Monday, October 5, 2009

New Location for Blog

I've moved the AEC Insight blog to a new address. Please check it out (and reset any feeds, if you will.)

I'm still working on coordinating my own feeds.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Selection Success!" should have a spot in your AEC firm library

"Selection Success!" by Lori Stanley and Hilari Weinstein, is a thorough primer on the science and art of winning a qualifications-based selection (QBS) process. As with many of the "how-to" books you'll find in our industry, the book offers its highest value to the novice, walking the reader through the fundamentals of submitting a statement of qualifications (SOQ), preparing and delivering a presentation, and shining in the interview. Yet, it also provides sparks of ideas and inspiration for even AEC firm veterans.

The authors, as expected, are industry veterans themselves. Stanley spent nearly two decades in the contracts administration section for the City of Phoenix prior to beginning her own consulting company, Selection Solutions Consulting. Weinstein, the principal of High Impact Consulting, is a speaking and presentation coach who writes for Southwest Construction magazine and serves on the American Council of Engineering Companies' Leadership in Engineering Administration Program.

Writing in "Selection Success!" is crisp, clean and to the point. The authors also provide a useful notes section at the end of each chapter.

The book delivers solid advice on the go/no-go particular, discouraging firms from submitting when they aren't qualified to do so. It also offers excellent recommendations on how to develop a winning SOQ. A highlight in this section is the suggestion to use matrices to illustrate qualifications, both project and personnel, in the SOQ text.

A few things that may have added to the value in these areas -- a more in-depth look at how different industry firms arrive at go/no-go decisions and a discussion of the distinction between requests for qualifications and requests for proposals.

The chapters on visual aids, rehearsing and presentation delivery are the sweet spot of "Selection Success!" In these three chapters, the authors' true expertise comes out. Stanley and Weinstein impart concrete tips, in rapid fire, that range from the simple things we know but often forget to time-tested secrets of the speaking/presenting trade (e.g., control the audience's gaze, keep an open stance).

I also like the way the book spends considerable time discussing the need to rehearse for presentations, debunking the usual excuses that team members consistently employ -- excuses many of us have used.

A personal presentation pet peeve that isn't addressed head-on in "Selection Success!" is the tendency of firms to rely on technological tools over strong content in presentations. I'm reminded of a recent municipal project in which the owner brought in all six applicants to present. The winning firm was the only one that didn't use PowerPoint slides.

But that is nitpicking. "Selection Success!" should be in the libraries of most AEC firms, bottom line. You can find it on and Published by Mill City Press, it is also available at and lists for $44.95.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

AEBL Summer Symposium Offers Leadership Tips, Great Value, Beautiful Locale

The Association of A/E Business Leaders (AEBL) is offering a deal for AEC industry managers that sounds almost too good to be true. The group's two-day 2009 Summer Leadership Symposium features a quintet of heavy hitters in the leadership coaching arena at the picturesque Inn on the Lake in Canandaigua, N.Y., with a member registration fee of just $375 ($425 for non-AEBL-members).

The symposium takes place August 24-25.

The faculty features John Zumwalt, the CEO of ENR Top 30 firm PBS&J; John Engels, president of Leadership Coaching, Inc.; Sherri McCardle and Jim Ramerman, co-authors of "Why Dogs Wag Their Tails"; and Michael Lillibridge, a nationally renowned psychologist. (Program summary below.)

AEBL Board Member Wayne Wegman, P.E., president of Passero Associates, says, "The quality faculty and low cost are what set this event apart. These are leadership consultants that work all over the world, making as much as $400 or $500 an hour, and our attendees will get a half-day from each, over the course of two days, as well as dinner at a very good restaurant and a cocktail hour, for $375. The value is outstanding."

The venue is impressive as well. The Inn on the Lake is a full-service resort in the heart of the Finger Lakes. The discount rate for conference attendees is $169 per room, per night (plus tax).

Wegman adds, "It's also going to be a great place to network. On Monday evening, the 24th, we'll have the session leaders and all the conference attendees meet to network, ask questions and learn more about their best practices."

Another plus for attendees is that AEBL is intentionally keeping the event relatively small, with only a limited number of spaces available. The goal is to ensure that all attendees get sufficient attention and opportunity to network, learn and ask questions.

For more information, go to the Summer Symposium page on the AEBL Web Site.

