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

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.

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.

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?

COVID19 RULES

Since we are going to be in this environment indefinitely, here’s some things we’ve learned along the way and some observations on managing a professional services business in this reality.

Lead with care First: Health and wellness for clients and staff is #1. It always has been, but even more so now. Care 1st.

Over-Communicate: This is almost always true, but again, more so now. We always THINK we are communicating enough, or appropriately, but that’s rarely the case. Take nothing for granted. Communicate often, and with clarity, by any means necessary.

Get the 1-1 level: Check in at the 1-1 level with everyone that reports to you. Set up new reporting and accountability structures to accommodate the need to be “agile and nimble” in making sure no one is lost in the fray each day.

Virtual meetings: Make generous use of virtual meetings. I prefer MS TEAMS for internal meetings, WebEx for external meetings. TEAMS is a big value for driving engagement.

Office Environment: Make a safe space of beauty somewhere; make it invitational. We did so with our porch and the ability to eat, greet, meet outside through summer and into autumn.

Financials: Share the state of the business with everyone. Make it relevant to their space and contribution

New Sales, Marketing Progress, Project acquisition: Bang the drum loudly. Celebrate wins with everyone in the organization or in our respective domains (depending on size of company)

That’s all for today. I could go on and on but these are at the top of my mind.

Share your observations, insights and feedback. The more we share successes, the better we all will be. There’s enough of the “pie” to go around for everyone.

The Parking Garage Health Facility

The Cleveland Clinic turned a parking garage into a makeshift medical facility. It looks like a M.A.S.H. unit. This is a great example of “pivoting” (yes I know that’s a buzzword.) Let me back up and take you to the start.

A family member needed a Covid-19 test at the Clinic due to a required medical procedure. I was asked to drive them. The instructions said “go to the Walker parking garage lower level.” “What? Testing in a parking garage?” “This should be interesting,” I thought.

Fast forward to the parking garage. It was brilliant. It’s run with military precision. Specific cars allowed at specific times. Signage, work stations, medical professionals gowned and masked, directing traffic, helping guide, doing testing. No one got out of their car. It’s all done through an open car window. Fifteen minutes. In and out.

Why did this impress me? There’s multiple reasons. The Cleveland Clinic is BIG but they flexed. It was creative, it was clean, it was efficient and it was in a parking deck.

Here’s some of my impressions and takeaways:

1. Big business doesn’t have to be rigid.

2. I’ll bet the nurses didn’t learn traffic flow directing in school. We’ve got to be nimble and self educated in whatever we do.

3. The Clinic got creative and we can be creative in this environment as well.

4. The use of a parking deck; an ordinary, bland, concrete, parking deck. Brilliant. It’s out of the way, efficient for moving cars, isolated from the hospital.

5. Flexibility. People were working from the lower level garage. Its exterior air. There were propane heaters and chairs in strategic locations. It’s not the best space to work from. Professionals have to be flexible. One never knows what to expect next or how they can drive new value in new paradigms.

6. “Can do” attitude. The Clinic figured out a way to test quickly, safely, politely and with test results delivered between 8 hrs and 24 hrs.

Questions:

How nimble are we? How creative are we? How quickly can our business and minds pivot? Can we rally people to deliver around a cause; around a problem, and above and beyond? Are we willing to go there as leaders?

Excuses are easy. Solutions aren’t hard once we eliminate the excuse, we stop looking for others to show the way, and we take responsibility to act, lead, move.

Even parking decks can be a place associated with healing. What have you got that is being overlooked?

The Problem

The problem that we see, the thing that is visible to us, typically isn’t really the problem. What we see is the manifestation of a root cause issue; something underlying.

We say things like “we have a profit problem” or “we have a quality problem” when those aren’t the issues at all. These “problems” are simply how other root causes are being expressed.

The visible expression, what we think of as as the problem, is the “behavior.” But the root cause, the real problem, is internal; it’s rooted in our identity. This can be true organizationally or personally.

For instance, a quality problem may be linked to a lack of training. A profit problem may be linked to numerous root causes, or a broad issue like lack of organizational health.

It’s important to know the underlying issue or issues because otherwise we invest time and money solving the wrong thing; the external thing; the behavior.

It takes time, reflection, self-awareness, listening, and study to identify the underlying issues and get to work on them. But until we do, any progress is temporary and difficult. If the root isn’t fixed the problem wont go away. That’s why New Year’s resolutions typically don’t last. Real change requires a shift; a transformation; from the inside not outside.

We need to view things differently. People are great at seeing the outside when it’s what’s inside that defines the outcome.

“Out of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and other examples express this clearly.

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.

Systems

“That accounting system is great. It helps us track productivity and see “real time” revenue stream, project tracking, and utilization. This is going to really improve our operation.”

“That CRM system is awesome. It’s going to allow us to monitor sales and client activity, hit rates, incoming pipeline. We’ve got this really dialed in now.”

“Those spreadsheets for earned value tracking are so good for operations. All our problems are solved operationally, since we can now know exactly where projects stand at all times.”

Time out. Hold up. Reel it in. Yes, these systems are great. They are necessary for proper management at scale. They are part of best practices in professional services. BUT, they won’t change a thing if the mindset behind the people and the systems stays the same. They are just systems. The proper use and execution of systems from the right mindsets and applications are what helps to change things. The systems are tools, just like any other tools of a trade.

Buying a hammer doesn’t make us a Finish Carpenter. Buying a new stove doesn’t make us a good chef. Buying a tool or a system doesn’t guarantee compliance or results.

Good systems still need thought and sensible people behind them. In fact, in professional services, if given a choice, solid, experienced, smart people will trump a system or process every time. When both are applied together, it’s magic. Checking a box or using automation can make good better, but bad even worse.

Selling “Experience” – The Gas Stations

There are two service stations in my town. Both are within blocks of each other. Both charge within pennies per gallon of each other for gas. Both are national-level name brands.

One always has receipt paper at the pump. The other doesn’t. One always has full window-cleaning fluid troughs at each pump. In fact, at the one, the fluid smells like Wintergreen. The other rarely has enough fluid, if at all. It smells like regular cleaning fluid.

One has an ample stock of snacks and beverages inside and a clean smell. The other is always under-stocked and has an awful odor like a bad hospital smell inside.

One has nice canopies at the pump stations, well intact, with clean lines. The other always seems to have some maintenance issues going on at the pump stations.

One has uniformed attendants inside that typically respond with a polite greeting. The other has people with no uniforms, and generally a dis-interested person behind the counter.

The price is almost the same at the one or at the other; sometimes even the exact same price. But even if not, it’s worth the extra thirty to fifty cents per fill-up, to use the one.

At which one would you purchase your gas and snacks?

In a commodity business, “the one” has learned at how to differentiate. The other doesn’t care. It is always possible to differentiate within our existing revenue stream and context; to deliver value with some thought and care for the customer’s experience.

How about your business? How about mine? What experience do we want to create? What experience are we delivering?