TZL 931

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HR | FINANCE S U P P L E M E N T S Pages 9 - 12

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Talking profit

Practical PM improvement Mark Zweig offers eight steps that should be on everyone’s mind. W e are talking more and more about the importance of good project management in boardrooms these days. There isn’t much more you can do to increase your profitability and reduce your risk than improve the quality of your PM efforts. So what can you do – now – in your firm to improve your project management effectiveness? Here are my thoughts: 1) Track and report PM performance metrics firm-wide. Why aren’t you doing this now? What are you afraid of? Show project multiplier to contracted multiplier, average collection period, client satisfaction scores, total dollar value of work being managed, extra services sold, and more, by PM. And send this to everyone in the firm.


This way, the best PMs will be recognized, and the worst shamed. 2) Do continuous client satisfaction monitoring and report it firm-wide. Ask specific questions about how the PM is doing from the client’s perspective. Again, by sharing this information with all, the




Mark Zweig



All firms

Fast-growth firms

Very high-profit firms

best PMs will get accolades and the weakest will be embarrassed. That’s good. 3) Narrow down the list of who gets to be a PM. Most firms in this business have people assigned to the PM role who have absolutely no business being there. Even though most have absolutely no training, but perform well, some people simply have no aptitude for PM. So, why have them do it? It’s really silly and seems obvious to me they shouldn’t be PMs. We need to concentrate our PM responsibilities in fewer, better project managers. 4) Provide really good training in how to write as well as in-house assistance with writing. So much of project management is about writing! I was talking to a fellow at our recent Principals Academy in Kansas City who told me that his firm actually hired his

Per total staff

Per professional/technical staff

F I R M I N D E X ADD Inc.................................................................. 5 ARORA Engineers.................................................. 3 Bioengineering Group............................................ 5 FPM Group, Ltd...................................................... 5 KARN CHARUHAS CHAPMAN & TWOHEY.......... 8 Langan Engineering & Environmental Services.... 6 MSA Professional Services................................. 11 STAFFELBACH........................................................ 5 TLC Engineering for Architecture.......................... 5 T.Y. Lin International ........................................... 11 Woodard & Curran................................................. 4 While the A/E industry still feels the effects of the recent economic downturn, there is a segment that continues to show very high profits. By definition, very high-profit firms are more profitable than the industry overall, and so it is no surprise that this segment reports a median pre- tax, pre-bonus profit/loss per technical and professional staff of $23,769, according to the 2011-12 Successful Firm Survey. Meanwhile, fast-growth firms reported a median pre-tax, pre- bonus profit/loss per technical and professional staff of $12,631, equal to the overall sample. The median for the overall firm sample is also $12,631, an increase from $12,101 in 2010. – Margot Suydam, Survey Manager

See Mark Zweig, page 2

Most firms in this business have people assigned to the PM role who have absolutely no business being there. Even though most have absolutely no training, but perform well, some people simply have no aptitude for PM. So, why have them do it? It’s really silly and seems obvious to me they shouldn’t be PMs.

Gender roles melding inside firms


xz top player: Attitude and teamwork mark success. Page 3 xz hr: The best places to work in the A/E industry. Page 9 xz finance: Rewarding teams an essential tool. Page 11

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T H E V O I C E O F R E A S O N F O R A / E / P & E N V I R O N M E N TA L C O N S U LT I N G F I R M S



RESOURCES International outlook and survey: The Great Recession has presented the A/E industry some of the most challenging times ever on record for the post-WWII generation. One A/E revenue bright spot continues to be the international market for development in non-U.S. lands. Some countries are experiencing explosive development growth, while other countries are slowly declining with failing developments and economies. Entering the international market, however, can seem a daunting task; the stakes are higher, and the investments of time and effort for business development for your firm can be larger. But the eventual revenue payoff can also be larger, making international work a worthy investment. Language, culture, methods of doing business, local law, contracts, insurance, and even the possible purchase of influence from local officials are all concerns for any A/E firm doing business in the A/E market. With the 2011-2012 International A/E Survey and Outlook you will learn: xz Which non-U.S. markets are thriving and their outlook for 2012 xz Which markets abroad are declining xz How to get your first international contract For more information or to buy a copy, call 800-466-6275 or log on to

Mark Zweig , from page 1 business writing instructor from grad school. Not only does the professor train all their people in how to write, he also provides an ongoing resource to edit and rewrite critical communications turned out by employees. And his turnaround time is mere hours. How smart – and progressive! (See related case study on page 6.) 5) Require a weekly job progress report on all projects. Again – this is a no-brainer. The clients like it, the subs like it, and you will like it. Even if you don’t like writing these, they are crucial to keeping a project moving the right direction and especially valuable to heading off problems before they get too big. 6) Get smartphones for all employees. This is a simple tool that improves communication within the firm, with subs and with the client. When we pay $70K, 80K, 100K or 150K per annum for an employee’s base pay we sure as hell can afford to buy them a phone and pay the phone bill. The increased productivity is well worth the cost. 7) Manpower scheduling . Try scheduling someone who doesn’t report to you; doesn’t work too well, does it? Yet, this is something we ask PMs in this business to do every day. Organization structure is crucial to good project management. Studio structures or standing teams are by far the best structures for effective manpower scheduling. The leader sets and juggles the priorities and has the people (or most of them) under their control. 8) Just talking about stuff like when to ask for payment for out-of-scope services and when not to, what unbilled WIP is, how to ask for retainers when you should, and more. There’s just not enough dialogue between the principals and the people who work as PMs on these kinds of topics. I’m out of time. But we would love to hear your practical ideas on how to make A/E or environmental firm project management more effective. Drop me a line at the email address below.

