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Excelerate: Business Development Success for AEC Professionals

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
It’s late summer - 2011.  How does your company (and your desk) look right now? Across the years, I found this time - late summer – to be an important point of recharge and renewal. I’m invigorated by the ‘back-to-school’ energy, and promise of the coming Fall. It's a good time for review and adjusting the business plan - highlighting important goals still left to be done this year. Likewise, it's a good time to update the business development plan - focusing on clients and prospects I'd like to connect with in the next sixty days. Some AEC firms are always busy this time of year -particularly those with heavy construction and/or other field-oriented activities.  Other firms wrestle each summer to maintain their productivity as key client contacts are themselves…
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Managing Professional Services – Simple, but Hard

Uncategorized
Many design and technical professionals are attracted to complexity. Engineers, scientists, architects, and consultants often seek out larger and more complex projects - and eschew the simpler ones. These professionals are invigorated by using their experience, expertise, intelligence, and creativity to attack and solve challenging problems (particularly those that others can't readily solve).  With this paradigm, design and technical professionals envision that the opposite of simple is complex. Complex is good, interesting, and necessary. Simple is simplistic, unchallenging - and boring. In contrast, experiences in the business of the firm suggest a different model.  Managing a professional services firm focuses on managing people – where issues are often less precise, and answers less right or wrong, black or white.  Success results from choosing a path and sticking to it, sustained…
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AEC Leaders – Is it (Really) the Economy, Stupid?

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Yes, the economy stinks. Not for all of course, but most sectors of the US economy remain weak, uneven, and uncertain. Moreover, many economists now believe that both low growth and ongoing uncertainty could be with us - for a good long while. Ken Simonson, Chief Economist of AGC - the Associated General Contractors of America - recently characterized April’s modest rise in construction spending as "deceptively positive," [http://news.agc.org/2011/06/01/construction-spending-figures-highlight-how-government-funding-cutbacks-are-limiting-industrys-recovery/] - pointing to weakening public sector demand and the still slow residential construction market as important underlying factors. Simonson further noted that the relatively flat construction market was "uneven" - a product of the mix of some growing segments (power, communications, private healthcare) with still falling segments (commercial, manufacturing, private office). Additionally, ACG reports that the four largest public-sector categories -…
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The Extraordinary Potential of AEC Firm Business Improvement

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
In a recent post I asked this question:  is investing in AEC firm business improvement really worth it?  There I offered four of the most common objections to working on improving the organization.  Today I’ll look at the first of these – the belief of some that the opportunity in their own firm is relatively small – and test whether that perspective really holds up.  And even for those who don’t see the opportunity as small – it’s useful to look straight away at the numbers, and the magnitude of the opportunity at hand. Step 1:  An Opportunity for One Professional Let’s start with some basic calculations - familiar to all – concerning an individual AEC professional.  We begin with a calendar year, and subtract out the days (generally) unavailable…
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Is Investing in AEC Firm Business Improvement Really Worth It?

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
My question today:  is working on the firm – those internally-focused initiatives of planning, training, and individual and organization development - really worth the time, energy, and financial investment involved? At some level the answer is (for most all of us) yes – since few would argue that they or their firms are perfect.  That said, it’s common that leaders believe business performance improvement is both possible and worth it – while at the same being unwilling to invest in the actions required for change and improvement. There are of course many reasons - or justifications - for this lack of action. How we as individuals - managers, leaders, owners, and professionals - act and react depends in part on our experiences, expectations, objectives, and beliefs – and our individual…
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AEC Recovery – Bears and Bulls in the Early Going

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
As usual, economic pundits disagree on the direction and pace of the economic recovery. Still –perhaps you've noticed as well – fewer seem to be arguing for a decline (the so-called double dip) than before. In fact, most forecasters describe the road ahead (for the general economy) as encouraging, albeit perhaps too slow for most. In the AEC industry, future outlooks and levels of optimism remained varied. As has been the case throughout this recession, the forecast for an individual firm is highly dependent on that organization’s service capabilities, market focus, and geographic reach. A sense of cautious optimism defines some AEC leaders, while others remain more guarded – challenged by still weak and uncertain backlogs. Expert economists following the AEC markets specifically sound rather bearish at the moment. In…
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AEC Leadership Development – On a $1 a Day?

Business Improvement, Leadership Development
OK, maybe not a dollar a day – but I’ll bet it’s less than you think. Few will argue against the importance and value of true leadership.  In most all cases, effective leadership is the core of organization success.  Still, many firms – particularly smaller ones – struggle with the cost of leadership – in time, effort, and dollars. But what if you could have it – strong, effective, and sustainable leadership - with a lot less investment?  Interested? For the first sixteen years of my career I worked at Exxon Corporation (today Exxon Mobil).  Exxon is of course a very large multinational company, but (like design engineering and technical firms) is primarily made up of (and lead by) engineers.  Exxon focused extensive resources on leadership development – identifying, training,…
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AEC Leaders, Recharge for the Recovery!

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“Hello?  Are you there?” You’re right in the middle of a really important call – with your best client or a gigantic prospect - and … nothing.  Your cell phone dies - battery dead.  There you sit - in the car, on a plane, at the park – and out of luck.  No connection …no juice … no deal.  Sound familiar? Is this the road you’re planning for your business as well? Certainly not intentionally, but perhaps inadvertently so.  Like many today you’re probably running nonstop and working as hard as ever – just to keep the firm (and yourself) together.  Winning new projects, delivering on slim margins, reducing staff and other expenses, chasing customers for money - there’s an awful lot to do.  But, are you also watching your…
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“All right, what do we got here?” AEC Organizational Assessment

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
Here’s a thought:  AEC principals can learn a lot about business improvement and effective firm management from television crime shows.  Sound crazy? My wife Megan loves these shows - the police ‘procedurals.’ Most use a familiar structure – a victim in the opening frames, arrival of the lead investigator, and the obligatory question: “all right, what do we got here?”  Queue the music, run the title shot, and cut.  A perfect set up of context, background, and preliminary hypothesis.  It’s fast paced, exciting, and entertaining – and nicely packaged up before the first commercials. Don’t you wish your business was this straightforward and simple? Frankly, I think it is.  And the first step to solving the crime is identifying the crime - or in the firm the issue, challenge, or…
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Business Improvement for AEC Firms – The Organization Assessment

Business Improvement, Operations, Planning
Here’s a thought:  AEC principals can learn a lot about business improvement and effective firm management from television crime shows.  Sound crazy? My wife Megan loves these shows - the police ‘procedurals.’ Most use a familiar structure – a victim in the opening frames, arrival of the lead investigator, and the obligatory question: “all right, what do we got here?”  Queue the music, run the title shot, and cut.  A perfect set up of context, background, and preliminary hypothesis.  It’s fast paced, exciting, and entertaining – and nicely packaged up before the first commercials. Don’t you wish your business was this straightforward and simple? Frankly, I think it is.  And the first step to solving the crime is identifying the crime - or in the firm the issue, challenge, or…
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