“Dear Abby, I’ve Been Married 20 Years And ….”

By |October 16th, 2017|

This year my wife, Vicki, and I celebrated 20 years of marriage; and we can both tell you we are grateful, it’s been mostly harmonious. What makes it work? I’m no Dear Abby, but as I reflect on how my wife and I interact, I realize there is an alignment between the actions that help personal relationships succeed and those that bolster client relationships.

(1) Put the toilet seat down. OK, not literally, but identify what makes your client insane. People can drive others crazy through their idiosyncrasies. Watch body language as you just may have a habit that is getting under your client’s skin, such as how you greet them, address them, or smack your gum. This isn’t about you; it’s about them and their issues, so don’t take it personally.

(2) Tell her she is beautiful. This is easy for me to tell my wife because it’s true. That said, when she was nine months pregnant and was miserable with edema and emotionally done being pregnant, I made a conscious effort to remain patient and make her feel loved. Everyone has insecurities and knowing what your client’s are, and managing them correctly, is critical. Ever stop to think that your client is scared to death about screwing up a project? A compliment and or a bit of encouragement from an industry professional can go a long way in calming nerves.

(3) Throw them a life line. Recently we were on a flight and I got stuck in a conversation with my new-found neighbor. Being the astute partner my wife is, she pulled me aside letting me know she had something in her eye and asked for my help. After the winking surgery was complete the [...]

Cars and Relationships

By |July 9th, 2017|

My wife’s car was twelve years old and between the paint touch-ups from my guy Benny and the engine that rattles more than an angry snake, it was time to move on. I reached out to my brother and resident deal-hunter for advice. He told me not to be afraid of buying a car out of state if it was the right car. He expanded on the concept by indicating that when you buy a car from a far distance the built-in road trip back to home allows you to form a bond with the car and your travel mate making the new car an experience rather than a purchase. Although I love watching shows about junkyard cars coming back to life, I would not claim that I am a “car guy.”  That said, I do understand the attachment that comes along with major purchases like this, especially ones that offer a bit of a vacation.

So we did it. We bought the used car my wife had found in Salt Lake City and my thirteen-year-old son and I flew out in the morning. We completed the purchase and cruised the ten plus hour drive with impromptu stops to enjoy the sites along the way.  My techie, knowledge devouring son had read the entire manual by hour two and discovered things about the car we didn’t know we purchased, like remote-start. Around the bend arrives Grand Junction–time to hike through the canyon; at Rifle–grab an ice cream, and so on.

During the hours of windshield time I pondered what my brother had said and realized that starting a relationship with a new client and project team has this same opportunities as the car-purchase-inspired road trip. So [...]


By |April 11th, 2017|

Portmanteaus words are a way to add colorful meaning to a thing or occurrence; some terms have become so commonly used they are part of our vocabulary. From the Chunnel to tween and medivac, these words inform us in a twitter-style efficiency. Entrepreneur Magazine often showcases portmanteaus words and the digital age has created many new ones like:

Cellfish – an individual who continues talking on their phone when it is clearly being rude or inconsiderate of other people
Internest – the cocoon of blankets and pillows you gather around yourself whilst spending long periods of time on the internet
Youniverse – a person who has knowledge only of him or herself
Nonversation – a completely worthless conversation; small talk
Screenager –the typical adolescent who indulges excessively in screen entertainment
Masturdating – going out alone to dinner or a movie
Badvertising – poorly crafted marketing
Hangry – hungry and angry (an often used term at my house)
Snark – snide remark, often used to call someone snarky

Our AEC industry has their own:

Hazmat – hazardous materials
Transistor – combination of transfer and resistor
Cineplex – cinema combined with the complex that houses the theater
Cafetorium – the multi-use space of cafeteria and auditorium
Imagineering –  a mixture of imagination and engineering
Workaholic –  an architect who has a job
Pleather – the value engineering result when we can’t afford leather
Meld – when you want welding but you get melting
Bankster – who developers can obtain their gap financing from

And, the latest portmanteaus word for our industry is:

Feastability – a combination of fee, feast and stability

As the [...]

