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Is Entrepreneurship for you? An interview with Amy Cell, Ann Arbor SPARK Business Incubator.

 

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
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Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Amy Cell joined Ann Arbor SPARK in 2006 and is currently Vice President, Talent Enhancement & Entrepreneurial Education, where she assists organizations with their talent needs, provides oversight for a variety of entrepreneurial education programs and manages the SPARK East incubator.  Helping support economic and workforce growth in the region is her dream job, since she was born and raised in Michigan and earned a BBA and MBA from U-Michigan.  In addition to working as a CPA for Plante & Moran, and launching an Office of Student Life for the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, she has spent 10 years in a variety of human resources roles at Ford Motor Company, the Stanford Research Institute, Applied Biosystems and co-founded the consulting partnership HR Drivers.  Current and past board memberships include the Center for Entrepreneurship at the U-M College of Engineering, Women’s Council for Washtenaw Community College, Huron Musical Association, Women’s Exchange of Washtenaw, Ross School of Business SE Michigan Alumni Club, Kingcare, King PTO and the Junior League of Ann Arbor.

In an economy where many civil engineering firms are downsizing and laying people off, many civil engineers have no other option but to go into business for themselves…and many have been extremely successful as a result.  Also, after many years of success working for a civil engineering firm many civil engineers voluntarily branch out to form their own corporations.  So whether your goal is to be a one man band or to grow your business into an international civil engineering powerhouse, we felt this interview would be worth your while:

BTH: Amy, what does your position involve?

AC: I connect talent and opportunity for entrepreneurs in the Greater Ann Arbor area and throughout Michigan.  Ann Arbor SPARK works with innovative businesses and start-ups to launch and grow.   I provide the talent components as each venture identifies gaps or needs.

BTH: Just what exactly is “talent?”

AC: Talent is a very unique component to any entrepreneurial endeavor. We rarely recognize how important talent is at each phase of business development. For start-ups, I align entrepreneurs with consultants with expertise in various fields such as accounting, marketing, financial / business planning, lean / Six Sigma, sales, prototyping, etc. so that entrepreneurs can move forward from idea to implementation.

SPARK has a suite of everything an entrepreneur needs. We have physical space so that the inventors / entrepreneurs can come to a place to work that is separate from their existing workplace or home environment, for example. We provide educational space as well and have weekly seminars on how to start your own business, as well as other topics such as marketing roundtables, biotech roundtables, etc. 

SPARK also is a business accelerator and is a funding resource for entrepreneurs. We have competitions for innovation and conduct a Business Boot Camp twice a year for entrepreneurs who are selected to participate. Really, when you think about it, we offer a complete toolkit for the entrepreneur and a venue in which to network and connect with the business community.

BTH: Many communities have some form of business incubator / accelerator.  How does Ann Arbor SPARK compare / contrast, not only locally but with models used in other states?

AC:  Every community does economic development in a different way. We focus on the three major areas (business attraction, business retention and entrepreneurship) rather than in one or two areas.  One of my responsibilities involves working with startups, local companies, and companies from out of state who want to relocate or open a division elsewhere in the US. I promote the advantages of what Michigan brings to the table. We approach business development with a broad brush stroke.

BTH: What are the greatest obstacles to entrepreneurship facing engineers, IT professionals and other technical individuals?

AC: I work with about 500 entrepreneurial companies each year who are looking for talent to assist them in moving to the next level. Oftentimes, I am working with the technical founder who is looking for talented consultants and mentors with business skills. You can have a brilliant technical team that has a patent or patents. I put them together with an equally talented business team.

One person can’t grow a company themselves.  If someone is the technical founder, they usually have difficulties communicating and selling their idea, product or service to investors. The Executive Team should be able to sell. If the Founder / Inventor / CEO can’t sell, that’s an issue. Often the inventor doesn’t have solid business acumen. If there is no business development side then they will have trouble developing sales. That’s why what happens at SPARK is so important in moving the technology out from the drawing board into the daylight.