Green jobs growing: Green jobs are now firmly established in the design and construction workforce, according to a new study released by McGraw- Hill Construction at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Toronto. According to the study, 35 percent of architects, engineers and contractors report having green jobs today, representing 661,000 jobs and one-third of the industry workforce. That share is expected to increase over the next three years, with 45 percent of all design and construction jobs being green by 2014. “Green jobs are already an important part of the construction labor workforce, and signs are that they will become industry standard,” said Harvey Bernstein, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw-Hill Construction. “These numbers reported by the industry match our Dodge green building market sizing; so as green takes over construction activity, so too will green take over the xz AEC workers report green jobs on the rise at levels that match the McGraw- Hill Construction Dodge green building market sizing: 35 percent of AEC firms focus on green jobs today, in line with the green building market share of 35 percent in 2010; 45 percent of AEC firms expect to have green jobs by 2014, in line with the green building market share of 48 percent to 50 percent by 2015. xz Training is essential for getting and maintaining green jobs; 30 percent of green job workers say they needed major training when they started. Hiring firms agree; 71 percent of hiring decision- makers maintain that being green-certified increases competiveness. Non-licensed ownership : NewYork Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 23 signed into law a bill allowing non-licensed professionals to hold a minority share of ownership in NewYork’s engineering and architecture firms. Ending one of the most restrictive ownership policies for design firms in the U.S., passage of the new law in NewYork State permits up to 25 percent ownership by employees other than licensed design professionals, such as corporate counsel, information technology, and business development specialists. The majority, 75 percent, share of ownership remains in control of licensed professionals to safeguard against potential conflict of interest or breach of professional ethics. construction workforce.” The research also shows:

38West Trenton Blvd., Suite 101 Fayetteville, AR 72701 Mark Zweig | Publisher João Ferreira | Managing Editor Julie Kyle | Editor Christina Zweig | Staff Writer Tel: 800-466-6275 Fax: 508-653-6522 E-mail:

Online: Twitter: Blog: Published continuously since 1992 by ZweigWhite, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA. ISSN 1068-1310. Issued weekly (48 issues/yr.). $475 for one-year membership, $775 for two-year membership. Article reprints: For high-quality reprints, including Eprints and NXTprints, please contact The YGS Group at 717-399-1900, ext. 139, or e-mail © Copyright 2011, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

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Attitude and teamwork mark success

In dog-eat-dog market, search, divide, and conquer to attain goals. M anik Arora is a people person. And in any business, that’s a good thing. “Our people make up the engine that is ARORA Engineers ,” Arora states emphatically about being named No. 138 on THE ZWEIG LETTER 2011 Hot Firm List. Arora is the president and CEO of the Chadds Ford, Penn.-based, 65-person, family owned engineering firm offering planning, design, construction man- agement and facilities maintenance management services.“

make sure you are delegating, nurtur- ing, and soon creating successors to processes typically handled by you. Fi- nally, conquer – say what you mean and do what you say – execution of goals and vision is key. TZL: Where do you see this indus- try in 10 or 20 years? What trends are influencing it? What about your company? MA: I truly have a sense that engi- neering is finally going to be the SEXY industry that it always wanted to be. We saw this in medicine, information technology, finance, sports… When we have infrastructure that will change the way people live and work, it will be highly impressive to say that you are an engineer. TZL: Do hold someone as a special mentor? How did this person influ- ence who you are? MA: My ex-chief engineer, Joseph Comero, was at one time my client in the aviation sector. Joe had a passion for the field and how design and con- struction fit together well and at the same time poorly. He was a master of his craft to drive construction in the field, yet always a professional making sure licensure was high on everyone’s list. Joe, as a key manager of the firm, then taught me what loyalty meant. Joe recently passed due to health prob- lems, but will always remain in our hearts, thoughts, and, of course, PROJ- ECTS! TZL: What’s the one trait you most admire in people and why? MA: I admire patience. People who have this as a high trait can deal with multiple fluctuations in direction, ac- tion and results. They are the ones who learn from their experiences and fail- ures. They are the ones people seek comfort from during times of distress. My father at work always had this char- acteristic. TZL: Describe the most challeng- ing thing you have ever done/the biggest challenge you have taken on outside of work.

the best we can be has been instilled in us by our founder and my fa- ther, Mike Arora. While we chose new paths to achieve our goals, it is his princi- ples of perseverance, honesty, and integrity that have kept the 25- year longevity of the firm.

Manik Arora, President and CEO, ARORA Engineers.