2016 – A Look Back

By |December 22nd, 2016|

John Glenn passed away, Donald Trump is President Elect, and developers are turning Nazi camps into luxury resorts; 2016 appears to be the year of “What just happened?”

More close to home, I have reviewed the AIA, AGC, and the Deltek reports, spoken with numerous industry professionals, and analyzed trends on the projects we are managing to conclude the following opinion: generally speaking, there continues to be skeptical optimism related to continued growth and architects feel less positive than general contractors; this makes sense since much of the design work associated with the uptick in 2016 is complete while contractors are still riding the delayed wave of new work. Companies hired more staff in 2016 than in previous years and we saw a trend of professionals changing companies at a higher rate than previous years.  Many seasoned professionals are retiring and the absorption of smaller firms by larger ones, although slower than the 2015 record of 234 sales of U.S.-based A/E firms a 5.4% increase over 20141 is still occurring.

Size Matters
We experienced clients basing project decisions on the continued escalation of design and construction costs. We also saw a  trend of projects increasing in both size (square feet) and programs of work (i.e. large school programs). Clients desire for risk mitigation increased and owners defaulted to the large-sized, resource rich companies. These larger firms didn’t just win the large jobs in 2016, they won jobs of all sizes; it seems significant portfolios, robust teams and the ability to quickly generate designs was the winning strategy in 2016.  As the big guys continue to absorb small firms, albeit at a slower rate than the 2015 record-year, you would think they would depart from the recession mentality [...]

Breaking Into a New Market

By |December 4th, 2016|

I was recently asked by a smaller-sized architecture firm how to win work for a project type with which they had no prior experience. Many of us have faced this quandary. It can be frustrating; but, with tenacity and smart business decisions it can be done. We went on to discuss some options.

1.  Hire for it. At one point, we had no school experience and wanted to break into the market. When we had an opportunity to add staff we didn’t hire our best friend, we looked for a resume that fit our strategic plan. The project manager brought along a deep rolodex (okay, CMS) and the market has been open ever since.

2.  Devise a creative teaming approach that provides a unique strategy or solution; it will almost always garner attention, if not win you a top contender spot.

3.  Start shaking hands.  Although it’s not typically an instant return-on-investment, a grassroots, relationship-based strategy can get you a foot in the door. Expect to start small and enjoy the inevitable growth.

4.  Remember the forgotten. When the urban markets heat up rural markets are often neglected. Go the distance.

5.  Take a risk. This is my favorite option as is can produce results quickly. Firms that are established in a particular market will play it safe submitting on RFPs often with pre-packaged proposals. Find a unique angle and go all in.

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative

Feedback Etiquette

By |June 30th, 2016|

The cursed proposal, and the hopefully-to-follow, nerve-inducing interview, are both part of what the A/E/C industry endures to win work. The process costs teams thousands of dollars in staff resources, printing costs, even on small projects. It is a serious decision and investment to submit.

When working with owners during the procurement process, we advise them to respect the efforts put forth by the submitting firms, particularly those who weren’t awarded the work. We communicate that they prepare detailed feedback to those who inquire. Typically, not all firms will place the call. In our experience, general contractors are more comfortable (1 in 3) than architects (1 in 5) reaching out to us or the Owner.

We provide the following list of dos and don’ts for our clients to consider:


1. Collect relevant documents including notes from the process and the actual proposals during or immediately after the interview.
2. Record comments from the selection committee immediately after the interviews occur. Your opinion is nice, but, remarks like “I had you as number one,” are of little value when trying to improve.
3. Respect that this is a difficult call to make.
4. Express a sincere thank you to those submitting.
5. Be honest—provide specific information on how they can improve. If the person on the other end of the phone becomes hostile, simply and professionally, end the call.

