The Reality of Design Constraints

In the creative process, most of the time, the last thing a person or team doing the creating is thinking about as design constraints are budget and schedule.

But budget and schedule are design constraints; boundary conditions. We see it, feel it, work with it, live with it, sell it, and buy it every day. Products and services for a cost. I’m talking in the business context here. I’m not talking about the idea of just wide-open free time to create and develop something without any boundaries. That’s got its place in our personal lives to doodle, noodle, create, in many contexts. I am talking about selling or buying a created product or service, or buying the creative process.

We purchase goods and services every day that have been created with design constraints that include spec, budget, and schedule. Once the specified performance standard is defined or revealed, then we define a schedule and a price. The result of the process can’t be “Hey, I know we put a price and schedule on this, but the creative process is what it is. It takes whatever time it takes.” No it doesn’t. It takes the time we’ve allocated for the budget established within the specification we’ve defined to create a solution within the parameters. Want to buy a car? You’ll want to define the standard (spec), budget (what you can pay) and when it will be delivered (schedule.) A car, like any other product, is a created work. The same is true with a piece of paper, an engineering service, web design, software, and on and on. Schedule and budget define how much could be invested in creating and producing the product or service.

In fact, budgets and schedules are gifts to us; signposts, mile markers, fenced pastures, defining limits and contexts, giving us a direction, identity to the work, and an expectation to be fulfilled. Finishing something is satisfying. Finishing it on time, on budget, and delivering to a satisfied client, is an art in itself, and very satisfying to both parties.

Deliver to the standard, make it a positive experience, include the client in a collaborative manner, communicate along the way, listen, develop, define, deliver value. But finish it. Ship it. Complete it. Do it within the time and budget established.

We all need end dates by which to make decisions and complete the work. The creator that can complete it and deliver the value to the client, will be sought after.

Be that person.

Developing Identity vs Being Commodity

If we own or are working in a business, we are delivering a service or product. The client or customer expects to receive what it is they’ve purchased according to the specifications, scope, and price. This is a fact that is true, whether conscious in the mind of the buyer and seller or not. This is the baseline. Let’s dive deeper now.

All companies in a category are expected to deliver to the category. Let’s even say that we expect all the scope of work to be delivered to the exact same standard, that we could pick any one of the enterprises in the category, and expect the same exact results. What then would be the differentiator in selection? Price (cost) of course. If all things are 100% equal, then select and work with the lowest cost provider for the specified service or product.

But this is never the case. Products or services from different companies are not all delivered to the same standard. Why is this so? There are many reasons. But let’s focus on differentiation here; let’s focus on core purpose, core focus, core values. Defining the differentiators, the “why,” “what,” and “how,” define the difference, and create the unique value proposition of any enterprise. In fact, all companies have these defining attributes, they just don’t always know what they really are, or how to define them.

“Our Why”: Core Purpose.

This is our reason, our essence, why we do what we do. Unless we want to be more of a commodity, we need a core purpose; a “why;” a reason for the enterprise’s existence. This has nothing to do with WHAT we do, but why we do it. For instance in my company, we “Enable Facades that Inspire.” We “do” things to support that, but those “things” are not our “why.” We love to work on, and to help develop, improve, remediate, fix, oversee facades, building skins, building exteriors, in an inspired manner and to create inspiring outcomes. That’s why we show up every day.

“Our What:” Core Focus.

What is it that we deliver or do as a core focus to support our core purpose? This is the “what” to support the “why.” In my company for instance, we provide design, engineering, science and consulting to support the core purpose to enable facades that inspire. When you work with us you may “get engineering” for example among other things as part of the service, but you don’t buy “engineering” from us. You buy our core purpose (knowingly or not.) You work with us to support your vision on an inspiring facade or exterior building skin. To support that, one service we provide is “engineering” expressed in various forms. What we all do in enterprises is different than why we do it.

“Our How:” Core Values.

