3 Estimating Lessons to Boost Project Profits

We have all had projects that for some reason did not meet our financial expectations. Overbudget projects happen for many reasons, including bidding on the wrong projects to begin with, underestimating the number of hours needed to successfully complete the project, failing to allow for delays and problems, or just not knowing the client well enough to anticipate what they really wanted.   Not only does your firm lose the profit margin associated with budget overruns, but overruns can also have a negative impact on client relationships and cause stress for your teams as they try and minimize the losses.   A great deal of value can be gained by analyzing past project failures to understand what went wrong, and designing safeguards, processes and approvals to minimize the chances they happen again. The following are three of the most common issues with developing accurate estimates, and some structure and practices you can put in place  to turn prior past project disasters into lessons that add protection for future jobs:   1. Understand the Client’s Expectations One of the most common problems in accurately developing a … Continued

10 Ways to Prosper in the Uncertainty of 2017

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F. Kennedy If there is one thing we all know about 2017 it’s that we have no idea what is going to happen. This will be a year of change and possibly, more surprises. Many of us will be nervous and even fearful of making decisions and investing in growing our businesses as the uncertainty of what lies ahead can be paralyzing. My whole career has been based on helping A&E firms implement change, deal with resistance and determine next steps when uncertainty exists. In fact, I would argue that this is what architecture and engineering are all about – progress, innovation and change. Yet when faced with figuring out how the new world order will impact our companies, many executives play it safe. But is “playing it safe” really safe? The firms that are embracing the new technology focused environment we live in may have an advantage. While the cost can be high, getting ahead of the curve can be … Continued

10 Tips to Survive the Next Recession

Another recession is coming. It is inevitable. Based on past history, it should be next year. But these things are hard to predict, so all I will commit to at this point is that another dip is coming. And we don’t know how bad it will be. What I do know for sure is that a lot of our clients are not thinking about it too much right now. The Architecture and Engineering industry is doing very well. Our clients are growing and hiring and profitability is up for the first time in many years. But it feels like a bubble to me and that is why I am worried that our clients are not doing everything possible to prepare for the eventual downturn. So what can you do to prepare for the next recession? I believe there are at least 10 strategies that you can focus on that will make your company financially and operationally stronger, and enable you to survive possible tough economic times ahead – regardless of whether that is next year or five years from now. Enabling a number of these … Continued

Time is Money: Improve Your Employee Time Management

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.  ~Jim Rohn, American Speaker and Author In a professional services business, the expression “time is money” is truly accurate. Your employees’ time is the greatest asset your business has. It needs to be managed with great care, as if each hour of their time is a valuable piece of inventory. Certainly, if you were selling diamonds for a living, you would build a secure storage facility, get armed guards, and buy insurance to protect this valuable asset. However, most firms do not protect their greatest asset—employee time—with this level of care. Employee time is often the most ignored asset in the company. Employees are notorious for complaining about having to do timesheets and often look at it as a cumbersome requirement. I regularly hear that firm principals, even ones who are highly billable, are the biggest violators of the firm policies, and cause the accounting department extra work and little support in trying to get employees to submit timesheets on time. Employee Time Management is Critical to Your … Continued

How to Save your Project Managers Two Hours a Week

  The main complaint I am hearing from A&E firm leaders these days is how they would love to “find more time” for their project managers (PMs). With workloads the highest they’ve been for many years, and talented and experienced PMs difficult to hire, asking PMs to work overtime has become a necessity. The average PM is working 45 to 60 hours a week, and many executives are worried about them burning out and considering leaving for a less stressful position. Multi-faceted Role of Project Managers The PM’s job is a difficult and often frustrating role. More and more responsibilities have been piled on the backs of our PMs as business has become more competitive and great people harder to find. A PM is no longer just responsible for managing the day to day and contractual obligations of the contracts, but also has to help bring work in as a seller-doer; manage the time, billing and collections of the work; and maintain happy client relationships. Many PMs face frustrations in trying to be great in all of these areas, and many others lack the business … Continued