 Sometimes I do see serial entrepreneurs who are inventors. They have the complete toolkit.  But that’s rare.

BTH: What are the major reasons start-up companies thrive or get stuck and fail?

AC: Investors won’t take a chance on an unproven idea. Investors will invest in a “B” idea with an “A” team vs. and “A” idea with a “B” team. If you want to get funding you need to do what will attract investors. If the inventor/CEO is unwilling to relinquish the reins or work with a team, things can derail.

Successful start-ups have an understanding of the market and their customers. They clearly understand pain points and develop a solution. They develop a painkiller instead of a vitamin. Some people think they are going to get a lot of money for an idea or have a great idea but have no customers.  They haven’t done their homework. However, they feel people will intuitively understand their idea, embrace it, fund it and move it into the marketplace for them. That’s not how entrepreneurship works. Lots of inventors don’t get out to the customer.  If you don’t know who your customer is, investors will perceive risk in your idea and potential failure.

 BTH: If you had one piece of advice for any engineering, IT or other technical professional thinking of leaving their current place of employment and starting their own business, what would it be?

AC: Creating a compelling a business case for a product or service – growing your own business – requires persuasion and communication skills. I’ve seen many PhD’s who call themselves “former” introverts who have learned how to get out in a crowd and sell things. This can be learned if you really want to.

SPARK Boot Camp gives entrepreneurs the environment in which to practice how they communicate their business to others. Our mentors and consultants provide feedback on how to give a presentation as well as a pitch.

There are organizations such as Toastmasters International and various business organizations these entrepreneurs can join which will give them additional experience getting up in front of others and talking about who they are and what their company is all about. Consider this process improvement to changing one’s aversion to business communication. Practice. That’s really what’s at hand here.

BTH: Do technical professionals make good business people?

AC:  Technical people really are business people. They understand the technical aspect of their product or service.  Being an entrepreneur, or head of your own company, requires leadership skills. Leadership, requires a different set of skills and attributes from being an engineer or a sales person in someone else’s company. 

Some of the best leaders I know are technical people. They have greater credibility with investors and the marketplace because they understand the technical side of their business. They understand their product. They know how to work in teams and how to select the teams. And their teams respect them.

BTH: What should entrepreneurs be doing to gain experience with the business community?

AC: There are a lot of resources out there within which to develop a network of support for your ideas. In Ann Arbor, we have the New Enterprise Forum which meets monthly. Entrepreneurs give business pitches to potential investors. There is an entrepreneurial panel which presents on a specific topic. There is networking and a warm, inviting community.

BTH: Thank you Amy for your insights. In wrapping up, I mentor at Ann Arbor SPARK judging business competitions and meeting with entrepreneurs on a volunteer basis each month. It’s a privilege working with Amy and the talented folks within this organization.

I find that many times, entrepreneurs have great ideas but don’t understand what’s involved in business development. They don’t understand what it takes to get customers.  The toolkit Ann Arbor SPARK provides is invaluable in connecting these dots. As an entrepreneur, you need to talk to potential customers early in the idea or product development process to make sure you have a viable concept. And not just your family or friends or one or two customers. Sometimes entrepreneurs get shot down by this type of interaction and become discouraged . You need to reach out into the entrepreneurial community for support. You need to go out into your marketplace and get feedback.  It’s those experiences which grow your passion and leadership for your innovation.

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

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December 1, 2010 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

Would your clients vote for the new guy/gal or for you, the incumbent?

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

How many of us view the business development process as trying to unseat the incumbent? It’s like trying to break up a great marriage and being viewed as disruptive instead of desirable.

For that matter, how many of your competitors are trying to unseat you / your company?

Retaining existing client relationships involves a slightly different toolkit than does prospecting for entirely new clients. However, there is one common denominator: clients like to avoid what they perceive as disruption. Disruptive solutions and personalities mean risk. And the majority of clients are risk-averse.

