Monday, April 30, 2012

Do Small Projects Need Schedules?

Is it really critical that small projects have a schedule? Of course it is! Here are some of the most important reasons that schedules are developed:

1) First and foremost, you always want to get the work done on time. Without a schedule, it gets done when it gets done. This is not at all acceptable at any time.

2) Scheduling serves as the foundation for cash flow plans. The project schedule defines when the firm is using cash and when payments should be received. If possible, the firm should relate the cash flow plan to the start and completion of schedule milestones in order to accelerate payments and facilitate client financing.

3) Schedules indicate specific time periods for resource requirements. The completion of specific tasks by people with defined skills over a certain time period is a natural outcome of the project schedule. Without this information, you cannot make the most efficient use of your staff.

4) Your schedule establishes individual time schedules. It is important to know when particular project needs a civil engineer or lighting designer.

5) A schedule enhances communication among all project participants. A schedule paints a picture of how the project will be completed over time.

6) Your firm’s Resources Plan is the sum of all individual project plans. If you don’t include small projects in the Resources Plan, you’ll fail to plan for people need to staff them.

Yes, your small projects need a schedule. Even a brief trip requires a road map. Don’t short-change your small project, your team, and especially your client by ignoring the development of a schedule.

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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

5 Reasons NOT to “Tweet,” “Blog,” “Like,” “Bookmark,” or “Share”

It’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon. According to a 2011 survey by Knowledge Architecture, of 266 A/E firms profiled – of varying size – approximately 57% are actively using social media. The bulk of those firms are small to mid-sized, between 50 and 300 employees.

It feels like everyone is embracing social media and that you’ll be left in the dust if you don’t hop on board.

But like your mother used to say, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean that you should too. There are plenty of reasons NOT to embrace social media.

1. You have nothing to say. A blog worth reading requires a good writer and engaging content. Posting announcements and links on Facebook and Twitter should be timely and relevant to your firm.

2. You don’t have time. If you or your firm’s employees are spending hours “tweet­ing” and “re-tweeting,” that’s time taken away from your billable work and from more proven person-to-person mar­keting efforts.

3. You have no plan. Like any business development plan, the use of social media as a marketing tool should only follow a clear, strategic goal, with a schedule and identifiable milestones.

4. You don’t have a graphic designer. High quality graphic design communicates ideas, brands, services, and information creatively and clearly to your targeted clients. It goes hand-in-hand with a comprehensive social media strategy.

5. You have a strong, repeat customer base. Social media is great for keeping your name out there and for creating buzz. If your firm sees long term sustainability with repeat and exclusive clients, you may be fine without Internet “presence.”

In the right hands, and with the right strategy, social media is a powerful marketing tool. But before you invest significant time setting up and managing a social media blitz, take a few steps back and ask yourself if it’s a necessary course of action for your firm right now.

Now that you know how important the proper use of social media is for your company, make sure you’re not just hoping on board. Give ALL your firm members the skills to create and follow your social media plan effectively to propel your company into the future. Join PSMJ this spring for our Business Development for A/E/C Firms seminar. PSMJ is hosting our remaining locations in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle to give your whole firm the tools and confidence you need to succeed in bringing in more work for the firm. Click here for more information.

Monday, April 16, 2012

7 Steps for Iterative Planning

Projects typically unfold in unforeseen ways. One task might proceed smoothly while another might take longer than expected. By using repeat, or “iterative,” planning, you can improve the overall project schedule. Here are some tips on how you can plan to replan:

1. Define the major (10 to 12) schedule milestones. Choose those milestones that have specific meaning for the project team.

2. Outline all of the already-known tasks in the initial schedule for all of the project phases (preliminary design, code review, cost estimate, etc.).

3. Plan the tasks needed to get to the next date. During the preliminary design phase, for example, you can refine the planned tasks and the preliminary cost estimate.

4. Build the re-planning activities into the original project schedule. Use this project’s history to help update the project plan.

5. At the start of the project, plan the initial activities that will get you to your next milestone. As the project team understands more about the project, update the tasks of the initial phase as needed.

6. Measure how long the different tasks take and where speed bumps occur. This process will allow you to start gathering data about your project while you’re in the middle of it.

7. Throughout the project, use the data from the item above (6) to continually reassess risks and refine the schedule. By the time the project is in the detailed design phase, you’ll be aware of any potential project show-stoppers.

