5 Ways to Increase Accountability in Your A&E Firm

If there is one issue that I have heard repeatedly in working with A&E firms over the last 27 years, it is the difficulty of getting employees to fully accept responsibility – to be held accountable for their actions and performance. This issue goes so deep, that some business owners shy away from putting policies in place for fear that they won’t be able to get their employees to follow them. This practice often has the negative consequence of inconsistent quality control, compromised employee safety, and reduced project profitability. Another very damaging and frustrating result of not enforcing company policies is the constant frustration felt by your compliant managers and employees. When employees are consistently showing up for work late, not following company processes, or not responding to requests in a timely matter, it has a detrimental effect on every one of your employees. This frustration flows down to the lowest levels, resulting in a decrease in confidence in leadership, and creating dissent among those employees who are behaving well and following the rules. What is accountability and what isn’t it? Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability … Continued

5 Crucial Steps for Project Manager Success

The success of your Project Managers (PMs) can make or break your firm. Right? Considering all of the tasks that the typical project manager is required to perform, it is no wonder that many PMs get frustrated or even lose money! I did an assessment of the typical duties of the PMs that work for our clients, and here is a comprehensive but not necessarily complete list of the responsibilities that get thrown at PMs on a daily basis: Responding to RFPs and creating proposals Estimating project fees Documentation of work product Managing subcontractors Scheduling and using resources effectively Maintaining high utilization Solving client problems Budgeting and planning projects Project financial management Project quality control Management of the project timeline Reviewing and approving employee time and expenses Reviewing and approving client billing Collecting Accounts Receivable (AR) Nurturing client relationships Recruiting and interviewing new hires Mentoring and training staff Managing staff performance, and dealing with performance and behavior issues Managing contractual deliverables Avoiding scope creep and/or billing for extra services Preparing for and attending internal and external meetings Business development and networking (including events, social media, etc.) … Continued

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

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

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

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

The Elusive “Right” Conversations A&E Firms Frequently Miss Getting Right

Conversations fuel A&E firms’ success. Conversations are taking place all day long at A&E firms, yet 75% are the wrong conversations. Most conversations in your company are killing productivity, utilization rates and ultimately profits. Did you realize there are only four types of conversations you and your personnel can possibly engage? That’s absolutely true. Whether the conversations are between a team member and a prospective client, a team member and a current client, two staff members, a partner and a staff member, a manager and their direct report, there are still only four possible conversations. And, it’s vital you and your staff understand that three of those four conversations are the “wrong” conversation. By “wrong” I mean it is not a conversation that drives a desired outcome or brings to resolution an issue that needs resolving. The Four Conversations is a workplace communication model created in the midst of facilitating a workshop for a client in 2013. The four conversations are: The wrong conversation with the wrong person The wrong conversation with the right person The right conversation with the wrong person The right conversation … Continued

Holding Project Managers Accountable for Profitability

While most A&E firms expect their project managers (PMs) to deliver profitable projects, many have not put the appropriate measures in place to ensure that it happens. Accountability at the PM level is often vague and unstructured, which can lead to several different consequences – but not the ones we want! Part of this issue has to do with the many responsibilities given to PMs, and a lack of true visibility into what they are really doing every day. This leads to PMs being given many tasks and little guidance as to how to be successful. The other big challenge is measuring results. The majority of firms that we work with are not tracking individual performance, or worse, failing to implement consequences even if it is being measured. This has the unwanted effect of grouping good and poor performers together, and the less desired result of passive aggressive behavior on both the PM’s part and the firm’s leadership. Common Practices that Undermine Profitability Goals The following are practices that I often see in many A&E firms that undermine their ability to achieve profitability goals. If … 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

Developing Superstar Project Managers

In looking at the operations of an Architecture or Engineering firm, it is evident that the project manager (PM) role is the key to success. In addition to their normal project management responsibilities, most PMs are also involved in many other aspects of firm management – from marketing and sales, to human resources (HR), recruiting and hiring, time management, billing, and collections. They are doing all of this outside of their basic functions of running projects and working with clients. Why have we overloaded our PMs with so much responsibility, and how can they be successful without specific skills and training in each of these areas? We often describe and even measure a “superstar” project manager, by rating technical skills and their ability to keep clients happy above profitability. I argue that for a PM to be a superstar, they need to deliver profitable projects, and help the firm to grow and prosper financially. Ultimately, if the client is happy but the project loses money, the project manager is not a superstar. This practice has developed because most architecture and engineering school curricul ums focus … 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