TZL: Do you remember your first paid job? What did you learn then that still influences the way you work today? MA: My first paying job was to put bi- cycles together for our Post Exchange on a U.S. Base in the middle of Saudi

Arabia in the ear- ly 1980s. What I learned is that no matter what you did, a positive atti- tude made the job go much smooth- er and enjoyable. I preach positive atti- tudes to my staff to this day.

“There is nothing more gratifying than being included in achieving a goal in a team setting. Everyone has a role to play and when done right, the sky is the limit. Being positive rubs off on everyone the right way.”

We have developed and maintained a comprehensive engineering practice based on the principles of quality and client satisfaction,” Arora says. “Our mission is to provide solutions for se- cure environments. We have been fo- cused on achieving this goal since the firm’s inception in 1986.” In this interview, Arora raises the curtain on what makes the multidisci- pline minority owned Arora Engineers a multi-year Hot Firm. THE ZWEIG LETTER: What does it mean to be a Hot Firm? Manik Arora: Being a Hot Firm means that not only does our firm have the right suite of products and services to weather the worst economy in years; we are a Hot Firm due to our PEOPLE. Yes, our people make up the engine that is ARORA Engineers. TZL: How did you get where you are today? MA: Our achievement to excel and be

TZL: What is it in your DNA that drives you to success? Is it audac- ity and risk-taking; a can-do at- titude and a relentless pursuit of perfection; something else more abstract? MA: Teamwork and being positive. There is nothing more gratifying than being included in achieving a goal in a team setting. Everyone has a role to play and when done right, the sky is the limit. Being positive rubs off on every- one the right way. TZL: In today’s difficult business climate, what does it take to suc- ceed? Is the spectrum of failure a motivator? MA: It’s truly a dog-eat-dog environ- ment. Having the vision to search, di- vide, and conquer will last you in this environment. Search – make sure op- portunities continue to present them- selves, either through existing relation- ships or through new ones. Divide –

See TOP PLAYER, page 4



O N T H E R E C O R D Talking taglines

One more leader quips on the value of a motto that guides. T he idea of the motto defining the mission of the firm has caught the inspiration of many firm leaders. The Zweig Letter ran a feature on the topic in its Oct. 3 issue. This week, Douglas McKeown , CEO, Woodard & Curran (Portland, ME), a 600-person integrated engineering, science and operations firm, shares his firm’s mot- to and how it makes all the difference in how they do business: Our firm’s tagline is “Commitment & Integrity Drive Results.” This came about from a branding exercise we went through seven or eight years ago. It very much defines us and our culture and was the result of asking our clients what they thought about us. “Commit- ment” comes from delivering what we say we’re going to do. “Integrity” was reflecting howwework with our clients; that we are straight up with them, rather than looking for ways to change-order up the work. Many clients told us that when we sub- mit an estimate it isn’t always the low- est, but it never exceeds that. They can trust our pricing. “Driving Results” is about making it happen as opposed to “hoping” it will happen. Within the firm these words guide the work we do and the way we handle our clients. My role in communicating to our employees is based on full integri- ty and a commitment to follow through on those things we promised and an ef- fort to drive results. Our employees know that delivering what we said we

“We know it is real when our employees draw on it when they are challenging something we might want to do. I’ve heard our employees say on many occasions that we should do this or not do that as they reference our tag line. We really operate this way.”

Douglas McKeown, CEO, Woodard & Curran.

would and doing it with integrity mat- ters more than the bottom line. They have some latitude with their client work as a result, provided they meet this commitment. As such, it influenc- es decision-making, business strategy, and even project pursuits. If we can’t deliver on a commitment, we won’t take the work on. Easy to say, but we actually follow it and embrace it deep down in the company. In this way it ex- tends to internal work commitment, the way our employees work with each other and meet internal needs of their peers. The way the IT team supports the PMs follows this mantra. It’s on the back of all our cards as a steady remind- er to everyone about what matters. We know it is real when our employees draw on it when they are challenging something we might want to do. I’ve heard our employees say on many occa- sions that we should do this or not do that as they reference our tag line. We really operate this way. In many ways it makes decision-making easier, since many guiding principles are wrapped up in those words. I’m proud to say we have followed this without exception through the last couple years, when the economy has been challenging.

graduate embarking on a career in the A/E/P and environmental con- sulting fields? MA: Slow and steady wins the race at the end. No matter what the economy says on unemployment, there still ex- ists a shortage of engineers. Stability is key when making this career choice. The 2011 edition includes the latest available data on fee structures for every major market type, billing rates and chargeability statistics for 27 levels of employees (from clerks up through principals), ways firms usually charge for subconsultant fees and reimbursable expenses, how firms collect payment, and much more. Don’t make another decision about your firm’s fees and contracts without first seeing the latest edition of this report! For more information or to buy a copy, call 800-466-6275 or log on to Fee & Billing survey: If your goal is to price your firm’s services competitively without losing your shirt, then you need to know what firms just like yours are charging for the same types of services. ZweigWhite’s Fee & Billing Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning & Environmental Consulting Firms is the standard guideline for architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental firms looking to find the balance between competitive pricing, quality design, and firm profitability. Since 1998, thousands of firm leaders have relied on the rock-solid data in this comprehensive report.

