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.

Remote Work

I have a spacious office at my business. It’s comfortable and has triple monitors for super-efficiency. I also have a dedicated office space at home. It’s small but quiet, and completely private. Despite these two office options, I still sometimes work remotely at a neutral location. I do this for 3 reasons.

1. To gain a new perspective on the work; mine and the company’s.

2. To not be interrupted by anyone, nor distracted by the familiarity of the surroundings.

3. To test my remote work systems like VPN, remote access, electronic signature service, and more.

No matter how well I know my company, and I know all the insides and outsides pretty well, it always offers a unique perspective to work remotely.

In the modern economy, the sharing economy, the economy of the microchip, I believe as business owners or managers we should choose to work remotely at times; to force the matter. Keeping things “well oiled” sets us up to function at our best when outside the office, on a plane, in another city, visiting clients, killing time at the airport before a flight, or starting a branch business in a new city.

Are you testing and working with your remote systems, tools, computer, smartphone? Can you run your business from your laptop, tablet, Android or iPhone if you need to? Can you sign legal documents electronically outside of office? Other? Share your experience here if you choose.

The Escalator

I couldn’t get to the trade show floor until 10:00 am. That meant 15 or 20 minutes to kill. I looked around at the options and said to myself, “Why not stand at the bottom of the escalator? There’s no better place to see and meet people.”

In the sea of people there were two gentlemen standing near me with name tags that noted their business location; Nantucket, MA. I had just returned from a business trip to Boston the week prior, and then spent 4 days on Cape Cod. It wasn’t Nantucket, but it’s close enough. I started a conversation.

We talked about their work on the island, about the culture, what kind of support they needed, and how they managed logistics. They asked what I did. We shared business cards. I invited them to contact me anytime and they did the same. Then we both went on our way.

That was about 5 or 6 weeks ago. One of the guys, Lee, called me today. “Hi John, I don’t know if you remember me or not….” “Of course, I said. We met at the bottom of the escalator!” “Yep. That’s me.”

He said he needed some engineering support and asked about our availability at Wheaton Sprague. He asked what the next steps were. He said he’d email me the info. I said I’d assess it and get him a proposal. He said, great.

How do we “kill time” while waiting? Usually with our head in a phone or waiting in the wings. That particular day I chose to engage at the bottom of the escalator; to be where people were congregating. Who would have guessed? We never know when an interaction will lead to more. But most business is relational, whether B2B or B2C. How’s your engagement going?

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.

Compressed construction 

I mean REALLY compressed. Rarely works.

There are many brilliantly crafted plans on paper that have no allowance for the unexpected, for supply chain issues, for unintended consequences, or poor execution by someone or some organization along the way. Plus the single biggest issue I’ve seen and experienced over and over again that leads to challenges from the outset, is simply delayed decision making, and delayed release of contracts.

Compressed construction requires concurrent, collaborative, (shared-reality) communication; cultural alignment, confidence in each other and in the enterprises involved, and it requires everyone to follow through on the decisions and tasks in their domain within the proper timelines. It can’t be done with the old “throwing it over the wall mentality.” Each decision and event is not “someone else’s problem.” It’s everyone’s problem. This teamwork is difficult to achieve and it requires commitment from all parties, and to be led by the GC or CM.

The thing that happens most often in compressed construction schedules is erosion of relationship, poor profitability, and a project that still takes the time “it needs” to take to get finished. This often results in an unhappy owner asking questions due to failed expectations vs. promised goals and deliverables.

I’ll offer some solutions and suggestions on a future blog.

Fast and Cheap?

This was my response to client today (after several emails) requesting us to give our best price for a quick turn and schedule critical project:

I want to be very clear. Best price and immediate start/quick turn do not go together. Quick turn with quality, and fair price for the situation go together. It’s not “fast and cheap”. It’s fast and commensurate with service.

I don’t like to work like my hair is on fire. That happens enough in this biz every day

We will look at what we can do, how or where it can plug in, how quickly we can get it done for you and your team, and let you know. We always like to provide
value, timeliness, and a reasonable approach with the work to our clients
.”

Their response?

“Amen. Good words. You’ll see an RFP soon”

Be clear. Be true. Be candid. Be respectful. Provide value. People appreciate clarity and it makes it easier to improve our ROI on proposals and sales.

Solution Sets 

Schedule & budget are also determining factors in a solution set and in providing problem solving and deliverables to clients. It’s not “provide solutions at any cost and for as much time as they take.” Also speed of response, speed of performance, and prompt project delivery almost always win, and are typically the top or near the top priority for clients.

It’s hard as technical professionals sometimes to consider budget and schedule as equal variables or boundary conditions with other more direct technical issues.

We’ve got to ask ourselves “how can I get this done in the allotted time frame and budget” and use that as part of the boundary conditions around the solution and deliverable.

When we do this on every project and task within the project, it mitigates loss, makes the potentially marginal job profitable, and makes the good one really great.

Every person, on every team, at every level should have this reality in mind. They should be accountable, and also empowered, to call timeout and to take action with the project leaders and principals.

And it means not being a slave to the defined technical and software processes when there’s an issue slowing us down. Remember, procedure and technical tools are supposed to serve us, not the opposite. These days that often gets reversed, spending more time on the process and software functionality than we spend on the problem or creative aspect of the solution.

Provide serviceable solutions while staying in business.