Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Three Proven Ideas for Reassuring the Client

Winning the job does not mean the marketing of the firm and the team is over. In fact, the moment of highest anxiety for the client is right after they have hired you for the job. "Did we make the right choice? Will they deliver what they promised, or what we thought they promised? Will we be able to get along with these people for the next two years?

As a Principal, you need to be sure your project teams keep the following in mind:

1. Clients always chose us for reasons other than what we think. Debrief to find out what promises were actually bought.

2. Communicate the results of the debriefing to the entire team at the project kick-off meeting.

3. Understanding the project goals is not enough. Be sure you understand how the client will evaluate your performance.

Right from the start, as a Principal, you need to give the client reassurances that they will be able to work compatibly with you during the process of delivery. Do this, and the project is sure to start off on the right path to success!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Firm Billings Rebound in November

The American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Billings Index showed a revenue increase at U.S. architecture firms in November, the second monthly increase in billings since early 2008. Business upturn is becoming more widespread, but firms remain cautious about potential 2011 improvement

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 recorded a score of 52.0 for November, a three point gain from the previous month, and its strongest level since December 2007. Any score above 50 signifies growth at U.S. architecture firms, and with ABI scores above the 50 level in two of the past three months, the prospects of a sustainable recovery in design activity are enhanced. Regional revenue trends also are very encouraging. Firms in the Northeast, Midwest, and South all reported billings increases in November. The billings index for firms in the West increased 2.5 points in November, but since the index for this region remains below 50, it still reflected a modest decline from October levels.

Trends in billings by construction sector were more mixed. On the positive side, residential architecture firms report a solid increase in billings, with the index for that sector increasing to 54.3, its highest reading since mid-2007. On the negative side, the billings index for commercial/industrial firms dipped below 50 for the first time since last April. The billings index for institutional firms held steady, and has been slowly trending up for most of the year.

At the national level, economic growth remains slow. Recent employment reports show slight growth continuing in the fourth quarter. Payrolls increased an average of 105,000 nationally through October and November, only slightly better than the 82,000 average monthly increases through the first three quarters of the year. There have been modest gains in consumer spending, and retail sales have increased at about a 6 percent pace through the first ten months of the year. However, these gains may be somewhat better than they appear to be, since inflation is running at only about 1.5 percent compared to year-ago levels, and is less than 1 percent when more volatile food and energy components are taken out.

The December 1 report by the Federal Reserve Board paints a picture of the regional commercial real estate markets. According to this report, the New York, Atlanta, and Kansas City districts noted some weakening in nonresidential activity, while the Boston and Dallas districts indicated some modest improvement. Boston, Richmond, Kansas City, and Dallas expressed optimism about the near-term outlook. Both residential and commercial/industrial firms are more optimistic about business conditions over the coming year. Half of the firms in each group are expecting revenue increases in 2011, while only one quarter are expecting declines. In contrast, almost half of institutional firms are expecting revenue declines over the coming year, with only 38 percent expecting growth. Regionally, firms in the Northeast and Midwest are expecting more favorable conditions in the future, with half of the firms in each of these regions expecting growth. Almost half of firms in the West anticipate revenue declines in 2011.

Regionally the ABI breaks down as follows from October to November: West is up 48.7 from 44.3, Northeast down 51.1 from 54.5, Midwest is down 50.9 from 51.8, and South is up 50.5 from 48.6.

By market sector from September to November Residential is up 54.3 from 49.1, Commercial/Industrial is down 49.8 from 56.7, Institutional is down 49.3 from 50.8, and Mixed is up 45.8 from 43.2.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do You Have a Council of Advisors?

In today’s world of AEC project management, a proven track record of “on time, on budget” work is no longer enough. Clients (and firm leaders) are expecting project managers to have an in-depth knowledge of their specific markets or sectors—a proven expert who knows the ins and outs of their work.

Yet, as you may already know, it is almost impossible to become an expert in everything. No matter how much knowledge or experience you have with a client base, project type, etc., there will always be something that you don’t know or are unsure of. Additionally, your expertise in one area of work may hinder your ability to see the bigger picture of what needs to be done to complete a successful project. An efficient PM should have an ability to synthesize the information given to them, but they don’t need to be specialists to handle the information or make decisions.

So how can you ensure that your clients are always getting expert knowledge from you without you always having to be an expert? Develop a council of advisors. Whether it is a formal group that you assemble for a specific project, or a network of contacts who are willing to offer advice within their area of expertise, forming a council of advisors (and sharing them with your clients) will show that you are willing to take the extra step to guarantee that all elements of the project are completed to the best of your ability.

How it works:

1. Assess the project. Before you can determine the members you need within your council, you must review the details of the project to determine the key areas where you may need additional input of expertise. This is your opportunity to identify any skill or knowledge gaps within your project team, and should be done before the work is won because the cost of the council should be considered when preparing the project budget. A council of advisors may be suitable for large projects or those with complex/unique concerns.

2. Assemble the council. Once you have determined the key areas where the project (and client) would benefit from the input of experts, search your network (and those of your team and firm members) to identify potential expert advisors. Stay away from consultants form outside of the industry and focus on practitioners. While their participation will likely cost money, for complex projects, the added credibility will be worth the investment.

3. Meet regularly. Schedule regular meeting with the council throughout the course of the project (i.e. quarterly; at key milestones). You may consider having advisors at the kick-off meeting. These meeting will create an opportunity for your firm (or client) to ask questions on key concerns before making critical decisions.