TOP PLAYER , from page 3

sports and education gets me through.

TZL: What question would you ask of another Hot Firm leader? MA: What makes you wind down? Firm leaders in general always run at a high pace. TZL: What lesson learned would you pass along to a recent college

MA: The most challenging item I have ever taken on outside of work was to make sure that work did not or could not prevent me from watching my son grow up. Very challenging when most of your clients are commercial airports and travel is a necessity. Staying con- nected, focused, and committed to


© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.



Gender roles melding inside firms

There are more women in upper management roles and they are not afraid to encourage other women. By Julie Kyle Editor A lthough women are not well rep- resented in upper management roles at A/E/P and environmental con- sulting firms, they are hiring, mentor- ing, supporting, and promoting other women to relevant roles. In doing so, they are proving that old stereotypes no longer apply, such as that women are threatened by other women. Bioengineering Group (Salem, MA), a 70-person environmental plan- ning and restoration firm recognized by Inc. and Fortune magazines, and has been named to The Zweig Letter Hot Firm List two years in a row, is led by a woman: Wendi Goldsmith, who is president and CEO. The firm’s success could arguably be linked to progressive strategies, which include the appoint- ment of several women to manage- ment roles. Goldsmith’s research sup- ports her conclusion that firms with a diverse BOD and management team have better gross profitability and re- silience than firms with more homoge- neous leadership. Further, firms with diversity in the management structure lead to more engaged, optimistic, ca- reer-pursuing employees. “It’s clear, a BOD is a highly symbolic component in the direction of the com- pany, and it says quite a lot about the direction of the firm,” Goldsmith says. “Firms with a large amount of diversi- ty – not only in gender, but also peo- ple from different ethnic backgrounds, with different interpersonal styles; this leads to improved decision-making. Not only do I think it makes a differ- ence, but everything I’ve learned from my absorption of that information is entirely consistent with what I know as a professional.” Goldsmith’s early work experienc- es for hugely male-dominated compa- nies were “remarkably stifling and dis- couraging.” In starting her company, she has taken proactive steps to fill the

ward and assist other up and coming professionals,” she says. Firms are also dispelling stereotypes. “Our women leaders absolutely will hire other women in the profession for management roles,” says Fred Kram- er, president of ADD Inc. (Cambridge, MA), a 160-person architecture and engineering firm. “There was a time not so long ago where there was com- petition and a woman leader was con- sidered a threat to other woman lead- ers. That seems to be subsiding in our business, at least where several of the top-line principals in the company are women. More than 50 percent of my senior associate principals are women.” Lupton doesn’t think women lead- ers she knows in the profession feel threatened by other women. “It may be because they are just that good, and aren’t threatened by others, male or fe- male,” she says. Jo Staffelbach Heinz, president and CEO of STAFFELBACH (Dallas, TX), a 75-person interior design firm, feels women in management roles hire the best qualified individuals to fill man- agement roles. “I believe women are looking for in- dividuals that manage with their head and their heart and are looking for that critical balance to bring top manage- ment skills to their firm,” she says. “I hope we are past the days of women hiring women and men hiring men; the talent pool allows us options to simply hire the best qualified individual.” Kevin Phillips, CEO of FPM Group, Ltd. (Ronkonkoma, NY), an 80-person environmental consulting firm, agrees. “I can only speak for my own firm and my experience with other firms,” he says. “I don’t think there is any gen- der bias when it comes to women hir- ing women. “Subliminal gender issues will always exist at the personal level. Hopefully upper management reviews the mix of people being hired and sets a course for expertise, not gender bias,” Phillips says.

board of directors with people from diverse backgrounds. Bioengi- neering Group’s BOD is majority women, and the management teams are majority women, “And not because of re- ally trying,” Goldsmith says. hiring women. All things be- ing equal, Goldsmith would opt for the fe- Women

Wendi Goldsmith, President and CEO, Bioengineering Group.

male hire. “And for several reasons, in- cluding one being a very sad truth, in that when I hire and promote women, they are more loyal and less likely to be hired away to the competition, because they believe and perceive they are being recognized as individuals.” Debra Lupton, CEO at TLC Engi- neering for Architecture (Orlando, FL), a 286-person firm, says, “When we look for senior management can- didates for placement at TLC, women that have the credentials for the posi- tion get equal consideration. Any can- didate has to have the right skills and cultural fit, sharing the same values that the firm espouses.” Although the female candidate pool is a relatively small percentage of the to- tal available pool of senior licensed pro- fessionals on the technical side, Lupton says female leadership is a part of the firm’s history. “We have had woman principals in charge of an office (prof- it center), in project management, in design, and in our corporate services group, leading HR and marketing,” she says. “I have had the privilege of being a principal and corporate leader of my firm for over 18 years, first as director of marketing, then as CEO, and now as chairman and CEO.” The leadership of TLC gave Lupton the chance to excel, with the benefit of mentorship from numerous very tal- ented colleagues. “Understanding the value of that, it is my goal to pass it for-

“Hopefully upper management reviews the mix of people being hired and sets a course for expertise, not gender bias.”




