Zero-Based Everything

Do I still need that meeting?

Is that activity still productive?

Is it still necessary to have that in our budget?

What impact is my focus on “those activities” producing?

Is the business model still relevant?

What’s the worst consequence if we stop?

Is my master schedule still producing the results I need to see?

Is that decision providing value to the business?

Is that service still appropriate?

Knowing what I know now about that person, would I still hire them?

If it consistently is no longer producing results, creating anger, leading to frustration, draining energy, not making positive impact, then it’s time to change either ourselves, our focus, our financial investment, our time expenditure, or other things. As business owners we design the game. If we don’t like certain aspects anymore, or we are consistently losing, stop the game, go play another, or adjust the rules.

Just because we’ve been doing something doesn’t mean it is still is important or impactful

Step back, analyze, create thought time. You’ll know what is working and what is not.

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.

Telling the “Story”

When your material strength-to-weight ratio has not been optimized in the aluminum and steel buy-out items and you are spending more than you need to (or more than what’s in budget)…….

When there’s a leak on the carpeting in the CEO’s corner suite in the new corporate headquarters and no one can trace where it’s coming from…

When the wall has allegedly been designed to meet thermal criteria but occupants are uncomfortable with excessive cold or warm air entering their space…

When the vapor barrier has been breached and what seems like a leak in the wall is actually condensation flowing from exposed metal….

When the transitions between wall systems have been left to “by others” and now there are endless call backs about water infiltration in an occupied building….

When that “Value Engineered” item is now a 2′ x 2′ metal panel blowing in the wind after being pulled off the building, and has become a life-safety issue….

These are all introductory statements to real-world experiences we’ve been called in on, or for which we’ve been able to show a better way.

What’s the cost of engaging a consultant or specialty engineer on “that project”?

What’s the cost of “not”?

Choose wisely.

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.

Sales

My dad shares a story about how one of his former colleagues, the General Manager of a large industrial business, had a phrase on his office wall that said, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.”

This is true. In business, selling something triggers all the resulting downstream actions. No need for operations meetings, organizational charts, job descriptions, operational infrastructure, and more revenue supporting activities, until there’s a sale. Selling implies the creation of some tangible good or service that has value to the buyer. No sale, no sustainable business. It’s so easy as a business grows, to focus more and more on internal matters. That’s the space where I hire staff, since as a firm grows, the doer-seller model needs a larger and larger support team, including distribution of client relationship management and operations.

My experience (and that of many I have polled and talked to) has been this; for everyone twenty people that can “do” there’s one or two that can “sell.” Sales is the rarer skill. If there’s a choice between selling and doing, pick selling. Own the relationships. Support the brand and the value. Stay connected to the client, the market, the messages outside the business.

Who sold something today?

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.

Outlier

“For out on the edge of darkness, there rides the peace train.” Cat Stevens

That’s where the peace train rides; out on the edge of darkness. If it rode in the middle of light, the place where peace already resides, there would be no need for it. It gathers people from the edges and expands those boundaries. The peace train is an outlier to unrest and darkness.

Doctors ride into the midst of sickness, on the edges of disease. They do the most good when they are in those places of deep need, saving lives, doing surgical repairs, handing emergency room issues. Doctors are outliers to sickness.

Broken things, or things needing to be built, need architects, engineers and contractors. That train rides on the edge of development, expansion, rehabilitation. The deeper the need, the more value that is provided. Engineers and builders are outliers to disorder and decaying infrastructure.

“It’s is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not called the righteous but sin sick people to repentance.” Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t just ride on the edge of a fallen world, he entered right into the middle of it; he engaged as the God-man and flipped the value system on it’s head. Jesus was an outlier. In this case it went so far as to let the religious order think they had won the day by putting him to death, when they actually accomplished His purpose to offer salvation to the world. Resurrection doesn’t happen without death. A seed doesn’t grow unless planted in the ground.

The broader the gap, the bigger the need, the greater the outlier impact. The deeper the outlier is engaged in the mess, the more impact, disruption, and sometimes hatred from status quo.

Where’s the edges to our outlier space? What’s our outlier gap? Where are we spending our time and energy to make impact?

Happy Saturday

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.