Monday, November 29, 2010

Stop Neglecting Your Staff

Most design firms have sophisticated job cost and financial reporting capabilities, as well as manpower planning and scheduling systems. Today’s firm is fully automated. However, team members complain that project managers are simply too busy to give them the time of day.

Don’t let your high-tech management systems replace personal contact with team members. A PM in the Southeast uses the “High Tough” management system. The approach is simple:

• Every day, the PM schedules an hour, usually the first hour of the day, to have an “open door.” Any team member can see the PM without appointment, and know that the PM has a full hour blocked out for the team’s individual issues.

• There are two team meetings each week. The first is the “formal” team meeting, in which the project is discussed objectively. The second is an informal “bull-session” in which the team discusses more subjective aspects of the project and team dynamics.

• The PM takes a team member to breakfast or lunch each week. In this rotating manner, the PM gives each team member a chance for some “one-on-one” time to discuss whatever is on his or her mind.

These three techniques really work, so put them into action today! To learn more tips and techniques you can use to become a better and more successful project manager, come to one of PSMJ’s upcoming Project Management Bootcamps!

PSMJ’s Project Management Bootcamp is a revolutionary training seminar like no other--through interactive case-studies, real-world examples, and proven solutions, you will foster innovation, elevate communications, increase productivity, and improve your firm's bottom line. Click here to register or call PSMJ Education Department at (800) 537-7765.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

AIA’s Architecture Billings Index grows slightly in September, but slips in October

The American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Billings Index showed that architectural firms reported the first monthly increase in design activity in September since early 2008. While this increase showed promise of a possible turnaround in the recession, it proved to be short lived. In October, the numbers dipped back down to previous levels.

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) serves as the leading economic indicator of construction activity, and reflects the approximate 9-to-12 month lag time between architecture billings, and actual construction spending.

The index registered a score of 50.4 for September, up from 48.2 in August. Any score above 50 signifies growth at U.S. architecture firms, and the September score is the first reading above 50 since January 2008. In October, the ABI dropped back below 50 to 48.7. Until the ABI rating remains above 50 for at least three consecutive months, there is no evidence of a strong economic upswing. The October rating means that it won’t be until around summer 2011 until things improve could really start to improve significantly for the AEC industry.

While these figures may not come as a total surprise, there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Inquiries for new work remain quite high at 61.7, and architecture firms located in the Northeast and Midwest reported growth in firm billings for the third month in a row in October. Business continues to improve in these two regions of the country, with both reporting their highest scores in nearly three years; 54.5 in the Northeast and 51.8 in the Midwest. Firms with commercial/industrial specialization experienced their sixth consecutive month of growth in October, and firms with an institutional specialization reported a small expansion, the first for the sector since December 2007.

On a wider scale, recently released economic reports show slight improvement of the economy in general. The GDP grew at an annual rate of 2% in the third quarter, up from 1.7% in the second. Also, employment improved in October, with businesses adding 151,000 new jobs. Despite this, construction employment remained relatively flat, and that in the architectural services sector decreased for the second month in a row in September (latest data available). It’s important to note though, that this data is not seasonally adjusted to account for the annual slowdown of the industry as winter approaches. Finally, survey panelists reported that on average 88%of their projects (on a dollar basis) have a signed design contract.

Regionally the ABI breaks down as follows from September to October: Northeast is down 54.5 from 56.7, South up 48.6 from 47.0, West down 44.3 from 44.5, and Midwest up 51.8 from 51.0.

By market sector Mixed is down 43.2 from 44.2, Commercial/Industrial is up 56.7 from 56.3, Institutional is up 50.8 from 47.9, and Residential is up 49.1 from 47.0.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Four Proactive Communication Tools That Work

Here are four of the best communication tools PSMJ recommends to help foster a great experience for your clients. Each technique is geared towards minimum effort and maximum return.

1. Client status call. For your top clients, schedule a twenty minute call each week at the same time of the day and same day of the week. Have them put it on their calendar. And, make the call like clockwork. For example, it could be Monday at 2:00 p.m. or Friday at 10:00 a.m. - never miss it. Send out a quick e-mail reminder before the meeting with a couple of agenda items. Most of the time, your client will reply back with a couple of items they want to cover. This way, a week never passes before you have covered the hot topics of the week with your clients.

2. Client sponsor. For any substantial size project, a “client sponsor” should be assigned to the project. This is usually a person at least one level above the PM. In many cases, it will be a principal or owner. It is their responsibility to actively pursue feedback from the client throughout the course of the project. The client sponsor gathers information from the client on how well the firm and the assigned PM are meeting their needs and what improvements need to be made. The PM and client sponsor should review the feedback together after each contact.

3. Action item tracking. After every call with a client and every meeting, the PM should record in one place a compilation of all the action items resulting from the encounters. Along with each action item, the PM should indicate who is responsible for each action and when the item will be completed (a "by and by"). One indicator that a team is working effectively on a project is that action items are being closed out in a timely fashion. Measure how your team is doing.

4. Client touches. Any contact with the client is referred to as a client “touch.” PSMJ is a big believer in the “two-minute” touch. Going to a ball game with your client is a great client touch, but seldom will they carve out that amount of time for you. Instead, try a few of these quick touches: send a hand written note to your client or a PDF of a technical article that is in their area of interest. Invite them to the next “lunch-and-learn” that you hold at your office.Send a link to an on-line article that was valuable to you. Send them a checklist or template that you think might help them in their work.

These four techniques work, so put them to work for you and become a much improved communicator starting today. To learn more tips and techniques you can use to become a better and more successful project manager, check out PSMJ’s Ultimate Project Management Manual.

PSMJ’s Ultimate Project Management Manual
can instantly and dramatically improve your ability to manage projects for quality, speed, and profitability. Click here to order, e-mail, or call PSMJ customer service at (800) 537-7765.
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