Grammar 101 distinguishes firm

Firm gets an inside/ outside view of how they communicate. By Julie Kyle Editor T he devil is in the details. This orig- inal idiom has been attributed to a number of individuals, most notably to German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe by The New York Times in Mies’ 1969 obituary. The details of proper grammar and punctuation can amount to the differ- ence in the meaning of: Let’s eat Grandma. and: Let’s eat, Grandma. Just as a misplaced decimal point can cause unnecessary head-scratching when it comes down to the math, firms cannot afford to let mistakes find their way into written communications, says Kenneth Friedman, Ph.D., of Science and Communication Associates, who consults on technical writing for Lan- gan Engineering & Environmen- tal Services (Elmwood Park, NJ), a 550-person civil engineering and envi- ronmental consulting firm.

vince firm leaders to initiate a technical writing program to help staff produce better written communications. Simple mistakes, even in the use of words, can lead to confusion. Fried- man recalls one example in which a cli- ent questioned a contractor over the expense of cleaning a drainage pond twice a year. As it turned out, the con- tractor was following the contract, which called for cleaning biannually (twice a year) instead of biennially (ev- ery two years), which was what the cli- ent intended. “We have to be accurate and not leave anything open for misin- terpretation, often for legal purposes. Simple mistakes in written communi- cation can cost firms a lot of money,” Friedman says. “The technical writing program we have at Langan is the best there is,” says Gockel, a supporter and user of the program. “Ken’s knowledge is in- credible, and his enthusiasm for the nuances of better writing is contagious. Our ability to communicate our ideas clearly and concisely to our clients is a large part of what makes Langan so successful.” This program helps Langan put out a better work product, saves managers time, helps staff manage budgets bet- ter, and ultimately is a money saver. “This allows us to focus on the things we’re best at – not sitting behind a computer editing reports,” Hager says. A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a cli- ent. It can be incredibly difficult to self-edit, Friedman says. Just as a law- yer shouldn’t represent him- or herself, neither should a writer be his or her own editor. It’s good to have unfamiliar eyes contribute to the writing process. Langan’s technical writing program al- lows for the extra eyes through the ed- iting-mentoring process. Hager recalls painfully editing long reports, some of which could not even be finished in one sitting. “The bad ones used to sit in my briefcase for days, and I would dread spending all that time, thinking, ‘I can’t sit here and bill time to edit a document.’” The writing pro- gram has helped alleviate much of the need for that extra time, he says, much

of which would occur off-hours –on “family time.” Langan’s technical writing program comprises several parts: a basic and advanced technical writing course; emailed weekly writing tips; and one- on-one mentoring using the content of writers’ specific reports, proposals, and letters. For Langan’s basic writing course, Friedman found common er- rors in some of the firm’s reports and used them to develop a workbook with specific examples that were meaning- ful to Langan’s employees. This is not just your typical communications im- provement program; it is long-term through continuing education. Many active members have been participat- ing for up to seven years – a little at a time, each time they write.The program involves more than just editing; it in- volves education with explanations of why grammar, punctuation, style, and usage arewhat they are, or arewhat they should be in subject-specific situations. Common mistakes. Friedman points to the inconsistency of units of measurement, abbreviations, and sometimes incorrect facts, such as wrong addresses, as examples of com- mon inconsistency problems. And he asks, “Would you accept a proposal that would have had you digging at the wrong spot?” Another great benefit of Langan’s program is its ability to address unique writing situations as they arise for in- dividual participants and then share those individual lessons with the entire company through weekly writing tips – even with people who benefit more passively than others. Learning comes through repeated explanations in feed- back. For some employees, editing sup- port is simply a service function; for most it is a clear effort to improve their ability to communicate. This is what makes the program rewarding for ev- eryone, Friedman says. “We look at Ken as an inside/outside guy – We look at him as Langan,” Hag- er says. “He’s part of our culture, our responsiveness, and staff trusts him. He’s truly become part of our firm and that’s why the program works as well as it does.”

Chris Hager, senior associate, recalls his mentor Dave Gockel (now the firm’s pres- ident and CEO) tell- ing him that while his engineering expertise was progressing nicely (as a young staff engi- neer), his writing was average – and saw a great opportunity for improvement. Upon reentering col- lege to pursue a mas-

Chris Hager, Senior Associate, Langan

Engineering & Environmental Services.

ter’s degree in engineering at Lehigh University, a friend suggested Fried- man’s technical writing class. “It was the single most important class to help my career out of six years of schooling,” Hager says. After taking the class, Hager persisted for two years before he was able to con-


© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.


