting for sure. Like I said, manage to results and outcomes. Not everyone will survive the change. Not everyone has at our firm. But many will like it more, and they will thrive, plus new people will come into a context they are familiar with if we hire within this paradigm.

What’s on my mind? A lot of things. How can there be so many “hiring now” and “help wanted” signs compared to the time prior to COVID19? Are there that many people that have bowed out, gone to gig economy, freelancing, or just decided not to work? I don’t believe the statistics from the labor department. I just believe what I see; a LOT of jobs available and not enough people available to do them, willing to do them, or that have been trained for them. What a shift. The shift is dynamic and continuing to play out. Take your 5-year plan and scrap it, unless your 5-year plan is “be nimble,” or “make cool stuff,” or “impact the world through clean drinking water,” and similar. I like the “be nimble” part. The job of my company, our “why,” is to “Create Structure” to the world, physically and operationally. Being nimble is required (that’s sound better right now than “pivoting” which is an overused word.)

What’s on my mind? I don’t know. I guess quite a bit. But I am coming to the end of my attention span and available time for this priority today. I’ve not touched on the spiritual, the garden, updates regarding the company, technical posts, discussions about project management, client relationship management, faith and work, the natural, supernatural, discussions about BIM, innovation, 3-D printers, point clouds, time sheet discipline, strategies behind billing report audits, leveraging of time, prioritization, game-changer tasks, the importance of relationships, implementing EOS at our firm and more. I guess those will have to wait for the future blogs; tomorrow, next week, as soon as I prioritize and choose to write more.

What’s on my mind? I guess there’s quite a bit. Let’s talk more later. See you in the next post. Have a great day.

Covid19 Dynamics- Business & People

41% of employees considering leaving?

I received this article and link from PSMJ recently in their executive forum thread.

“A recent Microsoft study found that 61% of business leaders say they are thriving while 60+% of staff-level employees say they are struggling.  What is even more striking is that 41% of those surveyed say they are mulling leaving their jobs.”  You can find an article with more detail on the survey here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-22/bosses-are-clueless-that-workers-are-miserable-and-looking-to-leave

My commentary; this is a deep issue. So much of it involves the need for more “self awareness” for everyone. The physical, mental and emotional whiplash effect from transitioning, or trying to transition, out of COVID19 lockdown, in whatever form, is real. Working remotely stifles the full impact of social connectivity, culture, the more predictable and interactive environment of office life. Working remotely for specific reasons or for short sprints, is a great option. Staying remote indefinitely is not.

 

This is a deep well and I can’t do it justice in a short blog. But many people are tired. Many bosses are tired. Many think “they are ok” but they are not. My first question to everyone now is “how are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you to help?” Liberal use of calls from managers and ownership to staff via video chat really helps.

The number one predictor of long life in the top ten indicators is social connectivity and engagement. Think about it.

 

There’s turnover happening and it will continue to happen as people evaluate their life and options. We have been working to mitigate the side effects and rebuild connection and culture at my company but it’s all dynamic and an emerging picture for all of us.

I would love to hear from others on this topic. If you have story to share, please comment.

How are you doing?

A Poem – MARS ROVER

Here I am, on the planet they call “red.”

A manifestation of the humans

Taking pictures, collecting data, sending information

People applaud my presence, but not those here. There’s no one. I’m alone

I’m preparing for the potential colonizers, those funded by the humans; by the billionaires, and by the taxed people living within their governments.

I’m assessing the landscape and viability here, even though it seems that we can’t take good enough care of ours, as if the thin atmosphere will be sufficient, or better.

So I’ll collect, analyze, and share, while the humans try to run their power grids, economies, communities, and supply chains, the fractured ones, on the rich planet. The one with the resources.