Your existing client base may be comfortable with you, and perhaps complacent. So you need to ask yourself whether your company has been pigeon-holed as the provider of only certain types of solutions. If this is the case, as it is with many retained client bases, expanding business to your current clients means letting them know about your full scope of services. It means encouraging them to, yep, take a risk and let their incumbent vendor serve their needs in a different segment or solution. Because those are the projects that your competitors are jockeying for. And it’s not a slam-dunk that you will be top of mind to get the project just because you are a known entity.

You are never more than a partial incumbent for your existing client base. It’s important to stay in touch with them even when there is no project to bid on. Because a smart competitor will be differentiating themselves in this manner. And that’s when current clients start to compare one with the other. It can become a matter of “I only hear from you when I have a project” vs. “these other guys/gals send me interesting information about trends in my marketplace and expand my business intelligence.”

Pigeon-holing of existing or incumbent vendors/suppliers is the equivalent of being take for granted. You’ve become commoditized. Your clients forget the thrill of why they initially selected you. And you assume that at least a certain portion of their business is yours. Look, I know we are all smart enough to never make assumptions. But let’s face it, it gets exhausting to be constantly on one’s toes defending one’s turf as we try to identify new sources of business from new clients.
It’s not so much a matter of “what have you done for me lately” as it is a matter of “what are you doing for me when I don’t need you.” Because that, perhaps, is the time your current clients can really learn from you and realize your value to their company. Which becomes the premise of future need for your products and services.

Unseating the incumbent involves playing off the ball, positioning yourself advantageously to be the logical choice for a future project. And we all know that smart play like this insures that you will be the go-to guy or gal as well. So you protect your current position where you are the incumbent.

Providing timely business intelligence that aligns with the priorities of your existing client base may come from a new playbook than the one you are currently using. But it’s an important way of letting your current client base know of your expertise in areas where they don’t realize you have expertise.

I suggest shifting gears and taking a look at different ways of reinforcing your value as the incumbent vendor of choice. You just may learn a lot more about yourself and your capabilities. And so may your current clients.

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

October 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Is your engineering firm too specialized to need a website?

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Does your engineering firm use any of the following excuses to rationalize why your website looks the way it does?

  1. Our clients and prospects need to call us so we can discuss their project.  Project outcomes depend on client specifications.  We don’t know what clients need until we start to work with them.
  2. We don’t have services you can just order on the internet. We deal with complex solutions.
  3. Once our clients and prospects see all the projects we have completed, they will understand we can do whatever it is they want us to do.

Oh give me a break. These excuses are nothing more than elitism which is being used to compensate for the fact that YOUR ENGINEERING FIRM CANNOT DESCRIBE, IN SIMPLE AND SUCCINCT TERMS, THE VALUE THEY BRING TO THEIR CLIENTS’ TABLES.

Yep, you just read it.

Considering we live in a world of elongated sales cycles and risky funding, your business development folks can’t get to everyone individually.  So just where do you think new business is going to come from? Try your company footprint on the Internet, which starts with your website.

Let’s examine each one of these rationales and translate just what they mean.

1.  Our clients and prospects need to call us so we can discuss their project.  Project outcomes depend on client specifications.  We don’t know what they need until we start to work with them.

What if a client or prospect doesn’t want to call you to have a long, elegant conversation about a project they may not be interested in inviting you to bid on, anyway? Considering most individuals within corporations have about 1 hour of face time per week to give to business development folks (and you know how many people are competing for this time) your website serves as your first “conversation” with them. If your website offers little content to justify their even considering sending you an email, let alone calling you, why would they want to work with you? Your website’s not making it easy for them to do business with you. You are forcing an extremely busy prospective client to do things your way. Which means your firm isn’t interested in working with them – their way.