P M P E R S P E C T I V E S Project management at the Best Firms

assemble under one roof. Maybe you’ve got great reward systems in place and plenty of personalized acknowledgements to let them know how much you value them. According to our survey, that’s not the same as feeling really safe. When asked about pride in their work, 93 percent of employees said they were undoubtedly proud. When asked if they felt appreciated for the job they did, the positive rating slid to 84 percent. When asked about job security, that rating dropped to 78 percent. Is it

Christine Brack

They are facing some of the same issues you are, and the insight they provide can be your wake-up call. O ur Best Firms To Work For Summit, held in San Diego in late September, celebrated the firms with the best work environments, commitment to strong values, dedication to professional development, and consistent leadership through these tough times. Part of my job is to scour through the survey results and analyze what new benchmarks have been set, what significant changes have taken place year over year, and what, if any, transformations are happening right before our eyes. While the survey data is chock-full of statistics that are valuable and interesting, there are particular areas relevant to project management worth noting this month. xz Not all recognition is equal. Although I have heard much about how new generations prefer to work in teams, participate in teams, and find solutions together, they still crave individual acknowledgement for their work and contribution. When asked about their level of satisfaction for recognition of team performance, 80 percent of the employees at the top firms indicated a positive response (agree to strongly agree). When asked about their level of satisfaction for recognition of individual performance, it dropped to 74 percent. Teams are great because they leverage the differences and the varying strengths all participating members – not because everyone is on a level plane. Even though we are often pressed for time, recognition can’t be spread like peanut butter. Thank the individual a little bit more. You may find the rising stars will ascend a little sooner. xz Teams are challenging settings. Managing a team is serious business. This is just one small reason why we need to choose our project managers with care. We all have an occasional off day or had to work on something we were not fully familiar with. Most firms, though, still have some employees who aren’t inspired by what they are doing and it shows in the work they produce. I’ve written about team dynamics before and what happens when you let the slacker stay aboard. Recall that everyone knows who that is and what is (not) being done about it. When asked if sub-par work is addressed, only 61 percent of the respondents answered affirmatively. This, by the way, is one of the lowest scoring questions of the 126 in the employee portion of the survey. This is a project manager, principal and leadership issue and it happens even among Best Firms. The response level speaks highly of the employees who agree this is unacceptable, so do what’s right and start changing this situation. xz Pride isn’t the same as security. When you think of your project managers and the teams they lead, perhaps you believe you’ve got the strongest and best bunch you could

possible to love one’s job and continue to do the best at it even though recognition doesn’t come as often as expected and the fear of losing one’s job still hangs overhead? It’s not optimal and not fun. Whether that fear is real or perceived, it resides even in the Best Firms – and likely in yours as well. Lots of communication helps; as does celebrating good work and fortunate wins that come in the door. It’s worth exploring what your employees would say to these questions. xz Who’s inspiring whom? There are just five open-ended questions in the employee survey. This means thousands and thousands of statements to sift through. We often think that inspiration comes from the corner office or the person with the CEO title. Participants were asked: “What do you feel is the most important attribute that a company must have to be considered one of the Best Firms To Work For?” I was impressed with these replies: xz A place where you want to get up and go to work every day. Do I? Yes. Very much. xz Many people working together on one goal. xz Great leadership that recognizes individuals’ need to feel part of something bigger than themselves – and allows them to stake their claim. When asked: “What have you experienced or heard about at other firms that you would like to see implemented at your organization? They replied: xz Better connection with our other offices. xz I don’t care about other firms. xz Further my skills to better assist engineering. That’s wonderful stuff, isn’t it? That’s what great firms are made of and that’s why it’s essential to know what’s going on in our project environments and what’s brewing in the minds of our project managers and team members. While I congratulate our winners, I also encourage those who did not participate to look behind the curtain and under the surface. You will find the things you need to work on as well as some powerful meaning everyone can feel good about. Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite who specializes in business planning and project management best practices. Contact her at Managing a team is serious business. This is just one small reason why we need to choose our project managers with care.



GUEST SPEAKER Stay alive in a recession Term contracts normally provide steady work while giving firm stakeholders a better financial forecast. W orking in changing markets within the A/E industry, architectural and interior design firms take many paths to develop new business opportunities. Amy Cuddy

government). Firms can create saved searches on websites that generate emails every day announcing opportunities fitting the firm’s criteria. Many software providers offer programs for purchase. INPUT delivers detailed information on opportunities from various agencies up to 18 months in advance. A/E firms willing to invest in these business development tools can gain a competitive advantage – but nothing replaces personal relationships for finding leads. State and county governments maintain procurement websites for various services, broken down by category, as do most agencies. Many departments will send electronic notifications of upcoming opportunities. When seeking term contracts with higher education institutions, firms should contact the facilities’ management offices to learn about upcoming opportunities and new fiscal year budget developments. Higher education institutions tend to approve budgets annually or for long-term strategic plans. Another good place to research might be news issued by the institutions’ board of governors to gain insight on approved decisions and future opportunities. Agencies are looking for established project teams with consistent project managers, resulting in efficient project management. When submitting qualifications, firms should be sure to highlight prior experience working with similar institutions and comparable project types. Use team experience to compile representational projects that convey long-term relationships with other repeat clients. Remember to mention in the cover letter your firm’s high employee retention rate, which also conveys stability in the project teams. During a recession, A/E firms can find success in term contracts. These contracts normally provide steady work while giving firm stakeholders a better financial forecast for upcoming years. In the end, working with these contracts allows for expansion into other market sectors and avoids the cost of a fluctuating, unknown workflow. Amy Cuddy works for KARN CHARUHAS CHAPMAN &TWOHEY in Washington, D.C . Contact her at

