Thursday, February 2, 2012

How clients rate SPI certification participants

In 2011, we surveyed the industry-at-large and published the (mediocre) results in our newsletter.  The conclusion was that these self-described "green" firms still face many challenges spanning effective leadership to consistent use of best practice methodologies. 
(see past articles: Mirror, Mirror part 1&2 here  and here)

Recently we’ve begun compiling another survey, focusing on the aggregated results of the client and partner surveys of firms who are becoming SPI Certified. 
Happily, those results indicate a higher level of consistent success, conveying their commitment and demonstrating a consistent level of service. The graph below is a sneak peak at the aggregated data for one set of questions about project delivery.   
In the coming months we will share more in-depth results and our analysis of the success factors behind these promising results.

Part 2: Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who's the Greenest Firm of All?

 (Reprinted from the SPI blog)

In this continued article, examining the gap between a company’s green marketing and its’ true capability, I am sharing the results of our “Is Your Firm Green?” survey. My previous posting looked at leadership and project delivery – and noted a shocking discrepancy between how companies portray themselves, and feedback about quantifiable capabilities. Today, I’m sharing the results dealing with two very critical aspects of sustainable practice: Infrastructure and Partnering – the internal foundation upon which projects are built, and the external relationships that are essential for success.

Infrastructure includes support services, tools and resources used on projects, communication protocols, internal design standards, and human resources. As important as leadership is – support is equally critical. A company’s ability to provide appropriate professional development, access to key tools and resources, maintain design standards and quality control processes make the difference between institutionalized capability and “one-off” projects.

Leadership and infrastructure are actually linked in an important way. A company that has clearly assigned roles and structure for accountability can ensure that there are people managing all aspects of sustainability - from maintaining appropriate resources and systems to continuous learning. Whether this is lead by a designated “Director of Sustainability” or a matrix Green Team (with authority), critical issues is that they are engaging all aspect of management, operations and project delivery.

When asked, staff at all levels within a company had widely ranging observations about available resources and support. 33% of respondents say they always have the tools and resources they need to implement sustainable design on projects, with the rest of responses scattered between “Never” and “Sometimes”. This represents 67% of the time that project performance may be compromised because of lack of resources.

17.5% say that internal (green) design and specification standards are used consistently, across all projects. The dominant response, 30%, say that green design and spec standards are used “Sometimes” on projects. This indicates that sustainable design best practices are not part of the core philosophy of the company.

Only 21% say that there are processes instituted in-house for continuous (project based) learning and mentoring. This means that most firms are not leveraging the successes they do have to raise the overall level of knowledge in their companies.

13% claim that HR consistently supports green practice (expectations about green design priorities articulated clearly in employee handbook, integrated into performance reviews and orientation for new employees, and evident in professional development). If company leadership extol the virtues of sustainable design, but those values are not present in documented expectations, performance reviews, etc., then the disconnect speaks louder than the platitudes.

A whopping 9% of respondents say that there are clear protocols for incorporating sustainability into project management including meeting agendas, formal communications, workplans and other PM tools. The dominant response was 35%, who say that consistent protocols for green project management are seldom incorporated. Yet without consistent expectations about communication, managing performance criteria or deliverables and collaboration, project managers are not able to achieve the consistency that owners seek.

Partnering speaks to the significant relationships between a company and its external partners that they depend on and work with to execute a project. Ultimate success is directly related to the ability of a group of people to perform effectively as a team. This is drastically emphasized in the context of green building, where clear performance targets are articulated and accountability is measured.  Too often, architects are unsatisfied with the MEP engineers they work with, but have not found effective ways of addressing their issues. The same is true in reverse. Direct, intentional focus on improving the team relationships has direct bearing on the success of the project in all aspects.

Only 16% of respondents said that their contracts and relationships with partners successfully support sustainable design objectives. The majority say that this is one aspect of professional practice that is usually a barrier to success. Considering that “high performance” (green) design is dependent on a “high performance” team, the prevalent lack of strong team structure and motivation is troubling.

Only 9.7%  of respondents said that every project employs a management tool that gives all team members a clearly articulated map for collaborative decision making, identifying roles, responsibilities and deliverables for major performance milestones. This is perhaps one of the most disturbing responses of all, considering how dysfunctional collaborations are within the industry. There are many aspects to collaboration that are difficult to manage (culture, mindset, attitude or personality) but the basic use of a collaboration tool that maps critical-path decisions is a fundamental and universally applicable ‘baby step’ towards improvement.

It is challenging enough to get one’s own “house in order” – and even more complex to look beyond to the next sphere of influence: our partners, who are critical to success. Contractual relationships are already laden with risk, budgets are tight and, especially in the current economic climate, people don’t want to ‘rock the boat’. However, the most successful teams are those in which people have had a chance to evolve and transform their relationships together, over time, to their mutual gains.

High performance teams, good support systems, strong leadership and a track record on projects – these are all ingredients for success. If you are interested to see where you rank, have your company take the free, confidential survey and measure yourself the way that your clients will measure you – with the SPI framework. This will also help you see where your gaps are, and how you can build a road to success!

Part 1: Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, Who's the Greenest Firm of All?