Iterative planning is not for everyone. It is most helpful when you have an idea of what needs to be done but not a clear idea of how to do it, such as on “bleeding-edge” projects where there is not enough knowledge about the kind of project or historical data to plan the schedule with certainty.

Learn more practical PM advice with our new edition of the Ultimate Project Management Manual. Find out what hundreds of A/E/C firms already know! The Ultimate Project Management Manual can instantly and dramatically improve a Project Manager's ability to manage projects for quality, speed, and profitability. It adds weeks, months, even years of billable time!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Small Change - Keeping Track of it All

During the course of any project, clients request a lot of changes. Most of these are too small to justify a request for a fee increase. Cumulatively, however, they can amount to a lot of effort and can kill your budget. But there’s a way to keep track of and limit small changes without making your clients feel like they’re being “nickel and dimed.”

  1. Start a “Small Change Log” and record every change, no matter its size or effect, along with the amount of time and/or money it took to make the adjustments.
  2. Once a substantial number of these items have been accumulated, as part of a project status update, show the log to the client. Make sure to tell your client that even though these changes seem very small individually, cumulatively amount to quite a bit of costs for your firm.
  3. Stress to your client that even though you r firm believes in going beyond what is contractually required in order to provide your clients with outstanding service, your contingency for these small changes is now depleted.
  4. Make sure your client knows that in the future you will need to create a change order for future small changes.

All of this should be done in the spirit of cooperation. Even if the client tells you that she has no funds for future changes, at least you have put her on record that you are watching these very closely. You can then offer offsets in other tasks to pay for these.

The last thing you want to do is surprise your client or your firm with cost overruns due to the accumulation of these small changes. Be prepared to deal with this issue up front and your clients will thank you for it!

Learn more practical PM advice with our new edition of the Ultimate Project Management Manual. Find out what hundreds of A/E/C firms already know! The Ultimate Project Management Manual can instantly and dramatically improve a Project Manager's ability to manage projects for quality, speed, and profitability. It adds weeks, months, even years of billable time!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Another Month of Revenue Growth at Architecture Firms

The American Institute Architects’ Architecture Billings Index increased again in February, marking the fourth consecutive month of growth. While improvement has been modest each month, it is a welcome sign that 2012 has seen only growth so far for the architecture industry. Improvement will hopefully continue for the rest of the year, and on a more widespread scale across all regions and market sectors.

The Architecture Billings Index (ABI) serves as the leading economic indicator of construction activity, and reflects the approximate 9-12 month lag time between architecture billings, and actual construction spending. The monthly ABI scores are centered around 50, with scores above 50 indicating an aggregate increase in billings, and scores below 50 indicating a decline.

The ABI registered a score of 51.0 in February. While it was only a slight increase in billings over January’s rate, job inquiries have once again improved significantly. February was also the fourth straight month that the score for inquiries has been above 60, an indication that architecture firms are hearing of more and more potential projects.

Billings by region have remained mostly positive, with firms in the Midwest showing strong growth and those in the Northeast and South reporting modest gains since last month. All three regions are showing momentum that should produce healthy recoveries in design activity over the next few months. Firms in the West, by contrast, are still reporting declining levels of billings. However, a continued upturn in design activity in the rest of the country should begin to pull up billings at firms in this region over the next several months.

By sector, the strongest billings scores are from firms specializing in the commercial/industrial sector, where readings have been at very healthy levels for the past few months. Billings at residential firms have also steadily turned up. An encouraging recent development is that firms focusing on institutional facilities have also reported modest gains over the past three months. Typically, institutional facilities are usually the last nonresidential building sector to recover from a downturn.

Rising employment rates buoy firm billings

The upturn in billings at architecture firms is supported by general strength in the economy. In particular, the employment situation has improved considerably. The last three months have seen national payroll increases of at least 200,000 per month. Still, the economy added more than 1.8 million new payroll jobs in 2011, and the first two months of 2012 have seen another 500,000 added. As a result, the national unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3%, the lowest level since early 2009.

Employment in the construction sector has not fared as well. While this sector has generally been adding jobs, there has been much more volatility. In 2011, 69,000 construction sector jobs were added—just over 1% of the 5.5 million payroll positions currently in the construction sector. The decline of 13,000 positions in February wiped out most of the January gains, so only 8,000 jobs have been added so far in 2012.


By region, the ABI breaks down as follows from January to February: Midwest is up 56.0 from 53.7, South is down 51.3 from 51.6, Northeast is up 51.0 from 50.7, and West remained the same at 45.6.