The sessions:

Running a successful business in tough economic times
Sherri McCardle and Jim Ramerman – Co-Authors of “Why Dogs Wag Their Tails”

Developing Leaders
John Engels – President of Leadership Coaching

John B. Zumwalt, III, PE – CEO of PBS&J Corporation

People Map Training
E. Michael Lillibridge, Ph.D., Nationally recognized Psychologist

Lunch and cocktail reception/dinner included on Monday – breakfast/lunch included Tuesday

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What To Do With Client Survey Results

Following up on the July 8 blog, "More on Client Surveys," here is a recent e-mail exchange I had with an AEC-firm marketing professional:

LaTonya Whitaker of consulting engineering firm Hankins and Anderson wrote: "I was recently reading your blog post, 'Do You Really Know What Your Clients Think of You' and was wondering what your thoughts were on what to do with the actual survey data. How do you formulate the appropriate messages to your clients based on their responses?"

Here was my reply (omitting the introductory niceties, thank yous, etc., but adding an additional thought in brackets):

In most of the surveys I’ve done for AEC firm clients, there are two levels of external response. The first is to provide a general overview of the survey results to everyone who participated. This response is usually a one- to four-page summary of the results, very basic and highlighting the key points. Sometimes we will send this to everyone the client targeted for the survey, not just those who participated, to maximize the marketing benefit. (And sometimes, it’s a two-page summary to participants and one-page overview letter to everyone else…you get the idea.)

You want to be honest in these summaries, addressing the good and not-so-good results, but you want to do it with as positive a spin as possible. For example, if the results for “communications,” were not as impressive as you’d like, note this in the summary, but also mention that the firm recently established a new response policy to ensure improved communications. Obviously, if you hear something seriously negative about the firm or someone in it, you don’t want to explicitly share that in this overview summary.

Depending on the results, we may also do a press release, newsletter article or magazine article pitch. This data is often great for repackaging in your marketing program.

The second level of response addresses specific issues identified by specific clients. If one of the respondents (assuming it’s an open survey, not a blinded one) said that the project manager on their last job did not keep them adequately apprised of the job’s progress, the PIC or firm president should contact that client directly, apologize/get more information, and tell the client what steps the firm is taking to correct the issue.

You’ll also want to address the results internally, usually with one or two meetings. This can be company-wide, principals-only, or (preferably) both. We always include recommendations in our surveys. This would be the venue to discuss those recommendations and implement the ones that make sense. There’s nothing more frustrating for us than to find out that the survey work we did was set aside and never addressed.

[I recall a survey we did several years ago for an engineering firm, during which some of our client's clients said they loved the work that this firm did, but were dissatisfied with their landscape architecture providers. This inspired our client to buy a landscape architecture firm they knew and liked, which allowed them to capture an entirely new revenue stream with many of their existing, satisfied clients.]

Your question is a good one and it speaks to why client surveys are such a valuable tool (especially when they’re done correctly). It offers several opportunities to make contact with clients and prospects, while helping the firm improve external and internal operations.
The bottom line is, do something with the results and use common sense in how you disseminate the information.

Have any readers had different experiences or do you have additional advice?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More on Client Surveys

Despite what the critics say, client surveys can be a valuable tool for AEC firms.

I recently read an article in which the author argues that customer surveys are "worse than worthless." Using provocative, inflammatory language to deride the practice, this marketing professional lumps all customer surveys into the same waste pile and proceeds to throw lit matches on the concept, point by point.

It's a straw man argument, however, because the bulk of the article stresses the value of communicating frequently and openly with clients. As the author surely understands, a well-conceived, well-executed client survey -- even in this age of Twitter and LinkedIn -- is still one worthwhile option in the marketer's repertoire of client communication tools.

I offered my take on the subject in a blog post from April:

Sure, some client surveys are worthless. Mindless and stale multiple-choice response cards that fail to ask probing questions, for one. Or surveys of any kind that don't provide the survey subject the opportunity to offer constructive criticism.

But don’t believe those who say that all client surveys are worthless simply because there are new ways to communicate with clients. Typically, these critics are attempting to push their own agenda as consultants or seeking to get a rise from the audience. But if you do use client surveys as a marketing and/or performance improvement tool, remember these points:

Be as personal as possible. This means to do it by phone or even in person, if practical. Most AEC firms or branch offices have manageable enough client (and prospective client) lists that they can hit a significant portion of their potential client universe using the personal touch.

Maximize the opportunity. Use the survey as a way to contact the target clients and prospects as many times as possible by adding introduction letters, thank you letters, and results summaries to the process. Also, don’t forget to publicize any results that reflect well on the firm and could be of media interest.