(Reprinted from SPI Blog)

My last posting spoke about the difference between a company’s green marketing and their true capability to deliver consistent, high quality sustainability at an organizational level. Since then, we published a survey, asking green professionals to honestly reflect on their perception of their company’s true capability. The results have been very interesting.
One of the most jarring observations is how widely perceptions vary, especially within the same firm.

Why is this important? Well, for example, if the leadership of a firm assumes that everyone has the tools and resources they need to deliver a green project, but the design staff ‘in the trenches’ feel otherwise…that could indicate a critical gap. When looking in the mirror, it’s important to have different people look at the same reflection and make sure everyone is on the same page.
I’d like to share some of the results and observations from this survey. There were different categories in the survey – this week, I’ll focus on Leadership and Project Delivery and next week Partnering and Infrastructure.

Leadership: It’s critical for company leadership to visibly champion sustainable practices in a way that is clear to all staff, at every level within the company.  If the priority is unclear, the message is ambiguous or perceived as being insincere it will not translate into action and opportunities will be missed.  

Only 30% of respondents said that leadership consistently makes it clear to staff that sustainable design is an integral part of their job. 27% - an almost equal amount, rank this priority as “rare to never”. That’s more than 50% of self-labeled green leaders (in A/E/C companies) whose own employees are unsure of their priorities.

Only 27.5% of respondents said that clear roles existed with authority and accountability – whether in the form of a Sustainability Director, a Green Team (with authority), or spread throughout different roles within the company. One thing we’ve seen over time is that there are different ways to effectively create accountability within a firm, but it has to exist somewhere.
Not surprisingly, 86% of respondents said that “Commitment to sustainability is part of public marketing materials” but only 10% said that “sustainability goals for projects” were consistently SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) and understood by all on the team.

47% said that clear project performance goals were established occasionally and 33% said it was rare.  If project goals are not clear, or SMART, they will not be achieved and we will continue to have projects (even LEED projects) that do not score highly in energy efficiency.
Comments varied from the dominant, “sustainability is more of a marketing term than a design philosophy” to the rarer, but inspiring, “our commitment to sustainability has not changed our focus and mission for our business, only enhanced it”
The bottom line is that the baseline for professional practice in the majority of A/E/C firms today is still captured by this comment: “We say our goal is to be sustainable, but mainly it's just lip service. We talk about it, take classes in it, push for LEED AP's, but mainly only do it if it is required by the client.” This compromises our ability to deliver a consistently high quality sustainability service.

Project Delivery
As mentioned in the Leadership section, only 10% of respondents said that SMART goals are incorporated into all projects – which indicates a huge barrier to success. One of the biggest differentiators between a traditional project and a green project is accountability and the use of clear, quantifiable performance criteria, which must be set at the beginning of the project. 

However, only 23% of respondents said that sustainability is a clearly articulated expectation within the team from the outset (with 37% saying that it is “usually”), which means there is about a 50/50 split with the rest who say it’s “seldom to never” part of the baseline expectations of a project team. On a related note, it is consistent that only 5.5% of respondents say that they always achieve clear performance goals on their projects. The dominant response was “usually” at 28.8%. If I were a building owner, I’d be looking for a team that consistently achieves clear performance targets.

There is a comparable split when asked how consistently integrative design process is incorporated into Project Management. 19% say “always”, 42% say “usually” with the rest saying “seldom to never”.

This may seem slightly better, however, the devil is in the details. There is still quite a range of difference in people’s understanding of integrative design. Some consider ID to be defined solely by a kick-off charrette with a LEED checklist, while others have a more complex, ongoing definition of collaboration that lasts throughout the project.

24.7% say that staff have the skills they need to implement sustainable design – although we did not ask (yet) what specific skills people are missing. Considering that only 5% say that they always incorporate life cycle costing into their decision making, that could represent one example of skills needed to expand (a later comment said that life cycle is only considered when asked for specifically by the client).

One comment captured a commonly held sensibility in the architecture profession, “We are working on developing methods for high performance goals. However, measuring them is outside of the Architectural ‘box.’ ”. We see this with project performance as well. Very few firms or teams know anything about the performance of their projects over time and don’t have the opportunity to use that information as a feedback loop to inform future decisions.

Many commented that “sustainability is seen as an add on” which explains why best practices such as life cycle costing and project performance criteria are not used consistently.

In some cases, the perception is reflected well by this comment, “Project time and budget often prohibit additional ‘feel good’ efforts such as ‘achieving clear performance goals’ (in water, energy, health, etc)” – I wonder how many clients consider clear performance goals a ‘feel good’ effort?  While I say that with a hint of sarcasm, I also know that some clients don’t understand that the time invested up front in identifying clear performance targets, and the paths to achieve them, are the only way to achieve the results they desire. This may be a mindset challenge on both sides of the table.

Property owners have become more sophisticated. Government, university and healthcare clients have told us that they want to see sustainable design approaches integrated into the design approach for all projects across the board. If that were the world we lived in, the answers to most of these questions (if not all) should have been 100% “Consistently”….the items identified in this survey were aspects of practice that truly green companies DO answer Yes to across the board. On one hand, these responses indicate a tremendous shift from just 5 years ago! However, they also indicate that we still have room for improvement!