2016: New year, old ways? You decide

Mar 22, 2016

photo-1451653500993-04a9a6368221Here are some tips to help you make positive changes for your A/E/P or environmental consulting firm in the new year. The year has dawned and as many of our clients report, it has started with a bang. Lots of work that has carried over from 2015, and more opportunities for the firm with new proposals and new projects. As financial managers and project managers embark on planning and executing the work, will you fall back on the old ways of approaching your business, or will you integrate new ways of thinking? Will you create energy, fresh ideas, and opportunities for new efficiencies that will translate into higher profit for the firm? Or will you remain stale? How can we create more profit with the same fee? Oftentimes, as project managers, there is a set way of doing the work – firm-wide standards of care, of approaching tasks, of delivery in projects, and execution of effort. Are you open to transforming the work process in favor of potentially higher profit? A case in point might help illuminate this. A client did drawing tasks with an extraordinary level of documentation and detail, which chewed up the fee. The financial manager asked a simple question to the project manager and team: "Do you have to commit that level of detail on the documents or can the documentation be streamlined, and can the firm save time, money, and increase profit?” The question stimulated a pause in the action, and the PM was able to reflect on the possibility of streamlined documentation while still maintaining rigorous standards. The PM met with the contractor. They created a more efficient set of documents, reduced the schedule, and the PM was able to go back to the client with a shorter schedule. On a fixed-fee project, that was of great value to the client. When there’s a strong degree of trust in a design-build relationship, there’s plenty of opportunities to review the process and achieve the client’s goals. Can we approach the project differently and create greater opportunities for profit? As a Managing Principal of an architectural firm, our office provided a line of business that supported real estate professionals, and we were doing "test fits" for potential tenants. The fees were highly competitive, and the project manager who had the client relationship often complained that it was very difficult to make a suitable profit for this kind of work. From a financial perspective, we wanted to drive most project types to 20 percent profit, including this line of business. I challenged the PM to come up with a way to approach these projects. He, along with two architects-in-training, were given eight hours to devise a way to transform this line of business. Skeptically, the PM went off to brainstorm this process. Eight hours later, the two trainees had created a way to transform the older approach through technology and process to provide the "test fits" at a 20 percent profit. New ways of thinking might not always be popular because they challenge old thought processes. But by creating a new approach, we re-energized a line of business. Create a new perspective and energy! New thoughts, new approaches, and a new perspective might be as simple as altering your view, turning your seat around, looking at the work effort from a different vantage point, and creating in a different method. Routines sometimes afford us a comfort level, but they also inhibit creativity and the flow of creative energy. So examine what you do each day, when you come into your office, how you engage with staff, how you run your meetings, and what your day-to-day routines might be doing to stifle or stagnate your thinking. Integrating the financial management staff into the way you approach your project plans might create a new approach to the work. Just because they play with numbers all day does not mean they aren’t able to offer a bit of "non-constrained, creative thinking" that could be transformative. Implement "Creative Tension" into your operation by asking each staff member to prepare a 10-minute presentation on a project, and to deliver the presentation in front of the entire office. After their presentation, colleagues can comment on the presentation, the work, the design, the approach, and in this safe environment, all comments are OK. During these weekly sessions, colleagues offer solutions to the problems that were found. What do you gain in this process? The presentations can shed light on areas where someone might need help. This exercise also shows how staff responds to criticism, and how they respond to hearing solutions. In the process, your staff improves, and that’s good for the client. So it’s a new year. What are you doing to energize your firm and increase its profitability? Ted Majiejka is a Zweig Group financial and management consultant. Contact him at tmaziejka.com.

This article is from issue 1140 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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