2.  We don’t have services you can just order on the internet. We deal with complex solutions. No kidding. You can’t just “dial an engineer.” However, as that extremely busy client or prospect, I want simple (not dumbed-down, but easily understood) solutions based on expertise and capabilities. I want to work with an engineering firm that makes my corporate life and decision making process a little bit easier. After all, it’s all about the client. Not about the engineering firm. As a prospective client, your website has 2-5 seconds to pique my interest and grab my attention with what you can deliver. If I feel I am reading a philosophical treatise that is simply talking in circles, well, I’ll hit the “back” button and go elsewhere, thank you.

3.  Once our clients and prospects see all the projects we have completed, they will understand we can do whatever it is they want us to do. OK. We’ve ALL seen websites like this one. A big flashy home page (and flash can be a real no-no in terms of search engine optimization), and then the “Project List” or “Portfolio” or “Clients” tab. You are not dealing with children, so does your website look like a story-book? Also you are assuming that prospective clients know what they are looking at… which they may not. Your internal folks may have uploaded photos from your most complex designs as a means of “wowing” prospective clients.

All prospective clients see is a bunch of complex, flashy solutions which may or may not have any relation to their needs. The more complex the solution, the less simple it appears to work with your company. Oh, also, if you are wondering why your client base is a bunch of demanding divas eating up profitability, go back to your website and see what types of project photos you have uploaded. You may be marketing to just whom you are getting as clients.

Put  yourself in the shoes of your customers and create a website which is sensitive to their time constraints, decision making algorithm and their need to determine capabilities and not outcomes. You may just shorten your sales cycles and learn a lot more about your capabilities in the process.

Think about it.

August 26, 2010 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

2nd Annual “Best Civil Engineering Firm Logo” Contest

THE BEST LOGOS ARE WORTH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS…OR RECOGNITION FROM CIVILENGINEERINGCENTRAL.COM!

WE ARE EXCITED TO BRING TO YOU THE 2nd ANNUAL

logo contest logo - CEC

THE GIST

  1. All nominated logos (tag lines should be included if you have one) must be from civil engineering firms who operate within the United States.
  2. If the logo has a story behind it, we would like to know about it.
  3. Logo nominations can be submitted via:

EMAIL: info@CivilEngineeringCentral.com
DIRECT TWEET: http://twitter.com/civilengineers
LINKEDIN: By responding directly to our announcements you see on any LinkedIn groups

CRITERIA

Logo’s will be judged on a sliding scale based on the following criteria:

  1. Does the logo make an immediate impact by grabbing one’s attention right off the bat?
  2. Is the logo memorable? Is it uniquely applicable to what the firm does – enough so that it will positively embed itself in the memory of clients, employees, peers, etc?
  3. Is the logo appealing to the eye?
  4. Does the logo accurately represent the company and its services?
  5. Does the nominated logo accurately represent the firm’s corporate and employment branding initiatives?

RETURNING JUDGES

  1. Ron Worth
    Chief Executive Officer
    Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS)
    http://www.smps.org
  2. Lizz Pellet
    Chief Executive Officer
    EMERGE International
    http://www.emergeinternational.com
  3. Matt Barcus
    Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com
  4. Carol Metzner
    Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

WINNER

Contest winner will be notified by CivilEngineeringCentral.com during the week of October 30th, 2010. Winner will receive:

  1. Corporate logo prominently displayed on CivilEngineeringCentral.coms December 2010 e-Newsletter (13,000+ distribution).
  2. One month as sponsor on our LinkedIn Group e-update, “The LinkedIngineer.” This e-update goes out twice a month to all 3500 (and growing!) members of the Civil Engineering Central Group on LinkedIn.
  3. 10 free job postings on CivilEngineeringCentral.com + Featured Employer upgrade.
  4. Bragging rights until next year 🙂

DEADLINE

All entries must be received by October 15, 2010

NOTE

Gist, Criteria, Judges, Prizes & Deadline are subject to change without notice as determined by A/E/P Central, LLC, home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

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August 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm Leave a comment

Is Your Website Your Business Development Partner?