5 Steps to Reduce Scope Creep in Your AEC Firm

Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firms lose money on projects due to many causes, and our research shows that scope creep and failure to bill for extra services is at the top of the list as the biggest cause by far. Scope Creep is the erosion of the project plan due to added requirements, unexpected client demands, and failure to bill and collect for extra services. Most firms struggle with scope creep for many reasons, often believing it is mainly a people issue. However, your employees are doing what they are taught to do, so without the right processes, structure and training, your employees will often adopt the least confrontational behavior. In my book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms I demonstrate the financial impact of just a 1% reduction in scope creep. The numbers are astounding and can easily be calculated for your firm. I promise that time invested in improving this aspect of your business management operations will pay you back quickly and significantly. 5 Steps to Reduce Scope Creep in Your AEC Firm … Continued

8 Ways to Make More Money in 2015

I can’t believe it is already 2015. The beginning of a new year is a great opportunity to gain a different perspective and a more effective business management strategy. While we are all in business to make money, it is amazing that we persist with business practices that do not optimize our employee productivity, project profits, or marketing success. Change is hard for every firm. We all suffer with the same issues – fear of and resistance to change, limited time and resources, a fast changing economic and technology environment, and limited expertise in financial and business management. With our economy improving and firms growing again, there are more challenges in trying to ensure that our growth is profitable. Some firms are better run and more profitable than others. I believe even the most successful firms can run better. In my book, “Find the Lost Dollars,” I show the financial impact of just a 1% increase in your win rate, utilization and project profit margin. Do you know what your 1% is? This is the perfect time to put a plan in place to make … Continued

The 5 Top Risks to Project Profitability

These days projects are hard to get and project profit margins are declining. With more competition nationally and from overseas firms, it is critical to manage projects with precision, and utilizing best practices for financial management. With some focus on those areas of your business where your firm is weak, and improving the systems and processes around these areas, you can start to increase your profit margins, and reduce losses from waste and inefficiency. In working with hundreds of A&E firms over the last 24 years, I have identified five areas that can cause projects to not perform as they should. As I discussed in my book, Find the Lost Dollars: 6 Steps to Increase Profits in Architecture, Engineering, and Environmental Firms, the job of a project manager (PM) is tough. They are given many responsibilities that they have never been trained for and are often relied upon to carry the success of the firm on their backs. By looking at the underlying problems that plague many firms, and improving the operational bottlenecks that slow work down, and cause budget overruns, you can gain a … Continued

Five Steps to Increase Profit Margins on Professional Services Projects

With competition tougher and margins smaller for professional services firms, we need to have every advantage to ensure our projects are profitable. Many things erode the margins on our projects including bad estimates, scope creep, poor resource management and issues with clients. By putting a few processes in place to eliminate the areas that give project managers and their teams the most frustration, we can control project costs more effectively, and start to realize greater financial success on our projects. Five Steps to Increase Profit Margins In working with hundreds of professional services firms over the last 23 years, I have found that firms that follow these five practices have seen the most success in their project management results: Create a solid process for developing project estimates Good estimates are the critical first step in assuring that your projects will be successful and make money. However, many firms do not have a standardized process for creating project estimates. If you are using excel for your estimates, there is a good chance that your managers are using old rates, inconsistent language, and poor assumptions in their forecasts. … Continued

Do You Have a Strong Project Management Culture?

There were many trends discussed for engineering firms at the 2013 national American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) national conference last month in Washington, DC. I always pay close attention to these discussions in order to make sure I am on top of the latest issues, and prepared to address the concerns of our clients as they navigate the ever-changing business environment. One of the catch phrases that I heard a couple times was the idea of a strong project management culture. Since the topic of firm culture is one I have studied and written about, I decided to try and define what it means to have a project management culture and identify criteria for how do you measure the strength of your project management culture. What Does it Means to Have a Strong Project Management Culture? At it’s essence, the culture of project management in engineering firms today is varied based on the size of a firm and its ownership makeup. Older firms with older owners tend to be set in their ways, and slow to change or adopt new technology. Younger firms who are … Continued