By market sector: Residential is up 53.3 from 52.6, Institutional is down 50.3 from 51.1, and Commercial/Industrial is down 55.1 from 52.2.

This month, Work-on-the-Boards participants are saying:

• There seems to be a lot more solid leads. Availability of financing is still the primary limiting factor, although it seems like some of our clients are working through that.

—15-person firm in the Midwest, commercial/industrial specialization

• We’re seeing a pickup because of the Eagle Ford Shale [natural gas extraction area] in South Texas. There is also a housing shortage for oilfield workers in the rural towns nearby.

—16-person firm in the South, institutional specialization

• There are new projects beginning, but competition is heavy. Some firms are proposing very low fees. We have also seen continued problems with obtaining financing.

—3-person firm in the South, residential specialization

• We have been trying to hire, and find it surprisingly difficult to find candidates. This is a good sign.

—15-person firm in the Northeast, commercial/industrial specialization

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Winners of 2012 Best A/E/C Employer Award Named in San Francisco

PSMJ Resources, Inc. (PSMJ) and The Employee Engagement Group (EEG) recently named five U.S. engineering firms as winners of the 2012 Best A/E/C Employer Award at the 3rd Annual A/E/C Industry HR Summit held in San Francisco, California.

The Best A/E/C Employer Award is awarded to firms that demonstrate that their employees are not just satisfied, but truly engaged and willing to put in discretionary effort on behalf of their firm. Best A/E/C Employer Award winners not only have highly engaged employees, but they keep their employees engaged by providing them with the kinds of professional career opportunities that come from a growing, profitable firm.

Of the 5 winners, all of them had the following characteristics:

· They had high survey participation rates (between 77% - 82% employees completed the survey)

They had high engagement scores (3.80 - 3.96 out of 5)

They had positive staff growth (between 1% - 19% from 2010 to 2011)

They had solid profitability (between 10% - 31% of their revenue)

The winners were:

· Cobb Engineering Company ( – a transportation engineering, land developer, and surveyor headquartered in Oklahoma, City, OK.

· Pape-Dawson Engineers Inc. ( – an engineering and survey firm headquartered in San Antonio, TX.

· Raymond L. Goodson, Jr., Inc. ( – a structural and civil engineering firm headquartered in Dallas, TX.

· T. Baker Smith, Inc. ( – an environmental, geophysical, and marine engineer and surveyor headquartered in Houma, LA.

· Wallace Engineering Structural and Civil Consultants, Inc. ( – a structural and civil engineering firm headquartered in Tulsa, OK.

A group of qualified industry experts from PSMJ and EEG chose the winners based on the results of a 70-question employee survey that gauges, among other metrics: employee commitment, work culture, employee engagement in the promoting overall firm success, employee development, leadership, firm communication, and hiring practices, as well as several financial/staff growth firm statistics.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Win or Lose – Don’t Forget to Follow Up!

Just because you’ve lost a potential project doesn’t mean it’s the end-all between you and the client. You need information and a critique about your proposal and interview to improve future proposals. More importantly, it may still be worth fostering a relationship with the client and his organization. Ask yourself, “What are the long-term benefits and actions relative to this prospect?”

If You WIN: Sit down with the client for an interview debriefing. Find out what they liked about you and what they felt were the weaknesses of your team and/or firm. Ask how much “marketing interaction” the client would like. If the client wants to see you once a month, be there. If they prefer another level of engagement, agree on how to approach them in a way, and at a frequency, that they appreciate.

If You LOSE: Ask for a debriefing and, as part of that meeting, ask how you could have improved your performance or presentation materials to better meet their selection criteria. Let them know you’d like to follow up in the coming months to hear about how their project is proceeding.

The BOTTOM LINE: Either way, ask for a debriefing. You’ll get some additional face time with the client. If you’ve identified the prospect as a quality client, you’ll want to add to them to your “satisfied client list.” Learn from each client interaction. Plan the strategy beforehand. Know what you will do if you win. Know what you will do if you lose. Use both options to increase your firm’s future success!

Debriefing is a great way to continue to develop your relationship with your clients. For more tips on how to foster and grow client relations, join PSMJ this spring for our Business Development for A/E/C Firms seminar. We only have 4 more locations across North America left this spring. Get the tools and confidence you need to succeed in bringing in more work for the firm – register today!

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