Babette Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick Ten Haken
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Let’s face it. Most company websites are an embarrassment. Something you hope your current and prospective customers either will ignore or overlook. And still call you for an amazingly in-depth, insightful discussion that results in a request for proposal. Now that’s wishful thinking.  Ever heard of the saying “one picture’s worth a thousand words?”

Others of you have a website that’s flashy. It’s got streaming this and that. It’s crammed full of announcements about product innovations. It’s your online portfolio that you hope will WOW a prospective customer. In fact, it’s so overwhelmingly full of pictorial and streaming verbiage that the visitor doesn’t know where to look first. Ever heard of the saying “one picture’s worth a thousand words?”

Most of you have ho-hum websites whose major function is to be “informational.”  And that information is buried throughout the entire website, sort of like a scavenger hunt. And of course, an internal employee created the website because, well, engineers can do all things. (And they can, but why would they be assigned to such a task and take away from billable time to prove this point?).  Or your website was created by some vendor who was nothing more than an order-taker. So the website was designed by committee, or by ego, and tells you what you already know. But it doesn’t tell your prospective customer anything relevant.

Who has time to hunt through your website content for what they are searching for in the first place? When’s the last time you read a website cover-to-cover, even if it had intuitive navigation?

Your website is your online persona. After a successful business development call – either in person or via phone or virtually – your customers and prospects are going to “check you out” …. online.  And the feedback they receive from their efforts can make or break you – no matter how successful a presentation and relationship building strategy you may have.

1.  They will Google your company name. What are they going to find? How well is your company managing its online persona? How well are you managing your online persona, for that matter?

A mediocre, out-of-date, information-flash-overload, or non-intuitive website can successfully demonstrate, in 2 to 5 seconds, that you are not who you seem to be and you are not in touch with your customers.  How anticipatory is your website to the types of questions and issues that a current and/or prospective customer might have? Does your website provide answers to these questions in the same place, or all over the place? Does your website have links to links to links to pdfs?

Hey, would you want to use your website?  One of my clients, whose building materials company caters to architects and civil engineers, realized some of his internal personnel were spending an average of 2 hours a day – each – guiding folks through their old website to the information they needed to find. And those were the customers/prospects who actually called in. Think about how many folks simply gave up and went elsewhere for business.

Do you have any idea how much 2 hours of these employee’s billable time cost that company? Until they achieved their new website which tripled their website traffic and contacts? Talk about the cost of doing business let alone the impact a poor website has on business development!

2.  Oh, and what else will prospective clients find when they Google your company name? Will they find out about liens against your company, lawsuits, hazmat citations and other non-glorious information?  Will they find kudos, honors and awards your company has received?

Will these prospective customers wonder how your company can win design awards yet have a mediocre, non-customer-centric website?  Will customers compare what they read when they Google your company with the content and format of your website and find it similar or different to their customer experience?

3. They will Google you by name as well. What are they going to find? Because you need to manage your personal brand in conjunction with your professional brand as well.  If you are on the roster of your religious institution, or have made donations to civic causes,  participated in a mini marathon, well, that tells your prospective customers a little bit more about you.  I don’t need to tell you that having a complete LinkedIn profile, including references, is essential. Your professional brand is linked to and complements the company for whom you work. Is your personal brand better than your company’s brand? Now that’s an interesting question.

You need to be able to tell your prospective customers and current clients to “check out my website” and “check out my LinkedIn profile.” Because they are going to do this anyway. Make this aspect part of your business development etiquette. And make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and dynamic – even if your corporate website is not.

So how’s your company using the rules of engagement of today’s Internet to assist your business development efforts? Having a company website that walks your talk is mandatory.

July 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm 2 comments

Down Economy, Down Morale, Down and Out……Only if You Choose to Be!


