Top of mind

Dec 03, 2018

Getting there is one thing, but staying there is another. Figure it out and your firm will have the world in the palm of its hand.

Being “top of mind” with your clients and potential subconsultants can be hugely beneficial for your AEC firm. But what does it really mean for your business when you are “top of mind?”

I know a firm (I’ll call them XYZ Engineering), that has great technical capabilities. Each member of their staff is educated, trained, registered and certified, and experienced in his/her technical discipline(s), and all of them are also well-versed in the practices of good client service. In fact, this firm has turned client service into an art form.

But much more important than any of these things, their project managers have been given the training to develop amazing project management skills. They know how to keep a project team focused on the technical work, how to keep subconsultants satisfied with their roles and their recognition, how to keep a project on schedule and on budget, and how to keep a client feeling like the happiest member of a successful team effort.

XYZ Engineering has a long and enviable history of performing the broadest variety of projects in such a manner that their clients sleep soundly at night, with no project-related worries to make them wake up screaming.

In large part, I believe this is because their project managers do not see themselves as the most senior designers on the team. They understand that project management is about serving the team, the schedule, the budget, the client, and, ultimately, the firm.

In fact, XYZ Engineering’s project management skills are so good that clients call on them even when they need a technical service they know XYZ Engineering does not provide!


Because XYZ Engineering’s superior project management skills have enabled the firm to achieve a long history of running projects smoothly; so smoothly, in fact, that the bumps are never felt in their clients’ offices – or their homes, for that matter. Because of this experience history, their project managers know how to recognize a broad range of challenges before they become real problems.

XYZ Engineering’s clients know that when they call on the firm to manage a project, it will be completed successfully even if it’s outside XYZ’s sphere of technical expertise. Their clients are confident that XYZ will find the right firms to make up a world-class team that can turn in a first-rate project.

And because of this reputation, subconsultants rarely turn down an opportunity to join an XYZ team when they are called, because they know they will be treated like an integral member of the team, that their work will be recognized for quality and on-time delivery, as well as for the level of cooperation they put into the effort. The proof of this is the fact that I once wrote a proposal for XYZ Engineering that included a calculation of the number of projects each proposed subconsultant firm had worked on with XYZ. One of those subconsultants had worked on more than 50 projects the firm, and still looked for opportunities to further the relationship.

In addition to being selected by clients because of your firm’s technical credentials, there are direct benefits to developing superior management skills. If a demonstration of your abilities can get your firm selected for overall project management rolls – or program management rolls – you might find yourself long on backlog and short on project managers, which is not a bad position in which to find yourself.

When I started in this business 40 years ago, we rewarded technical folks for good work, or a good sale, by promoting them to project management, even if they had no related managerial skills. And there wasn’t much project management training to be had unless a firm had an in-house “university” (like Freese and Nichols). The general philosophy at the time was, “Win the work; then we’ll find the people to do the work!”

Today, not only is there a wealth of training for project managers, but professional certification (project management professional, or PMP) is also available. If your firm has the right attitude about great customer service, they will use PMP certification as a jump-off point for additional training, and help their project managers reach levels of excellence that will put their firms – and keep their firms – “top of mind.”

Bernie Siben, CPSM, is director, marketing and business development at Chaparral Professional Land Surveying, Inc. in Austin, TX. Contact him at or at 559.901.9596.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.