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Let’s Talk! Communications and Business Improvement in the AE Firm

Business Improvement
Question:  how’s the communication going in your firm today? I’d say not well enough – and without knowing anything about you.  A safe  bet, for three reasons: 1) almost all AE firms and their leaders get by with way too little (and too ineffective) communication, 2) the recession has shifted the “story” in many companies from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ (or at least ‘not as good’), and 3) there’s frankly no such thing as too much communication. But if you’re at all like me, the last thing you want is to have someone “harping” on the importance of good communication. Instead I’d like to try something different, comparing how another type of business uses effective communication to bolster performance success. The ‘business’ I have in mind is football - American style. …
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Is Strategic Business Planning Dead – in Today’s Topsy-Turvy World?

Business Improvement, Planning
Yes, according to some pundits, who argue that long term and strategy focused enterprise planning has lost its meaning and relevance in a new world order defined by constant turmoil, change, and chaos.  Some suggest instead that organizations should focus on preserving operational flexibility and maneuverability, and on being opportunistic – keeping their options open.  Others argue that the economy and markets are today too volatile and unpredictable for developing an effective strategic plan.  One ‘consultant’ I know has even characterized strategic planning as little more than a fad whose time has now come and gone – just like so many other management infatuations of the past [hard to reconcile though with history, where the development and execution of strategy has been an integral part of organization development – in…
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Who’ll run your firm tomorrow?

Planning
What’s the biggest challenge facing your firm? Some recent answers I’ve heard: “staying afloat,” “getting through the summer,” and “making payroll.” A lot of AEE firms are doing just “OK” this year, while many others continue to struggle - week to week, month to month - with thin backlogs, weak utilization, and a still uncertain forecast.  Most continue cutting costs, closely managing cash, and looking hard (though not always effectively) for new work. But far too many firm leaders are over-focusing today on the short term.  Yes, stabilizing and restructuring the firm has been critical (and much needed) for short run survival.  Still for many the hardest work (reducing staff, closing offices, ending non-productive client relationships) is (or should be) mostly done.  What I see now, and all to too…
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What’s the risk in your business?

Business Improvement, Operations
Are you following events in the Gulf of Mexico?  It's hard to get the straight story, but no matter how you slice it, the BP blow out will have a near catastrophic impact on both the environment and economy of the gulf coast region.  And I'm an oil guy - with sixteen years notched as an oil and gas geologist, environmental manager, and business leader at Exxon Corporation. Exxon was a top notch company - with towering financial strength, global reach and breadth, world class technical prowess, and a culture of ethics, safety, quality, and teamwork.  But like many large organizations, the company often didn't get the public's perspective, and didn't do well with PR.  (In the wake of the Valdez spill there were many extraordinary accomplishments in engineering -…
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Prepare now – the recovery is coming.

Planning
Yes, the economic rebound is on the way.  Guaranteed.  But where, and when?  If you're like most architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting (AEE) professionals, you've been asking and analyzing this question for some time. You're not sure, and neither am I.  The economy is indeed recovering, but it's slow and fragile.  Job losses have stopped, and nearly a million new jobs have been created this year (this week's May jobs report was disappointing).  Consumer confidence is growing and has this month reached a two year high.  More business leaders are now planning for hiring and inventory ramp up across a broad base of sectors.  The stock market has recently given back some of its run up, but remains about 15% higher than last summer, and most investors are clearly expecting…
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What’s your accounting system done for you lately?

Business Improvement, Operations
This month I attended the annual Deltek Insight conference, and learned a good deal more about Vision, Deltek's popular accounting software platform used by a significant slice of the AEE (architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting) market.  The experience has me wondering again why it's so pervasive that organizations don't more fully utilize the capability and functionality of their accounting systems?  A common experience:  buy the system, install it, and get it up and running with core accounting functionality, and then stop - leaving much of the power of information reporting, business analysis, client account and relationship management, and such for another day.  System functionality, user groups, transparency and training are all minimized.  The company acts as if it's determined that using the system as little as possible is the desired outcome.…
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What about the international work?

Planning
Last week I participated in a panel presentation entitled "What AEC Firms Need to Know about the International Markets," at Deltek's annual Insight Conference.  I was joined by panel colleagues Mick Morrissey of MorrisseyGoodale and Brian Raber from Merrick & Company.  Together we sought to lay out a brief sketch of the international opportunity - the why, where, and how - along with some lessons learned from real world international experience.  About half of the attendee audience cited at least some international project experience; only a few of their firms had operational offices or teams overseas.  Our presentation was well received, and it's clear that there is real interest in international work.  That's encouraging, because the international opportunity is going to be big. Globalization of the AEE industry is underway, and…
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Cinco de Profitabal!

Business Improvement
The fifth of May is a festival in our home - a day for big hats, Mexican food, and celebrating my son Joshua's (easy to remember) birthday.  It's also a time of optimism and renewal here in New England as the sunshine returns, and cool rains (not snow!) usher in a start and stop spring.  Days like these help me to recharge my business and life - as I hope they do yours.  So, out this morning (one foot in front of the other) I worked on priorities for my business and yours.  Here are my thoughts - five projects to focus on now -in pushing for extraordinary: 1) Update the business plan. If your firm is like most there've been plenty of changes, challenges, and distractions over the last…
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