competition will be high. Agencies typically award large term contracts to three or four firms. This minimizes the competition and gives the firm greater probability of winning the work. However, once awarded, selected firms

then compete for each task order using individual price proposals in a smaller competition. Holding term contracts also can bring risk to a firm. One possible risk would be an awarded four-year IDIQ contract with no task orders for the first three years, and the complete fee emerging only in the fourth option year. This contract could lead to resource allocation issues when firms hire personnel to cover a contract with no immediate task orders. Another risk can be absorption. If different agency branches combine, the contracted work originally awarded under the original IDIQ can suddenly disappear. Typically, term contracts are offered by government, state agencies and educational institutions. Government and state agencies rely on term contracts to maintain continued relationships with A/E firms in order to call on them without much notice. Typically, these contracts specifically state the contract length and value. These institutions project and plan work based on their approved design and construction budgets. Solicitations for term contracts explicitly state a minimum and maximum amount of money guaranteed for the length of the contract, giving firms an idea of potential profit. For example, if a small educational institution states that they have a term contract with a minimum task order amount of $2,500 and a maximum contract amount of $500,000 over three years, this contract would be well suited for a small firm. A larger government agency could solicit a term contract with a minimum task order amount of $500,000 with a maximum contract amount of $60,000,000 over five years, and this opportunity might suit a large firm. The most common way to find term contract opportunities is through websites soliciting A/E services (e.g., FedBizOpps for the federal

One route might be term contracts. A term contract lasts for a fixed period and establishes a predetermined price range for services, which helps firms make strategic budgeting plans. Term contracts offer A/E firms a steady stream of work that allows stability in an unpredictable economy. It is generally true that government and institutional sectors thrive during difficult times, and when the economy recovers, the private sector succeeds. These economic fluctuations can be balanced by using term contract options. Solicitations for term contracts typically define one base year with multiple option years. Federal government contracts range from three option years to 10 option years. This provides A/E firms with consistent work and invaluable long- term relationships that may help bring in future business. Term contracts provide stable workflows and offer realistic revenue forecasting for firms over a two- to three-year period. These benefits allow firm principals to better plan resource allocation and give firms the flexibility to expand into other market sectors during periods with measured workflow. Term contracts also allow firms to compete at a smaller level. For example, if an agency releases a solicitation for an indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity (IDIQ) or term contract requesting five years of A/E services, then hundreds of firms could compete for the shortlist and


© Copyright 2011. ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.


OCTOBER 17, 2011, ISSUE 931


The best places to work in the A/E industry

Best Firms To Work For show an exceptional dedication to giving their employees the tools needed not only for success, but excellence! By Christina Zweig Staff writer W hile economic pressures have forced pay cuts, slashed bene- fits, and created the need for people to work harder than ever, not all firms are convinced a profit comes by extracting the most from employees while giving the least. The winners of the 2011 Best Firms To Work For ranking display superior leadership, strong communication, and well-established values – qualities that transcend the short-term value of ma- terial perks and make them truly some of the best places to work. Below are the winners in each of the five categories under analysis. Winners were recognized at the Best Firms To Work For Summit held Sept. 28-30 in San Diego. Architecture. The number one architecture firm, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture (Denver, CO), has 22 full-time employees and also placed first in the small firm category. Jeremy Clarke, Best Firm judge and di- rector of operational search consulting at ZweigWhite, said, “Employees loud- ly affirmed their satisfaction with BRS, citing a very favorable work environ- ment, a high-level of appreciation seen from management for the work that they do, a strong satisfaction in com- pany benefits/compensation offerings, and a perception of genuine interest on management’s part regarding em- ployees’ professional growth/develop- ment.” Second place, and also the top large architecture firm, was Corgan Asso- ciates, Inc. (Dallas, TX), and in third

The management team at the No. 1 Architecture firm, Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture.

hensive Environmental Inc. (Marl- borough, MA).

place was the number one mid-sized firm BLRB Architects (Tacoma, WA).

Multidiscipline architec- ture and engineering servic- es. The number one multidiscipline A/E services firm, MBP, Inc. (Fairfax, VA) was also the number one mid-sized firm. The employee survey included the comment, “I love working for MBP. I re- cruited one of my friends to work for MBP, and he loves it. I don’t ever want to have to change jobs.” The number two overall firm, GATE, LLC (Houston, TX) placed first in the small firm category. Third place winner in the overall multidiscipline A/E firm, Smith Seckman Reid, Inc. (Nash- ville, TN), was the number one firm in the large firm category. Structural engineering. ARW Engineers (Ogden, UT) placed first overall in the structural engineer- ing category. In an addition to receiv- ing an impressive 100 percent partici- pation on the employee survey, judges also noted the frequency of updating technology, the firm’s philanthropic ef- forts, numerous options for insurance benefits, and a very comprehensive and clear mission statement. The second place firm was Barrish Pelham & Associates, Inc. (Sacra- mento, CA), and Bracken Engineer- ing, Inc. (Tampa, FL) placed third overall and first in the small firm cat- egory.