How do we do what we do to deliver why we do it? These are the core values; the “how.” What’s our personality, and what values do we live out, manifest, and provide as a group, an enterprise, an organization? Core values (the how) are our guard rails, our sign posts. For instance, at our company we have five core values, developed as a team. They are as follows: communication, integrity, collaboration, client conscious, and capable. Everything we “do” is filtered through this grid, this reality. These are not aspirational, they are reality. These core values define us. For instance, if you don’t want to communicate, and it’s not a value for you, then you wouldn’t want to work for us. The core values are in every job offer, discussed during recruiting, and measured during annual reviews. You don’t have to be perfect in living out the core values, but you have to care, to buy into them, be committed to improvement, and to be accountable to them. Goods and services are delivered with, through and by the core values.

The Story:

So the “why,” the “what,” and the “how” allow us to build our story, a common story, that anyone in the company can express. It gives us a common context to work within, a common reality, a shared experience. This is a powerful lever in advancing with focus and velocity. The story may be manifested or experienced in different forms and expressions. But in the big picture, if talking to someone in the elevator, at the coffee bar, or on break at the conference, asking us, “So what do you do,” we could say something like this, “Well, we enable facades that inspire through services like engineering, design, science, and consulting. You you can count on us to be communicative, and express integrity around commitments and solutions. Plus, we really focus on collaboration, building a shared experience, with a client conscious focus throughout (beginning with the end in in mind). With all that we are as capable as they come.” This is one version of our “story.” This is what you get when you get “us.”

Closing Thoughts and Remarks

So are all enterprises the same? When we purchase a service or product to a spec, a definition, a scope, can we expect the exact same experience from all? Obviously not.

With whom would we rather work? The no purpose, low cost provider, or the clearly purposed, value driven niche company?

Without a “why” everything looks the same. Without a “what” there’s no clarity on what service or product is expected to be delivered and received. Without a “how” it’s all just colorless and without consistent experience; there’s no value added.

Without the core purpose, focus and values, we are just a commodity, a nameless, faceless organization that can only rely on being less expensive. This is a tough reality to live within; impossible really.

Does cost matter? Of course. But that is a topic for another blog post.

Get excited. Start defining today. There’s a process by which you can do so. Put it in writing. Shout it from the roof tops. Make a difference.

A Simple Business Differentiator

“Because I really like working with them….” is an acceptable reason for selecting and maintaining a business relationship.

Assuming all other things being equal in the product or service, “likeability,” or “ease of working relationship,” in itself can be a differentiator.

A good goal is to leave any person or interaction more “energy positive” and to provide value in whatever way is appropriate to the assignment or situation; to provide a solution, path to solution, recommendation, or to help simplify to a point of clarity.

Be the person others like working with.

Meetings – Tips for Productive Outcomes

**On the topic of MEETINGS**

People say, “meetings are a waste of time, or “meetings are unproductive.”

Yet, I don’t think this is true, in the right context.

Everything is about context.

Poorly planned, unscripted, no-agenda, purposeless meetings for the sake of meeting are a waste of time.

Scheduled, planned, intentional, agenda-driven, purpose driven meetings with expected outcomes are valuable.

I don’t think it’s productive to make “carte-blanche” statements about anything that categorizes it as “all or nothing.”

I think perhaps most of us don’t know how to achieve positive outcomes to meetings without a script, plan, outline, experience. Plus, meetings take many formats depending on who is leading.

I recommend some of the following as a starting point:

1. Establish a consistent meeting format for your entire organization. Same format, context, pattern for each, at every level.

2. Use a meeting system like, or similar to the EOS Worldwide System (if you aren’t an EOS company already using their IDS style.)

3. Identify the issues to be discussed, discuss them, and solve them.

4. A meeting without “solves” is not a productive meeting.

5. If the issues are not solved in the meeting, set “to-do’s.” To-do’s require a specific deadline and owner of the to-do. Write it down, keep it transparent, follow up. The person assigned is accountable to complete it. When the to-do is done, the issue is solved.

