These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

May 2011
NeoLuddite or Technophile?

cavemanWhat kind of Manager are you?

When it comes to introducing new technology into your business, what do you say – “Yeah, way!” or “No way!” (corrupting Stephen Colbert) Personally I lean to the “Yeah!” camp, but have learned to temper my enthusiasm. The supposed benefits can be elusive.

It’s perhaps predictable. Each generation claims to have implemented more change than any other in the history of man. In business, are we really more stressed than, say, the people learning to fashion new tools during the Iron Age? The claims, in fact, are immaterial. We deal with the advances that confront us today.

Computing and networking appear to be the current equivalents to the forge and new metals. PC’s (or Macs) on the desk, Database software, CAD, BIM, Cloud Computing, CMMS, CAFM, 3D Visuals, Teleconferencing – Yikes, the list is intimidating! And poor me - I haven’t touched a typewriter in years.

But, I want to make nuanced observations about this ‘stuff’. All sorts of resources are available to people who want to learn HOW to USE the latest whiz-bang tool of the trade, but there’s a bigger challenge – how is implementation MANAGED?

10 Steps for Success

1. Have a Good Reason

Sometimes there are many; sometimes just one. Maybe none.

The incorporation of Building Information Modeling (BIM) into our industry has many advantages, I suppose. Nevertheless, many people have focused on the software’s ability to have one change pervade the data embedded in the model. Seems good all by itself.

On the other hand, small enterprises do pretty darn well with spreadsheet-based staffing projections. Is the sophistication of a database application worth the challenge of implementation? Perhaps not.

2. Be skeptical - Healthily       ?

CATIA 3-d rendering is astounding, but would you be well served by Autodesk 3dsMax? Primavera Project Management is powerful, but is MS Project more than enough to get the job done? Why do you need to get an Exchange Server if Google Apps is free?

Why, why, why?

Ask over, and over again. Do so calmly, without rancor. Ask about whole systems and assemblies. Ask about choices between vendors. Then, ask some more.

3. Talk to your peers

talkOne of my most productive collaborations was a group of about 10 similar firms which agreed to meet twice a year to discuss topics of relevance. The lessons learned were invaluable, advancing the knowledge-base and efficiency of our operations.

For those less fortunate, any number of other options remain. Possibilities:

  • Talk to your friends
  • Find a user group
  • Ask the vendor for a list of current users, and scour it for names you know
  • Get your staff to talk to their friends

When doing so, have some predetermined questions. Better yet, tabulate the results.

build leaky silos4. Reach out for help

Sometimes consultants offer value. When you’re adrift, bringing in someone to briefly help steer the boat is smart. This is why seaports have harbor pilots.

If you do engage someone, define the goal, and agree upon the scope of the assignment. Retaining an objective assistant entails defining expectations. Another newsletter, maybe…

5. Have top level advocacy

The old saw: “Nothing happens unless management wants it to”. This may be how things get started, or maybe this is how things which were started are allowed to continue, but…

That’s not why this is important for implementing new technology. Murphy’s Law. When all that could go wrong has, someone has to advocate perseverance; and inevitably time and money are called for. The buck stops where? You know..

6. Make someone the ‘Manager’

pointing fingerSole proprietors can tune this one out. For most of the rest of us, who don’t work alone, find someone in your organization and charge that person with ‘making it happen’. Give that person the required resources, run interference if necessary, and champion the work when called for.

Simply throwing out the idea for something to be done, and stepping back to see what happens, is a sure fire way to have no results. You can be coach for your football team, but wouldn’t you expect to have a quarterback?

7. Plan the Steps

Plug and play? Not likely.

Most of us are in the planning business, so it should be no real surprise that an alteration to your enterprise itself should be strategized.

Discretely defied increments, durations, resource requirements, linkages to other steps - Make it as crude or complex as the situation warrants, but do it.

8. Get Senior Manager Training

trainingDon’t you hate it when you have to dumb down an explanation of what you’re doing, so that the person you work with can have just a vague clue about its value?

For years, one of my co-workers chose to sit shoulder to shoulder with a staff designer because he was unable to grasp the most fundamental of the software’s commands. The American version of being made redundant?

Don’t let yourself become one of those unfortunates who don’t know what your software applications do. Knowing both the potential and the limitations makes you a better manager in many ways.

My suggestion: take a basic orientation course. Anywhere from ½ day to a few days at most. This won’t make you proficient – far from it. But your ability to appropriately and succinctly communicate your needs and goals will have enormous operational benefits. You don’t have to know how to rebuild the engine, but knowing what the bus will do can’t hurt.

9. Allocate Plenty of Time

timeOnce you have chosen to implement new technology, and after you have a devised at least a rough action plan, take the time estimate for implementation and double it. Do this especially if the initial time estimate came from the vendor.

Double!? Really?

Allocate Plenty of Time. Vendors have been known to shade the truth. Gung-ho, enthusiastic staffers are sometimes naïve in their projections. Real-work crises interfere with implementation activities. Even if the original time estimate is valid, you’ll feel better about yourself when you beat your own re-valued expectations.

In any event, I have seen plenty of examples of diligent efforts taking more than a little while:

  • A 50 person Architectural firm, with 2 years to fully transition from AutoCAD to BIM
  • A multi-million square foot institution, with 3 years to transition from spreadsheet records of asset management to robust CAFM

And these were intelligently managed. I’ll betcha some people would have thought shorter timings at the outset.

10. Prepare for Tinkering

That gorgeous dress or suit fit fine last year when you bought it for your sister’s wedding. Now, a year later, and 6 months into your new diet, it hangs loose around the waist. If you’re the person who folds slack under the belt - move on. For the rest of us, a trip to the tailor usually ensues.

Same for technology – but more so. Not only are you changing, but the clothing changes as well. Software and firmware updates must be reconciled with evolving business practices. Be ready.

Managing and Doing – Two Different Things

laptopA new worker class: TechnoLudd. These are the people who know what technology has to offer, but use old fashioned common sense to cautiously step into the new arena. Not opposed, but not exactly afire with enthusiasm.

Be that person, as you manage the process. Cautiously, judiciously and methodically pave the way for your organization’s improvement. Help your staff do a better job. Yeah!, Way!

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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