Make it as painless as possible for the subject, without giving the process short shrift. Be extremely accommodating in scheduling the interview for the subject's convenience. Limit the amount of time you require from the subject to about 10 minutes (though some will voluntarily give you more). Minimize or exclude onerous quantitative survey questions (e.g., “on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best, please rate our firm in the following 32 areas").

Do something with the results. Too often, firms spend the time to conduct a client survey, then do little or nothing with the results. (I will address this issue in a follow-up article soon.)

Jerry Guerra

Friday, June 19, 2009

AEBL Interview with TAYLOR CEO Randy Regier

At, Randy Regier discusses his firm's business approach and AEBL's value.

An excerpt:

AEBL: What differentiates Taylor from the competition?

RR: One thing that differentiates us is our culture. It has a lot to do with our mission – “promoting wellness through architecture.” The people in this firm really get behind that. In health care, you can see how your work really changes people’s lives. Everybody here rallies around that as a benefit on a much bigger scale. The work we do can make the difference between someone going home in four days or six days. They can recover faster in an environment more conducive to healing. Perhaps more important, we are in the position to be able to create environments for wellness rather than just environments for curing sickness.

AEBL: How does AEBL fit into the picture for TAYLOR?

RR: The great benefit of AEBL is that it’s a non-competitive place where the barriers are let down. At the CEO Roundtables, every person who attends comes in with an open mind and a willingness to assist a colleague, even if they’re technically a competitor. It’s a benefit to the industry as a whole and it makes the industry better. If you hoard your ideas and your experiences, that does nothing for the industry. With AEBL, everyone is trying to make a collectively better industry. You don’t necessarily get that in some other organizations, where it can be more competitive. AEBL is neutral territory. It’s like Switzerland.

AEBL: What has AEBL meant to you in your career?

RR: As a newly minted CEO, being able to attend those CEO roundtables gave me the confidence to come back to my own organization and speak and lead with confidence. That was about five years ago, and though I may have eventually gotten there on my own, being able to sit side-by-side with CEOs that had been doing it for anywhere from five to forty years was invaluable. I can’t say enough about how beneficial that was for me. I gained way more insight into the role and it helped me formulate my vision and ideas. It gave me the conviction to know that maybe my ideas weren’t so batty after all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

P3s for the AEC Industry

I'm working on a book on public-private partnerships for PSMJ. Here's an excerpt from an article on the topic to appear in the PSMJ newsletter next issue:

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is a proponent of P3s, having passed legislation that facilitates their use. In April 2009, Schwarzenegger announced a $32 million public-private partnership designed to reduce the health care worker shortage in the state. And in November 2008, he trumpeted a public-private partnership between the State of California and the Northern Sierra Partnership to fund environmental preservation while supporting economic growth. For the latter project, advocates raised $25 million in private funds.

These projects are notable for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they are a departure from the types of project that many people think of when P3s are mentioned – namely, toll roads or public works infrastructure.

The New York State Commission on Asset Maximization (NYSAM) (Albany, NY) wrote in December 2008, “Over the past decade, we have seen rapid advances in infrastructure, technology, and renewable energy development across the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, and China due to innovative arrangements with the private sector that have helped deliver projects with greater speed, efficiency, and reduced costs. Alternative approaches have been used to deliver all forms of infrastructure, including non-revenue producing assets.”

P3 Opportunities and Risks

NYSAM was established by Governor David A. Paterson and charged with broadly examining whether asset maximization can benefit New York State, as well as whether any specific New York State assets are suitable candidates for public-private partnerships.

In its December preliminary report to the governor, NYSAM wrote, “A key goal of asset maximization involves the reallocation of risk from the public sector to the private sector. This shift incentivizes the private sector to pursue design, construction and management strategies that will increase efficiency. Additionally, it insures public entities from incurring additional unforeseen costs. At its most effective, it also protects public entities from incurring unforeseen and incremental costs.”

This shift of risk, which is a factor that makes P3s attractive to the public sector perhaps as much or more than for funding reasons, was the topic of a Design Professional Roundtable hosted by Donovan Hatem, LLP (Boston, MA). David Hatem, an attorney well-known for his expertise in A/E matters, predicts, “Interest in (P3) projects at the local, state and federal levels will continue and substantially increase in the next few years and continue strongly into the next decade.”

In his April 23 presentation, entitled “Public-Private Partnerships: Opportunities and Risks,” Hatem noted that private firms participating in P3s may find themselves on unfamiliar legal ground. “Risks not typically dealt with by private entities may be transferred to them in a P3. Some of this is not insurable risk.”

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on P3s for the AEC industry. If you want to know more about the P3 book or the PSMJ newsletter, contact them at