6. Make sure the facilitator keeps the meeting on track.

7. Don’t interrupt others, ever.

8. Start and end on time. That is the first priority. Be on time, prepared, ready to engage.

Leveraging the time with a team can be differentiator.

If you want to continue to avoid meetings or not utilize them well, then you may fall behind. Those who do meetings well and get things done as aligned team, have the advantage, as they multiply progress.

This list isn’t 100% comprehensive, but has some key recommendations.

If you’re doing meetings work to increase their value.

Team

Replace:

“Report To”

With:

“Work with”

Replace:

“Organizational Chart”

With

“Accountability chart”

Sure, someone’s responsible to and for something or someone

But “work with” and “accountable for” make everyone truly a member of the “team” rather than “have’s and have not’s”

A staff team gets more effective traction.

Pulling in the same direction.

Fascinating and Motivating- Gauging Emotional Energy

As we gain experience, that which is “fascinating and motivating” changes. What may have been so at one time can become “just ok,” or even “annoying and frustrating.” It’s alright to move on and move forward into the next “fascinating and motivating.” This takes awareness.

While doing so, we can’t forget that our “frustration” with something now is likely someone else’s new opportunity (just like it was for us prior.) We can delegate it, or better yet, hand it over entirely to another colleague or recruit, someone wanting to step into their next “fascinating and motivating.”

It is liberating to recognize this, and to assess our priorities by gauging our emotional energy. Step back and audit what is exciting, what is motivating, where the value is best provided to clients and staff, what increases emotional energy, and what drains it. Re-prioritize, amend, delegate, delete. Stay present to coach, advise, support, and help those to whom we hand off the work,

Don’t Always Listen

“I don’t need all the calculations right now, just get me some answers.”

“Don’t send me the proposal, I just need you to get going. I am sure your scope and fee will be just fine.”

“No need to send a change order, just get going on the work, we’ll shake it out later.”

“We don’t need any further context or background, just get us the financial numbers and we’ll send it to the credit analyst.”

These are real statements made to me in the course of business. They also have provided excellent learning experiences.

These and similar statements may sound good on the surface, or perhaps even provide a measure of comfort if we don’t think more deeply. It may lead to us thinking, “no worries, sounds like we’ve got good affirmation.”

But don’t “listen” to the person in these ways. They may mean well, but it’s not good for business or relationship. It doesn’t create clarity, transparency or accountability.

Do the due diligence, send the work product, share the full picture, write the proposal, send the change order, provide the background along with the numbers. Be clear. Document. Share the context. Not doing so will likely lead to some form of negative consequence. Doing so never will. You’ll get answers up front. It will create more peace and reduce risk.

Every client, vendor, or partner has an expectation whether it is stated or not. Putting things in writing and communicating clearly threshes out the expectations. It either aligns, resulting in affirmation, or it exposes the differences and allows the opportunity to re-align, or to move in another direction.

Not listening in these regards is a matter of respecting the other person and ourselves by establishing defined boundaries. “People like us do things like this,” or “People like us do business in this manner.”

Professionals act professionally, and not by whatever whim or request that may come from others. Flexibility is important, but not outside of established standards.

Let’s keep learning, growing, defining. Let’s stay humble. Listen, monitor, own what we can own and manage what we can manage. Let our “yes be yes and our no be no.” Clarity brings more predictability and reduces stress.

What I’ve been Up To

My business partner and I have been very busy for the last 9 to 12 months on quite a few fronts at www.wheatonsprague.com and affiliates, so here’s an update on some of what’s going on.

EOS

We’ve implemented a new operating system known as The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS.) It’s built on a Visionary – Integrator (V/I) relationship with a Leadership team. The “visionary” (Me-“CEO” for us) is the “big idea” person, big relationships, innovation, brand, growth. The “rainmaker.” The Integrator (President and COO for us, Richard Sprague) manages the business, P & L, oversees the leadership team. The “gatekeeper.” It’s built on LMA (lead, manage, account), clarity, Level 10 Leadership meetings, and evaluating placing people in positions under the acronym “GWC” (get it, want it, capacity for it.) There’s no hiding in EOS. It’s all visible, connected, and results driven. People report scorecard values that are developed by the leadership team to asess the health of the business, the department, the project, etc. Meetings are substantive and get traction. I’ve cut my internal business meeting time by 3x to about 6 hours per week.

