lisa-marie mueller

lisa-marie mueller

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strategic planning [part 1] link

January 10, 2020

Large light and wooden trees with quote and yellow background Happy New Year everyone! Wishing you a year filled with opportunities and success. I am taking a short break from discussing the Revit API to cover another topic that I’m sure many people are thinking about. In our personal lives, we set goals for the new year. In our professional lives, we participate in strategic planning. In December, DAHLIN had its first team-wide Design Technology group strategic planning session and I wanted to share some thoughts about the process.

At DAHLIN, we do not have a BIM manager. Instead, we have a group of very talented people across market sectors and offices that are on the Design Technology group. We meet every two weeks to discuss new projects, standards, template items, and more. For this upcoming year, we have divided the group down into small teams based on four key subject areas: Maintenance, Automation, Education, and Innovation. Each team has a Champion who is responsible for the planning and execution of the team’s responsibilities. The goal of the new organization structure is to help productivity and allow people to focus their efforts on topics they are most passionate about. In order to update our goals and align them with our new organization, we decided to get everyone involved with a series of strategic planning activities.

dream big

To start off, we all got together in a room with snacks and lots of post-it notes to complete a brainstorming session. We held this initial three-hour meeting while everyone was visiting our headquarter office because the engagement is higher in person than over video conferences. We currently have fourteen members so we decided to split in half to make the setting more conducive to conversation. One team was focused on Maintenance and Automation, the second on Education and Innovation. We started with an introduction to the process. Then, each group of seven took two topics for approximately 30 minutes and then the groups switched. This way everyone had input for all of the topics. 

Some of the key items we learned from the initial session:

write down every idea first, organize later

Focus on what you want to accomplish in the next year, the next three years, and the next five years. The group does not need to discuss how everyone will accomplish those items because that is not critical in the brainstorming step.

always “yes and” ideas

There are no ideas that are too big. There are no ideas that are too small. The point of the initial group workshop is to receive any and all ideas. Having a positive attitude and encouraging creative goals is key to hearing from everyone.

have a moderator for each group

Relating to the two mentioned above, it was immensely helpful to have a moderator to keep people focused on the task at hand. We were all tempted to discuss how we could get to the next step, but it was more important to think about the bigger picture. Additionally, the moderators were able to facilitate conversation and encourage everyone to contribute. We had informal moderator roles, but with larger groups, it may be helpful to have a more defined role.

get organized

After we filled the tables with sticky notes, each team presented the goals they wished to see, and the entire group provided feedback. Then, teams went back to their original topics and began organizing the goals based on the target completion date. We grouped goals into those that should be focused on in the next year, the next three years, and beyond. The teams then presented to the entire team for feedback.

Some of the key items we implemented for organizing goals:

stay positive

This is the step where you have to bring things back to reality a bit, however, it’s important to not think of all the negatives. Even though an idea can be challenging to achieve or require a shift in company standards, if you believe it is where the industry is headed and an important goal, keep it.

understand the constraints

It is a balance between encouraging ideas but also considering realistic challenges. Keep the "dream goals" and the "reach goals", but also keep in mind constraints like budget and time when setting target deadlines. Maybe the "reach goals" fall into the three-year time period so that you can take steps to make them easier to accomplish. 

be realistic

You do not need to get into the specifics of how each goal will be accomplished in time, but it is important to consider a realistic deadline for each goal. Think about things like the required approvals and the number of people involved in achieving each goal when setting a timeframe.

ownership and champions

After brainstorming, we all looked at the four topics and each person volunteered to be on the team for a minimum of one topic. Additionally, people volunteered to champion each effort: Maintenance, Automation, Education, and Innovation. Having the Champions helps to ensure that tasks are going to be completed because there is someone organizing and moving forward each topic. Once these roles were assigned, there was one critical task left. We had to determine the path to accomplishing all the goals that the group discussed. This plan includes measurable objectives and check-in points to determine objective progress and completion. Finalizing this plan was handed off to the Champions and their teams. This is what our Champions are working on this month, and I will cover a wrap-up of our strategic planning by the end of February. 

Some of the key strategies we are using for the smaller teams:

balance team size with tasks

Certain categories have a lot more to do. For example, the Maintenance group handles all of our standards, templates, and libraries. Because it takes the majority of our time, it is our largest group. 

allow Champions to manage their topic and team

When you have a group managing the Design Technology branch of your firm, it’s important to let the smaller groups handle their own responsibilities. Making decisions with fourteen people is not realistic. Instead, the tasks and oversight can be handled by the groups and they can present back to the larger team so knowledge is shared and distributed across teams.

let people choose

One concern we had when starting the process is that some topics may be viewed as boring and would not receive a Champion. If you have a diverse group of people, chances are people will naturally gravitate toward different things. We received a wide range of interest in all the topics and teams. If there is not enough interest in a topic, you can always pair popular and unpopular topics together so everyone is involved in at least one thing they are passionate about.

Setting goals for our group allows us to identify trends we see in the industry and prepare for them. It also allows us to spend time strategically improving the resources, training, and tools we provide for the firm. By going through strategic planning with our entire team, everyone has the opportunity to be a part of the process. Their ideas are valued, their ideas are heard, and they are shaping the path of the Design Technology group.