How to Get the Most Value from Investing in AEC Project Management Training

There is a growing trend in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industries to train project managers (PMs). Reasons include the obvious goal of improved performance – both qualitative and financial. Other reasons are grounded in the many challenges faced by firms today to grow and retain staff, and develop future leaders for eventual leadership transition.  There are many different forms of “Project Management Training” being offered in the AEC industry: online training, classes, seminars, bootcamps, etc. Most of what’s offered to your project leaders and management teams is being grouped into this overall bucket of “Project Management Training” but it isn’t all the same and won’t all add the most value to your firm. Project Management Training is a broad term so when you are looking to purchase or sign up for training, it is important for you to first determine what skills you are looking to teach your staff and to understand the different types of training on the market. Not all training is focused on the same skills – some courses teach technical Project Management skills and others will teach Business Management skills. What is it you want to accomplish? What do your managers need to … Continued

Gannett Fleming Launches “Change is Good” to Spur Increased Growth

  I was fortunate to get the opportunity to sit down with Gannett Fleming President Bob Scaer to discuss the January 1st launch of their major reorganization which he has endearingly named “Change is Good.” As bad a connotation that change has in the A&E industry, Bob has managed to successfully pull off a major re-engineering of the firm’s reporting structure and process, and garnered buy-in at all levels of the organization. This was an 18-month effort that included a large number of Gannett employees, and largely driven by strategic initiatives to grow the firm over the next 10 years. It is easy to instantly get excited when talking with Bob about this huge initiative. Bob has been the major force behind “Change is Good,” and staked the future of the firm’s success on its adoption. His passion for successfully leading this enormous project is contagious – making what is obviously a very complex venture seem optimistically doable. This success would not have been possible without the total buy-in, commitment, and tireless hours by key leadership in the firm to help shape and drive this initiative. This massive reorganization involved realigning all of the … Continued

3 Reasons Why A&E Firm Owners Can’t Retire

“The exit that many leaders had thought would take place in their mid to late 50’s is now getting delayed to 65 and older.”     As I enter my mid-fifties (never thought it would happen) I have become privy to many private conversations from my age-related peers at A&E firms around the subject of retirement. Many business owners my age thought that by the time they had been working for 25 years or more in their architecture or engineering firms that they would be in a great position to retire in the near future. They are now discovering that this great dream of retiring in a warm location after the kids graduate from college is not going to be as easy as they thought. The rise to the top has not proven to deliver the golden handshake they thought they had earned by now. Because of tough economic realities and the lack of resources to take over their roles, the long awaited retirement plans are going to require much more planning, effort and financial consequences. In looking at the current state of the A&E industry, … Continued

How to Get Leadership Buy-in for Business Management Training 

  Many of our clients see the need to improve the business acumen of their project managers (PMs) and other technical staff. Even the project managers themselves, many of who have come up through technical ranks and have little to no formal project management training, are begging for it. But, it’s difficult getting firm leaders to agree to the best approach and take action. They know on some level it will probably payoff with increases in profits, higher customer satisfaction, etc. But how can they be sure? Different options include 2-day bootcamps out of the office, in-house training, bringing in outside consultants to customize training for your firm, or industry-specific online training. Each method has it’s pros and cons but most firms agree that the training needs to address the key issues that are causing dollars to get lost, causing lower than expected profits. Having trouble getting leadership buy-in for business management training?  Without leadership buy-in, support and the very important (but often overlooked) aspect of also participating themselves, your training program can fail to gain momentum and acceptance throughout your firm. Studies show that when leaders get … Continued

How to Make 3% More on Your Next Project

  In my book, Find the Lost Dollars, I focus on the impact of just a 1% increase in profits in nine areas of your business. The reason for focusing on such a small increase is twofold – first – it sounds easy. Most employees will gladly step up to help the company improve just 1%. Second, it is usually much more money than most business leaders realize. The power of just a 1% increase in profits in several key areas of the business can be thousands to millions of dollars for most A&E firms. But the reality is that most firms that focus on improving their business practices actually increase profits much more than 1%. For many of the clients we work with, we target a profit increase of 2% to 5% which is a substantial increase. Many of our clients tell us that their projects are profitable, however, they are not earning the level of profits they desire. For example, when you bid a project with a 10% estimated profit margin, but actually end up with just 6%, what happened to the other … Continued

Hillmann Consulting Finds Lost Dollars with Innovative Business Management Training Program