What has it led to?

We defined as a leadership team our Core Purpose, Core Niche, Core Focus, Core Values. It was hard work, but very gratifying and unifying. The core values, collaboration, integrity, client-conscious, communication, capable, are not aspirational. They are real. They are “who we are” as people and as an organization. This clarifies hiring, staff retention, annual reviews, client types, and more. Our Core Purpose (our “why”) is to Enable Facades that Inspire. Our core niche is engineering, design, science, and consulting for building facades. We also defined our ideal client demographic and psychographic. All of this was done as a leadership team with an implementer. It’s not a “panacea.” The work has to be done. The topics dealt with have to be relevant to the need. But EOS provides a format for a path to sustainable, self managed, growing business not dependent on ownership alone or a charismatic leader playing “hero ball.” We’ve tried different forms or operating systems and EOS is our choice long term. Nothing else has made as much sense as EOS.

What about Creating Structure?

So, I have this registered service mark and brand named “Creating Structure” which is no longer part of our core purpose statement. We still own the brand name. My Podcast still bears the name, and will stay as such. Creating Structure dates back to the start of the company, when our primary purpose was viewed more as structural engineers and designers doing facades, building structures, forensics in a broader manner. But it was time for a change. The new core purpose “Enabling Facades that Inspire” will take us a long way on our journey. At heart, this is who we are- curtain wall, facade, enclosure, architectural component engineers, designers, consultants, scientists. BUT with owning the brand name Creating Structure it gives me and us options as we consider other forms and divisions of the business (stay tuned!)

Welcome New Staff

We’ve been rebuilding our engineering department and I couldn’t be more pleased than to have Mark Enos, PE (December 2021) and Nestor Perez, PE (February 2022) back at Wheaton Sprague. Both men are insightful, pragmatic, solution oriented engineers, that align with our core values, purpose, and niche. They are a great complement to Jeff Cook, PE as our core group of PE’s. Our foundation is strong, and with our other engineers, present, and future, we can build a deeply rooted group that can deliver solutions to clients.

Our Operators

Michael Kohler is our Director of Building Envelope Engineering Operations. Mike leads, manages, and accounts for our delegated design, drawing, BIM, engineering, system design, thermal analysis, area of the business delivering work products to glazing subcontractors, exterior wall subcontractors and architectural metal fabricators.

Paul Griese, is our Director or Building Envelope Consulting Operations. Paul leads, manages and accounts for all consulting activities which includes a variety of design, analysis, investigation, QA, QC, field and shop observations, testing and forensic support and more.

John Wheaton, yours truly, is the Director of Marketing. This position has always been a primary focus for me and will always be linked to the visionary and external role for me whether I do the marketing work directly or through a person, team or outside resource. I also still do a lot of engineering work, support, PE review and stamp, advisement, coaching, and participation in the engineering work. I get to also now communicate with everyone in the business more as “good cop” since I have no direct reports outside of the marketing function. When “in the business” I get to help, support, coach, lead, and interact with our people. The staff in our operating divisions work for the directors. Yes, as an owner of a small privately held business I can make any call I choose if I see a problem, but it is only done with and through my partner and the leadership team.

Richard Sprague, my business partner at WSE and affilates, is President and COO. Richard “runs the business.” All the operators in all the business report to Richard. He is a fine steward, a clear thinker, and a focused gate-keeper. He makes the decisions in the business on what gets done and what does not. Richard leads the EOS L10 meetings for the leadership team. In my work “in the business” I work for him

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more of my focus and perspectives in market dynamics, trends, the Creating Structure Podcast, thoughts on results vs performance mindset, what I’m listening to, the power of LinkedIn and more

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 exception 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.