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Integration Maturity

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The River Diagram: Strategic community change management

article by Ken Thompson in Think Differently: I am always on the lookout for good simple visualisation techniques to support change management. Chris Collison has introduced me to The River Diagram – a great strategic tool for moving a community of groups forward via common initiatives and best practice sharing…

Strategic Implementation

Making the business decision to become integrated is a big step. It takes time and commitment. The process requires planning and forethought. Budget the time to do it right. Your firm has a different mix of aptitudes, resources and skills than other firms. Your firm works with different clients, in different markets. Because of these factors, the timeline for making your change to an integrated practice will vary. Fortunately, the steps will be similar for most firms:

Step 1: Assess Readiness
Are You Ready for Integrated Practice?

You start with introspection. Look at how you do business. Look at how you interact with your consultants and suppliers. Understand how your clients will react to a new way of doing business. Assess how you produce documents and how your staff may react to the change.

Some have found that the Strategic Forum for Construction’s Integration Toolkit is a valuable guide for assessing their status. The site includes an online assessment that gives a measure of where you stand. If you use this tool, keep in mind that the measurement is in comparison to the construction industry in the United Kingdom. It requires interpolation for use outside the United Kingdom.

You will find that the questions in the assessment offer a good summary of where integration is going. It will help you to understand areas where you should focus your time. Other firms have gotten valuable data by having multiple staff members complete the maturity assessment independently. They have found value in measuring how well their staffs understand what integrated practice really means. It becomes a good starting point for further discussion.

You should budget several weeks for this process.

Step 2: Strategic Planning

You know that planning is important. Without planning, you react to problems. You never get ahead of the curve. Start your strategic planning process by gathering information about what makes your firm special. Your goal is to understand your firm in the context in which you work.

  • Clearly define your objectives for integrating your practice.
  • Clearly document your financial conditions and history.
  • Clearly document your client base and markets.

As part of this benchmarking and brain storming process, you may choose to conduct a formal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) process to identify and assess your situation. Do not begin a SWOT analysis without clearly defining and agreeing on your objectives.

When you do SWOT, you assess both the internal and external factors that affect your firm. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to your firm and Opportunities and Threats are external to your firm. Keep them separate. SWOT analysis enables a firm to focus on its strengths, to minimize its weaknesses, address threats, and take advantage of opportunities. Take enough time to do your planning well. It will pay off in a big way as you move forward.

Budget two months for strategic planning. 

Step 3: Design Your Future Firm

Begin to plan for the design of your integrated process. From the outcomes of your assessments, begin to look at the best ways to optimize your strengths and to mitigate your weaknesses. Develop a plan for exploiting your opportunities and defending against threats. Break your plan down into bite-sized pieces and prioritize them. Write an implementation plan. Create a plan that builds step-by-step and allows you to achieve small, visible successes.

  • What do you want to do in the future?
  • How will you meet your strategic goals?
  • What will your firm look like five years from now?
  • In ten years?

Publish your plan. Talk about it to everyone you know. Make it important. You cannot put too much emphasis on your plan. It must become important to everyone in your firm. Designing your process may take several iterations. Use the structure outlined in this book and your own skills and experiences as a starting point. If you hold your plan close and do not involve your entire firm, your odds of failure increase dramatically.

Budget two weeks to one month for design.

Step 4: Implementation

Three or four months have passed during the planning and design process. Obviously, some will have completed the process much faster and others may take longer. Now you are ready to start, knowing where you are going. Your plan is in place. You have a vision for your future. Now jump in and do something. Do not obsess about having a perfect plan. It is better (and more profitable) to spend your time doing something, even if it needs to change later. This is not a static process. It will change over time.

Find opportunities to share your successes, no matter how small. Keep talking and keep the focus on your plan.

Get it done. Use BIG BIM little bim as your guide. Begin to develop your projects in a bim environment. Find new ways to create small successes. Tell your consultants about your new process. Market your new abilities and really work in an integrated way. Become an evangelist for integrated practice.

Step 5: Revisit

Integrated practice is not static. It can change every day. Because of this, your plan should be fluid and adaptable.

Integrated practice is a process change. As with any change of this magnitude, things will not be perfect. You will make mistakes and come across barriers. The trick is to stay the course and adjust as you move forward. You should plan a regular cycle for revisiting your strategies and solutions. Adjust them as you grow and become more expert in the process. As an integrated practice, become a life long learning organization.

In the beginning, you will find yourself in a state of constant adjustment and correction. As you move forward, you should plan for quarterly or biannual reviews of your status. Becoming an integrated practice takes time and commitment. You do not have to integrate everything at once. Do what you can, right now. Over time, you will be able to build linkages into the larger world of BIM. Start with a plan and build your processes step-by-step until you are an integrated practice.

The Majority of Architects Work in Small Firms

The American Institute of Architects in its 2009 Firm Survey Report, found that 56% of total architects’ staff worked in firms with fewer than fifty employees. 96% of AIA member architecture firms have less than 50 employees. These statistics do not seem to have changed much in many years. Yet, large firms seem to get the majority of the attention. BIM and integrated processes begin to level the playing field.

There are several other interesting statistics in the AIA survey. Did you know that most architects consider planning, predesign, and construction to be the least profitable parts of their businesses? Did you know that non-architectural design services are rare in the business? Yet, planning and pre-design services represent both the low hanging fruit and the points of greatest opportunity related to BIM. These are the areas where the greatest impact can be made. These are the areas where technology and new business processes can set projects up for success.

Integrated practice offers many opportunities for improved profitability and improved certainty of outcomes. You can think of integrated practice as a process that makes early phases profitable and improves your construction phase results. Wherever you choose to start, one-step at a time is usually the best way to integrate your practice. Planning and predesign are where integrated processes offer immediate results for most firms. Using BIM tools and changing your process workflow is the foundation for everything else.

Paul Adams, AIA, an architect in Denver said it best: ”All the big mistakes are made on the first day.” If you focus your process on reducing or eliminating the first-day mistakes, you will see significant benefits. To prosper in today’s fast changing and unpredictable markets, we need new ways of doing business more effectively. We are all searching for teams and tools that can help us make more informed, fact-based decisions…well before we expend significant resources. We can do a much better job of getting dependable, decision-making information, when and where we need it. Do this by looking closely at how you deliver projects and appropriately applying technology. The trick is to manage project constraints from day one. This is how you can control the first-day mistakes.

  • We need to make ‘go/no-go’ decisions very early in the process.
  • We need to minimize the chances of being over budget, late or buried in problems.
  • We cannot rely on anecdotal tales and history… the fact that it we did it that way for twenty (or 200) years does not work anymore.
  • We know that making decisions without facts is fraught with risk.
  • We that the pace of change, politics and financial complexity all work to increase the opportunities for catastrophic errors of judgment.
  • When we understand the value that comes from integrated practice, it becomes an easy addition to our repertoire.
  • We can improve our bottom-line by improving productivity through BIM and integrated practices.

Integration Maturity