Featured Guest Blogger: Anthony Fasano, P.E., CPC, LEED AP
Maser Consulting
Associate Civil Engineer and Certified Professional Career Development Coach
Click to Connect With Anthony on Linkedin and Facebook
Read The Career Development Blog – A Newly Created Support Forum for Civil Engineers

I have given many surveys to civil engineers through social media with regards to career development and advancement.  Lately I have found that due to the economy many companies have been making changes with their staff in any way possible to stay as efficient as possible.  This has resulted in many engineers having been forced to take on roles that they may not want or enjoy.

Many engineers have been asked to relocate to other office locations based on workload, increasing their commute and putting them in an uncomfortable atmosphere.  Other engineers have been transferred to other departments based on workload.  So you may have been working on private development projects for the past 5 years and all of a sudden you find yourself out doing bridge inspections.

How do you maintain productivity and passion in your day-to-day career when you are taken out of your desired role and/or location?  Here are a few recommendations to keep your attitude and energy up while going through this situation:

  1. Be thankful for your job as there are currently many people without one.     This doesn’t mean to be happy with your job, you don’t want to create a mindset that this job is “good enough” for me or that you are just going to accept it, the truth is you don’t have to.
  2. Paint yourself a very clear picture of the job you would eventually like to have.  Be specific by listing the type of projects you would like to work on, your role on those projects, the general location of the projects if that matters, etc.
  3. Review your current day-to-day activities and see where the experience you are currently gaining will be helpful in your ideal role, once you achieve it.  For example, if you have been re-assigned to manage something other than your ideal role, take the time now to improve your managerial skills which will apply in both situations.
  4. During these times, strengthen existing and build new relationships both within your company and throughout the industry.  Take advantage of any downtime you have to re-connect with existing and prospective clients as well as other industry professionals.  Attend more professional society events, with the idea that the more relationships you build, the more opportunities that will be available to you.
  5. Do one thing each day, no matter how small that will help you in achieving your ideal job or role.  This might be an e-mail, phone call, internet research, read an inspirational article or quote, etc.

One thing that a professional coach helps people to do is realize the opportunity in every situation.  Every time something you perceive as “negative” happens, ask yourself the following question, “Where is the opportunity in this situation?”  You will be amazed at the list of positives that you will draw from a perceived “negative” situation.

The key is not to give up on what you’re passionate about doing, just because of the current industry situation or economic climate.  Yes things are tough and we all have financial responsibilities and this is the time when we may have to accept roles that we aren’t comfortable with to survive.  However the job that you want is out there somewhere until you decide that it is not!

I’ll leave you with a quote to help raise your attitude and energy up a level…..

“Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way.”  – Victor Frankl

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

October 21, 2009 at 4:37 pm 5 comments

When “It’s Not My Problem” Becomes Your Problem

Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Siloed approaches to participation on a civil engineering project team usually aren’t the best technique for demonstrating value to your organization. In fact, successful participation on a project team should be a matter of asking yourself “what YOU would do” if you were doing another team member’s job – as well as your own.  If you can fulfill your functional role, yet anticipate the mindset of all of your team members as they fulfill their respective functional roles, the outcome is robust. Everybody wins.

denial

Unfortunately, in the real world, project team members are working for civil engineering companies which are now extremely lean and mean.  Perhaps even desperate for business. With less staff doing more work and wearing multiple hats, project management sometimes resembles a game of “hot potato.” Which can create quality problems as well.  Perhaps the production and engineering department is part of a fiefdom. Regardless of the size of your company, and its organization, the result is the same. The individuals fulfilling functional obligations perceive their job as “piece work” for handoff to the other members of the project team for implementation.  These individuals perceive that once they’ve fulfilled their engineering (or other) function on the team, they are off duty.  They’ve completed their work. It’s no longer their problem. They can go back to their cubicle and work on the next project.

Guess again.

All of us have projects where we put the final dot on an “I” and cross the final “t” and can’t wait to get that project off our desk. However, we’ve taught ourselves we don’t operate in silos.  But we certainly know folks within our organization who do. And like the kids on the playground who don’t get selected first, or even second, for that pickup game of dodge ball at recess, they don’t get it.  Project management is a team sport.