“We are making Finding Lost Dollars part of our culture now. That’s the way we want it, that was the whole idea of choosing the Find the Lost Dollars training. We have systems in place. We have processes. We have happy clients and are more profitable.” – Michael Gerasimenko, Controller     Hillmann Consulting, LLC is a successful Environmental and Engineering consulting firm. After all, they have been in business since 1985 and have been recognized by Zweig Group as one of the fastest-growing firms in the industry for the past 3 years. Your Property. Our Priority is their mission. Their commitment to service is clear and has proven to be one of the major cornerstones of their success. They build long lasting relationships with their clients, offering them the peace of mind they need when environmental concerns arise or the unthinkable occurs. This dedication to their clients was part of their culture, yet certain business practices regarding keeping clients happy as well as some inefficient business practices came at a high price. They were not as profitable as they desired – like many other firms … Continued

Are You Blowing Through Yellow Lights?

  As we drive along the roads each day we make split second decisions. These decisions can have zero or life changing consequences, or anything in between. A cautionary yellow light can occur when driving slow or fast, far from the intersection or right in it. Once in a while we ignore the warning signal and blow through a “risky” yellow light and pray for the best. Yellow lights occur in your work and business every day. Your employees often make similar split second crucial decisions that impact the risk, profitability, and health of your organization without realizing it. This is because we don’t like to rock the boat, question our clients when they make a request, or even follow instructions that just don’t seem right. Very often it seems much easier to ignore these questionable situations – we don’t have time, we don’t want to appear untrusting. But we all know that a yellow light can turn red at any moment. Yellow lights in business come in many forms but all have something in common – they all have potential consequences that are unknown. … Continued

Turning Around an Underperforming Team

Are you frustrated because not every team in your firm is hitting their goals or performing at their highest level? Unfortunately you may have groups that struggle to be profitable, have high turnover, or don’t embrace your firm’s culture. It can be difficult to hold remote offices and project leaders’ accountable, and even figure out what is going wrong. There are many options to attacking the problem of an underperforming team including replacing team leadership, closing a remote office, or other intensive measures. Very often an office is opened or a new team assembled in order to accomplish one of the firm’s strategic goals such as breaking into a new market, geography or client. Depending on how the group was created – from breaking off from another successful division, to an acquisition, to a key strategic hire, many things can cause a group or remote office to underachieve. Measuring Team (Under)Performance In measuring the performance of our groups or teams, we often look at revenue or profit goals, but it is also important to understand the other key metrics behind the scenes that are causing the group … Continued

christopher consultants Finds Lost Dollars in Just 10 Weeks

For over 33 years, christopher consultants (christopher) headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia has provided civil engineering, surveying, land planning, urban design and landscape architecture in the mid-Atlantic region. Founded by Christopher Brown (Chris) in 1982, the firm currently employs over 100 professionals and has five divisions serving a range of different industries. In 2011, Bill Zink took over as President and leader of the firm, and has been working hard to develop strategies to take the firm forward. He realized that though the firm had a long history of success, the firm’s culture needed some  adjustments in order to deal with 21st century economic pressures. As many firms in the A&E industry are now experiencing, going through a founder leadership transition is a slow and delicate process. It is important to protect the elements of success that the firm has built on for so many years, while at the same time, moving towards a workplace culture where technology is critical to growth and millennials are becoming a larger part of the workforce. Bill wanted to bring new ideas, transparency and increased focus on financial results to … Continued

10 Ways to Make More Money in 2016

It is hard to believe 2016 is here. I always get excited about the beginning of a new year – I look at it as an opportunity to start over, correct the mistakes of the past and achieve some of the goals that eluded me in the previous year. For most of our clients, 2015 was a good year for business. We saw a growing number of projects, expanding revenues and larger backlogs than we have seen in a long time. But with growth there are also challenges – a war for talent, increasing competition and with it, a resulting increase in salaries. More than ever we need to be innovative, efficient and run our businesses smarter than our competitors. We face many unknowns for the future including declining energy prices, fall elections and continued technology advances. Every year I attend 8 to 10 industry conferences in order to take the pulse of the industry, as well as understand the challenges that our clients face. Based on this last year and various expert’s predictions for 2016, Here are my top 10 recommendations for how your … Continued