Civil engineering. Bowers + Kubota Consulting (Waipahu, HI), placed first in the civil engineering cat- egory and in the mid-sized firm catego- ry. Judge Larry Gard, consulting psy- chologist with Hamilton-Chase Con- sulting, noted the strength of employ- ee feedback. “Employee comments suggest that B+K has built an incredible busi- ness culture in which their people can thrive,” he said. “The leadership team is trusted and respected, and employees have a clear understanding of how they can contribute to the firm’s success.” J.L. Patterson & Associates, Inc. (Orange, CA), placed second in the civil engineering category and placed first in the small firm category. The third place winner was Delta Airport Consul- tants, Inc. (Blacksburg, VA). Environmental services. Barr Engineering Co . (Minneapolis, MN) placed number one in the envi- ronmental services category and also in the large firm category. Gard said, “Three words describing the firm ap- peared over and over again in their Em- ployee Survey: Flexibility, Freedom, and Friendly,” and “the firm’s strategic planning process is exemplary.” All4 Inc. (Kimberton, PA) was the number two overall and number one small environmental services firm. The third place firm overall was Compre-



GUEST SPEAKER Learning reflects a changing Laurie Brunner

Development of leadership skills. Organizations must plan for a wave of retiring employees while building new talent. To meet this chal- lenge, organizations report an increas- ing need to develop leadership capa- bilities in their employees and cite a growing priority to improve skills in stakeholder management, interactive communication, and effectiveness in a cross-functional team environment. Specifically, the “ESI Learning Trends Report” shows that 53 percent of or- ganizations indicate that fostering and encouraging leadership skills in em- ployees is an important area of train- ing investment, coupled with a strong requirement to allocate funds and build business skills/acumen (40 per- cent) for technical professionals. Leadership training can move the entire organization forward by: xz Equipping the workforce with skills in critical thinking and business acumen to identify organizational priorities and design the appropriate responses within a business context. xz Supporting a culture of individual accountability to speed decision- making, ensure successful project outcomes and ultimately, to assure organizational effectiveness. xz Rapidly developing the capabilities of less tenured employees to manage and lead successfully to ensure continuity and productivity. xz Achieving a new level of team dynamics to create more integration and cohesion on projects and programs, resulting in greater workforce productivity. Show the value of training. With training and development bud- gets under strain and scrutiny, HR recognizes the need to move beyond “smile sheets” to post-assessments that track learning transfer and busi- ness impact. Learning can and should be a critical business process, enhanc- ing not only individual or team per- formance, but also having a significant impact on the strategic and financial goals of an organization. If you can measure the business impact of learn- ing, then you are better able to deter- mine how effectively your organization achieves true learning transfer.

commercial and government leaders, confirms that best-in- class organizations need learning methods that: xz Align to an individual’s “moment of need.” xz Develop leadership and

other “soft” skills, such as critical thinking and business acumen. xz Translate into tangible and measurable business impact.

workforce New trends, such as blended learning, produce immediately relevant results. T he economy continues to create uncertainty in commercial and government organizations with sluggish growth, reduced resources and tightening budgets being the order of the day. Even as we await more favorable market conditions, one thing is clear: The makeup of today’s workforce is forever changed. Human resource professionals must operate with a leaner workforce where employees, regardless of level, must have the capability to lead and execute work across cross-functional teams. People are now the primary investment within organizations. As such, professional development initiatives must keep pace. Learning programs need to be more agile, adaptive, and occur as quickly as possible to maximize the productivity of employees and adjust to a tech- savvy, global workforce with different learning styles. With blended learning, human resource practitioners now have a range of delivery modalities to meet various learning styles within the organization. But that is not enough. HR needs to match learning modalities (instructor-led, e-training, virtual, peer-to-peer, mentoring, social media) to desired business outcomes and the skills and behaviors needed on- the-job across a diverse workforce demographic. In this sense, HR is now a true “broker of capability.” The “ESI 2011 Learning Trends Report,” a global learning survey directed at a cross-section of

Blended learning at the point-of-need. Blended learning contrasts with more traditional com- modity training focused on obtaining credentials. Just-in-time tools, learning-on- demand, and self-paced online learning are just some methods that organizations are utilizing to ensure learning events are immediately relevant, with the added bonus of cost savings and flexibility by reducing travel and keeping people on the job. Yet having more choices does not necessarily translate into better results. A blended training approach needs to provide the right information at the point-of-need to enable an employee to perform effectively. For example, learners simply needing more information on a topic or seeking to recall information may require a different learning experience than those seeking to apply content to specific on–the-job challenges or organizational changes. The blending of learning solutions does not simply offer a choice of modalities, but also takes into account content, learning styles, teaching techniques, and learning environments, and aligns to specific learning objectives. Therefore, a multi-touch, blended learning program must: xz Support the learner’s ability to recall and repeatedly apply content in their work environment. xz Follow and complement the individual’s workflow. xz Reflect and be tailored to support organizational methodologies, culture and technical readiness in order to assure an engaged and productive workforce.

See guest speaker, page 12


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