In this challenging economy, there is even less of a place within an organization for individuals who don’t understand the dynamics of the sales process and how difficult it is to win the business in the first place. They may not understand the business cycle or have a complete grasp of the multiple disciplines and roles required to move a project towards a successful outcome.  These individuals may not grasp the difficulty involved in customer retention. When these types of project team members finish their work, in their mind, they have done their job and that portion of the project ceases to become their responsibility. It’s not their problem anymore. And I’m not just talking about junior staffers, either.

Project outcomes are always everyone’s responsibility. So everyone owns the problems.  And the rewards.  I’m sure there are quite a few of you out there who have participated in at least one highly successful project team that had a marvelous project outcome. These types of project outcomes and the teams that achieve them are truly unforgettable – and rare- as though the stars were aligned from the beginning. Highly successful project outcomes and teams don’t happen by accident or serendipity. Many highly successful project outcomes are a result of ordinary folks – not your corporation’s rock stars – assuming responsibility and stretching themselves beyond what was required of them, resulting in a robust and innovative outcome. Successful project outcomes happen because all of the project team members are truly engaged in understanding each other’s functional roles . They incorporate that mutual respect into what they bring to their own individual area of responsibility.  No silos. Just synergy.

For those of you who interact with project teams that are not necessarily characterized by “synergy” or “mutual respect,” the tendency is to complete your portion of the project and hand it off. Or be less than communicative over the duration of that project, over multiple project team meetings.  Your siloed approach shortchanges everyone, including you. If someone falls down in their functional role it’s far costlier to compensate for the error in rework than have anticipated the probability of the error in the first place. The nature of the error may be lack of time, interest or less than brilliant execution.  A travel schedule that creates gaps in project meeting attendance. Team meeting notes that are not circulated in a timely manner or are not as detailed as they should be. Lack of communication or follow through in between project team meetings. Telephone conversations with the client and changes to the project that need to be immediately communicated to the project team. It’s those little things, the details that you feel aren’t your problem, that ultimately become your problem down the road.

Hybridizing the engineering approach you bring to the project team is going to be critical to not only your career, but the longevity of your company in the consulting civil engineering marketplace. There’s a lot of talk going on these days about innovation, which I’ll be addressing in a future guest blog on this site. However, the assumption by most folks is that innovation is best left up to, well, the innovators:  the braniacs.  Actually, innovation is a matter of self-discipline and the ability of incorporating the perspectives of everyone seated around your table into what you bring to the table.  Just do a little something differently than you’ve done before. That’s innovation.

So the next time you are assigned to a project team, take a different approach. An innovative approach. Find out what everyone does on your team. No matter how well you think you know them.  No matter how many times you’ve worked with them in the past.  Even if you are part of their sand volleyball team on Wednesdays. Take a few minutes out of your workweek to talk to them about the project – outside of team meetings. And then start your functional project work as though you are the entire team.  It’s hard to take a siloed approach with this hybridized perspective, isn’t it?

All of us have projects where we put the final dot on an “I” and cross the final “t” and can’t wait to get that project off our desk. However, we’ve taught ourselves we don’t operate in silos.  But we certainly know folks within our organization who do. And like the kids on the playground who don’t get selected first, or even second, for that pickup game of dodge ball at recess, they don’t get it.  Project management is a team sport.
In this challenging economy, there is even less of a place within an organization for individuals who don’t understand the dynamics of the sales process and how difficult it is to win the business in the first place. They may not understand the business cycle or have a complete grasp of the multiple disciplines and roles required to move a project towards a successful outcome.  These individuals may not grasp the difficulty involved in customer retention. When these types of project team members finish their work, in their mind, they have done their job and that portion of the project ceases to become their responsibility. It’s not their problem anymore. And I’m not just talking about junior staffers, either

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September 30, 2009 at 2:53 pm 2 comments

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