{Guest Post} The Power of 1%

  We have all heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder” and yet I would venture to guess that few of us really understand how to do just that.  There is however, a very simple concept that demonstrates the critically important issue of how to constantly improve efficiency and effectiveness. June Jewell, a professional colleague of mine, has written an excellent book, ‘Find the Lost Dollars’ that encourages firm leaders to enhance the best practices of their firm and with it, the profitability of their projects and businesses.  The book is filled with excellent, easy to understand recommendations for improving the way we go about the daily tasks involved in running an organization, regardless of its size.  And, as good as all these recommendations are, for me, it’s the clarity of each chapter that provides insight to working smarter. Not to oversimplify the effort and time it takes to learn how to discipline oneself, about anything, June has nonetheless brilliantly introduced logical, easy to comprehend method and means for enhancing a firm’s revenue, which might otherwise be overlooked or lost due to the lack of … Continued

How Accountable Learning Can Improve Financial Results

    In looking where to invest limited dollars these days, it is critical that every penny spent provides a return on investment (ROI) above what other investments could deliver. Every dollar spent on one part of the business takes away investment in another. Each employee hired must contribute to the bottom line of the business, and measuring how they contribute can be a difficult yet critical aspect of successful business management. Improvement in employee skills can provide a significant improvement in profitability if combined with a program of business management improvement and learning methodology that ensures that the employee is employing their new skills on the job. Profitability by Project Manager can be measured – yet many firms don’t track individual performance, or teach project managers the skills necessary to deliver profitable jobs. Where money gets lost is often elusive – it is often in many small places every day. From poor estimates, to scope creep – not recovering contract extras – to poor control over subcontractors– money gets lost in many phases of the project lifecycle. What is missing in many cases is … Continued

Why I Want My Firm to Be Like Tesla

    I started a new business last year which gave me a unique opportunity to figure out my new brand – how I wanted AEC Business Solutions to be viewed and perceived in the marketplace. It is very exciting starting a new business after 25 years doing the same thing. The new business is different, and the new image and “look and feel” of our online presence, messaging and other marketing needs to be aligned with how we want clients and potential clients to evaluate us. I gave this a lot of thought. I started with what I didn’t want: I didn’t want us to be the same as we were before I didn’t want us to look like our competitors I didn’t want to say the same old thing that everyone else is saying Then I tried to consolidate how I DID want my new firm to be branded: I want us to be relevant for the future I want us to be innovative and cool I want to offer more value and measurable results I want to have clients that are raving … Continued

New Industry Conference Launched – Aimed at Increasing Profits in Architecture & Engineering Firms

  Industry leader AEC Business Solutions, LLC is launching a new conference aimed at helping Architecture and Engineering firm leaders to improve business management practices with the primary goal of increasing profits.   The inaugural AEC Profitability Summit will take place September 24-25, 2015 in Tyson’s Corner, VA. For the first time ever, the entire conference will focus entirely on profitability in A&E firms and utilize proprietary templates and other tools to guide attendees towards development of a 12-month plan to improve their firms. A distinctive line-up of industry experts will offer fresh content and specific hands-on solutions to put participants on the road to increasing profits. “We expect this Summit to be the beginning of a one-year journey for each participant, that will allow them to learn and implement several key initiatives,” states June R. Jewell, CPA, President and best-selling author. “Our Summit is an excellent opportunity for forward thinking leaders interested in taking their firms to the next level by transforming employee behavior.” Planned sessions include: “Leveraging Your Strategic Plan for Improved Firm Performance” where Ray Kogan, AIA, and President of Kogan & Company, along … Continued

3 Steps to Increase Your Fees Now

In a recent survey of our clients across the U.S., one of the most pressing concerns noted was how to raise fees. While the economy is improving, faster in some sectors and geographies than in others, fees for Architecture and Engineering firms are not increasing across the board. During the recession from 2007 to 2010, most firms saw their average project revenues and multipliers decrease, along with corresponding hourly rates. Most of this was caused by competition, a reduction in available projects, and a glut of available experienced talent. Now we face a period of increasing volume of work, a potential shortage of human resources in some areas with resulting growing salaries, yet fees have not increased at the same pace. The average firm fears “not winning” and so they sabotage their own success by reducing fees in order to win work. So how do you get out of this vicious cycle? Here are 3 steps that I have practiced myself and witnessed personally among several successful architecture and engineering firms over the last several years that can allow you to transform your firm into a … Continued