While a council of advisors may not be suitable for every project, expanding your team of experts for unique or complex projects will add credibility to your work and support trust with your clients

Learn more tips like this every month with our Project Management newsletter. Our subscribers get 8-pages of tips and techniques they can use to become a better and more successful project manager. PSMJ’s Project Management newsletter can instantly and dramatically improve your ability to manage projects for quality, speed, and profitability. Click here to order, e-mail customerservice@psmj.com, or call PSMJ customer service at (800) 537-7765.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Evaluate Your Schedule

At the end of every project, use this nine-question checklist to evaluate the performance of your schedule to identify the symptoms of schedule delays so you can react faster to prevent delays on future projects:

*Was the project completed on time?

* Was a realistic time schedule estimated for both the design and construction phases?

* Was enough flexibility built into the schedule? Did it clearly identify the relationship between activities and reasonable expectations for commitment of people to the team?

* Was one phase allowed to delay and put the schedule of later phases in jeopardy?

* Were design decisions made at proper times to avoid procurement and construction delays?

* Was the client advised of problems at appropriate times during all phases of the work?

* Was the client given clear information and recommendations regarding his or her responsibilities for making timely decisions and providing necessary data as required by the contract?

* Was the construction subcontractor’s adherence to the construction schedule closely monitored and the client advised if necessary?

* Were the critical time-sensitive actions identified in the schedules (such as shop drawings and submission of plans to review agencies)?

Don’t use this checklist as a way to identify who caused the schedule to slip— you don’t want to start finger pointing. Again, your goal is to resolve similar problems that may pop-up in the future.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holidays are a Perfect Time for Recruiting

The end of the year is an ideal time for candidates to explore new opportunities— How many times during the holidays do we hear our friends and family members say that they “seriously need a career boost” in the next year?

This is a great time to show candidates that your firm can offer them better opportunities, more growth, better benefits, or whatever appeals to them. Now is the time to fill next year’s critical needs before they become too critical and you end up losing out on new business due to lack of staffing.

Though the holidays are a great time to meet potential recruits, convincing somebody to make a move during this season is challenging. I suggest using the following strategies to attract new employees in the new year:

1. Talk to your contacts about their careers and their jobs. Offer your business card and an invitation for them to stop by “just to chat” anytime they are in the neighborhood. You will be surprised at how many will follow through and meet with you—better the candidates come to you than you go searching for them!

2. Offer a sign-on bonus. People stand to lose a lot—their end-of-the-year bonus—should they change jobs before January 1. The amount can range from $1,000 to over $50,000. On the lower end of this scale, this worry can be alleviated with a sign-on that is comparable to their end-of-the-year bonus.

3. Set a start date after January. Let the candidate collect his or her bonus for the work they did in the last year. This also allows the candidate to not upset his or her life too much with making a move near the holidays when they probably already have scheduled time off, and are used to how holiday periods work at their current firm. Get an offer out now, and have them sign it.

4. Expand your holiday party list. Invite candidates that you have been speaking with to your company party. This is a terrific way to get them to meet your firm, get a feel for the people and your culture, and create professional friendships that will help them make the decision to join your firm.

Set the groundwork now, and you’ll be able to have key new staff members ready to help your firm grow next year.

Want to learn more HR trends and tips? Register for PSMJ’s upcoming A/E/C Industry Human Resources Summit. The HR Summit is a senior level HR event specifically designed to address the increasing needs and demands of senior leaders of HR, as well as other key executives who deal with the critical employee and firm issues on a daily basis. Through panel discussions and best practices presentations, you learn through examining successful real-life case studies, receive A/E/C survey results, while networking and asking your peers for their proven solutions to problems just like yours.

For more information, click here to download the program brochure or contact our Education Department at education@psmj.com or 617-965-0055.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Architects see growing importance in taking the LEED

There was an interesting article in the Boston Business Journal the other day regarding the increasing pursuit of LEED accreditation among design professionals, both personally and in their projects. The article, titled “Architects see growing importance in taking the LEED” by Mike Hoban, stated that LEED-certified commercial buildings just surpassed 1 billion square feet globally.

“LEED certification verifies that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving energy savings, water efficiency and indoor environmental quality. And although LEED has its critics, industry professionals generally recognize that being a LEED accredited professional will soon become an essential designation for those in architecture, engineering and construction.”

This milestone truly proves that this entire “green” movement is not just a fad. It’s big business, it’s the future, and it’s an opportunity to not only make a positive impact on the environment, but to make a name for yourself and your firm. If you can successfully incorporate sustainability with aesthetically pleasing design, building green can also mean success. This focus on efficiency in design is making for great competition among firms, and LEED projects are increasingly becoming the industry standard.

“I believe that smart business owners realize that sustainable design is good business,” said Bob Hoye, president and CEO of TRO Jung Brannen. “They’re increasingly interested in sustainability and can appreciate the energy savings that come with it.”

Employees with firms that focus on energy efficiency are quickly attaining LEED accreditation. The article mentions Dan Arons, co-founder and principal of Architerra. His firm consists of 15 architects, and all of them are LEED Accredited Professionals, or LEED APs. But Arons stresses that a sustainable design firm needs to be much more. “Do they have accreditation? Yes, but do they have experience doing life cycle analysis, integrating teams with diverse experience, and the expertise to help make a team be efficient at evaluating sustainability?”He said that in today’s environment, nearly all projects are fast-tracked, because “owners understand that time is money. A design team needs to be more efficient, because anything innovative takes more thinking.”

Ultimately that’s what it comes down to with almost every customer - money. Designing and constructing a building to be sustainable will most likely cost more than traditional methods. Through careful planning and design, and strategic execution, a sustainably built project will eventually save the customer money. The challenge lays in selling this notion of “green” when it costs more upfront. With knowledge, experience and proper execution, a successful firm can show the client a real return on investment in the end, and will lead them success in the future.

For further information, or to see this article in Boston Business Journal online, click the link below.

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