Shifting the Paradigm in Project Management

05/31/2013 | By Christopher Curtland

Forget the low bidder; focus on finding experts

By communicating requirements in terms of minimums, clients direct vendors to transform the minimum into a maximum, creating an adversarial win-lose environment, Kashiwagi says. “Once you set the minimum expectation, that’s probably all you’ll get,” says Ray Jensen, retired associate vice president of business services at Arizona State University.
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Facility management has never been a traditional profession like a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or accountant, says Dr. Dean Kashiwagi, professor at Arizona State University (ASU). Rarely does someone grow up and get educated to become a facility manager. Many FMs come up through the ranks of the technical trades that make up facility management.

This focus on technical aspects – the knobs and buttons of facilities manage-ment – is counterproductive when FMs take on a project management role. Approaching projects with a technical mindset – for example, treating the budget like it’s a setpoint and awarding jobs to the lowest bidders – rarely results in quality work.

“The current FM’s way of doing things is hurting them when they talk to their bosses, try to solve problems, and attempt to add value to the business,” Kashiwagi says. “They are actually constrained by their own thinking.”

To keep up – and more importantly, prove value – modern-day FMs must streamline their project management processes.

The Current Manner of Thinking
“As technical people, FMs have emphasized what they are doing instead of how they can add value,” Kashiwagi explains. “They need to have a strategic orientation instead of tactical.”

Projects are defined by dollar value, level of effort needed, and requirements for planning or design. Project management is distinct from routine work and preventive maintenance, but it’s an important function of facility management.

The FM profession has always been technical in nature, and FMs speak a jargon that isn’t understood by the leadership of the organization, Kashiwagi says. For this reason, facility management is allocated a small piece of the budget and is viewed as a cost.

As facilities management has expanded to new areas like information technology yet become more technical in traditional areas like grounds maintenance (think using rainwater for irrigation and environmentally responsible fertilizer), it becomes impossible for the FM to maintain technical expertise across the board.

“The industry has forced an FM’s knowledge base to be even greater by learning the latest and greatest in green and technology. Making FMs accountable for knowing every new fad is ludicrous. It’s not sustainable,” Kashiwagi says. “They can’t do it. They get more insecure, don’t show any value, and are more likely to be cut or outsourced.”

When you occupy a project management role, don’t apply your regular mindset. Don’t concern yourself with being the expert. Instead, focus on identifying experts in these expanded areas. That way, you’ll get the best quality available and prove your worth in doing so.

A paradigm shift in the field of facility management and the processes of project management is needed, and Kashiwagi has flicked the first domino.

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