Your Profitable Journey – Kickoff a Transformation in Your A&E Firm

  As I speak to our Architecture and Engineering clients around the country, the common goal is always how to maximize profits. The daily demands of running an architecture or engineering firm can be overwhelming. And the day to day demands of growing while still maintaining “squeezed” profit margins is becoming harder to accomplish. This is where the AEC Profitability Summit can give you specific tools to implement significant change over the next 12 months to increase your bottom line. Join us on a journey to find an extra 1% to 3% profits in your business. How many times have you spent valuable time and money attending a conference or seminar and come away thinking, “Hmm, some interesting info, but now what do I do with it?” All the business and financial management theory is great, but once you get back to your “day job” it is difficult to implement significant change without a plan. It has happened to me and my clients more times than I’d like to admit. When our team at AEC Business Solutions first started talking about putting together the upcoming … Continued

Too Busy to Work ON Your Business?

Too Busy to Work ON Your Business? 3 Steps to Ensure Important Change is Happening   Many of you have probably read or heard of Michael Gerber’s best-seller The E-Myth which introduced the concept of working ON your business not in your business. This how-to guide for entrepreneurs popularized the recommendation that successful business owners need to focus on running and improving their business operations rather than doing the work themselves. This is a common problem in the A&E industry where most business owners are technicians and often love doing the work themselves more than managing their business. This practice can be to your detriment, however, if not enough care is given to ensuring that the business’s goals and strategic objectives are met, and the often challenging process of change is implemented. As I work with A&E firms to help them improve profitability, the number one challenge with firms achieving their goals is that they are not getting the important but non-urgent initiatives completed. These are the types of internal projects such as business process re-engineering, improving the use of systems, establishing new performance management / accountability processes, developing better project management practices and skillsets, and … Continued

AEC Business Solutions Partners with ACEC National to Provide New Educational Resources to the Engineering Industry

AEC Business Solutions, LLC is proud to announce that they have met the rigorous requirements to be able to provide continuing education credits and educational resources for Professional Engineers through the Registered Continuing Education Program (RCEP); administered by American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). The Find the Lost Dollars Business Management Skill Development for AEC Professionals online platform is based on the content in Find The Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Firms, authored by AEC Business firm President, June R. Jewell, CPA. The training provides Architectural & Engineering firms with the tools they need to successfully onboard new project managers as well as train emerging leaders. The training courses are proven to change behavior by adding goal setting and exercises that both engage employees and help them practice the behaviors your want them to learn. The platform introduces a new and innovative approach to business management training for AEC Project Managers. AEC Business Solutions also has signed an annual sponsorship agreement with ACEC and will be participating as an exhibitor at both the ACEC 2015 Annual Convention in Washington DC, and … Continued

6 Steps to Find the Lost Dollars in Your A&E Firm

In my book Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms, I conclude with a final chapter that outlines the six steps that can guide you towards increasing your firm’s profitability. This article will summarize that chapter, as well as give you some success principles for ensuring that desired changes and improvements do not lose their momentum and die before being implemented. Change is inevitable and necessary in all businesses. If you are not able to adapt to changes in the economy, marketing, technology, and availability of human resources, you will find your profits dwindling, and your ability to retain your most talented employees diminished. So then why do 70% or more of most change initiatives fail? I argue that the foremost reason that A&E firms fail to grow and improve business operations is lack of a detailed strategy and plan to improve. This article will summarize the six steps that can help you start to identify and implement business improvement initiatives to help you find and recover the lost dollars in your business. 1. Calculate your metrics … Continued

Spring Cleaning for Your Business

Doesn’t it feel good to throw things away? I don’t know about you, but I hate clutter. It makes me feel stressed and disorganized. Every year I resolve to clean out my office, my garage, and all the drawers and closets in the house that get cluttered over the long winter. It feels so great to actually throw things in the trash that you once found valuable. So this year I am promoting a concept called Spring Cleaning for your business. This is where you look under the cover, peek around the corners, and discover the old habits, practices, and business management methods and tools that are no longer working for you. I will not fool you – this is a lot of work! It takes both time and an open mind to dig into what is not working in your business, and figure out how to fix it. And it often takes courage to throw away those processes and systems that you used to depend on. But the payoff can be significant! In my new book, Find the Lost Dollars, I demonstrate the significant … Continued