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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“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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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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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 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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