Do Not

1. Feel threatened. The caller is looking on how to win future work, not burn bridges or overturn the committee’s decision.
2. Retrieve a voicemail and respond with a two-line text.
3. Ask, “Did you submit?”
4. Say, “I recycled your proposal, so I don’t have any feedback.”
5. Issue the scorecard by email as sufficient feedback. Getting a [...]

Here’s Your Fee

By |June 23rd, 2016|

In speaking with a Principal of an established architectural firm that recently entered the Front Range market, I came to find out he and his colleagues were perplexed by firms’ common practice of sometimes using professional fees as a differentiator when submitting on projects. “What’s the deal with professional architectural fees in this market?“ he asked.

Not sure where he was going, I replied, “How do you mean?”

He went on to explain that his firm, established in other geographic markets, is not accustomed to deviations in fees between firms. It appears that in the Front Range market, fees carry weight in owners’ hiring decisions and teams are willing to set their fees to differentiate themselves. While our market has a common industry fee (by project type) and although the standard fee has never been corroborated, it is known by all.

My new colleague was clearly frustrated as he worked to adjust to his new region’s pricing culture. Was he implying fees should be established by region and project type? Should owners dictate what the fee is, or should firms, be it owner’s representatives, architecture firms or general contractors, have an understanding through professional organizations, albeit non-union, to advise on how to establish fees? It seems to me, free market tendencies apply the same to the A/E/C industry as they do any other industry; should that change?

In the recession of 2008, fee adjustment was common as firms worked to survive. It was also common to see — and exciting to witness — younger, independent architects striking out on their own, setting fees they could make a living off and hiring help or forming consortiums if and when needed. This set of professionals (myself and Class of ‘95 [...]


By |May 10th, 2016|

After 12 years it finally happened, we were rejected for non-compliance. Like a beat down from Mutombo, we were stunned. After attending a the pre-bid assembly, building a solid team, preparing a thoughtful proposal, and so much more, we received notification that our submittal was missing one form and, thus, was incomplete and rejected. What to do now??

We were crushed, but quickly went to work. First, we confirmed the accuracy of the error. It was true, we did not submit one form out of the 100 requested (okay, I exaggerate). Secondly, we pleaded our case as to why we should be considered despite our error–crickets. Lastly, there was not much left to do but have a beer, wallow, and contemplate the lessons this setback taught us.

1) It reminded us that procurement policies are stringent on public projects. Procurement departments are charged with the responsibility of making sure proposals are in order, boxes are checked, and “t”s are crossed. Miss something and you’re out. They care more about their own job than you getting one.

2) Proposer beware! RFPs are often poorly organized with submittal requirements spread throughout the document. Even if there is a submittal requirement section, read every line of the document to see if they sneak a requirement in an out-of-place location. Enlist a third party to review the proposal closely, ensuring it aligns with the RFP.

3) It taught us that even if your team was absolutely the best match (work with me here) no one will care enough to bend the rules for you even if the missing item is designated “non-material”.

4) Some submittal requirements are ridiculous: from specific content of recycled paper to unrealistic limitations on maximum pages that would result [...]

Liar, Liar

By |April 27th, 2016|

So, the dilemma unfolded, a crossroads of sorts. What to do? I am sure that most A/E/C professionals have been faced with a situation where they had to decide between telling a client what they would like to hear versus the painful truth.

We received a RFP calling for a combined design and construction schedule of six months. Upon analyzing the project details, it was clear that an eleven-month schedule was required. This left us with the option of proposing a schedule and fee that matched the client’s delusions, or present the reality. Do we tell the truth and risk losing the project? Do we tell the client what they want to hear? Should we lie?

The answer was obvious – present the truth. As an owner’s representative, it is counterintuitive to mislead the owner. We are, after all, supposed to watch out for their best interests. We secured an interview and although we had an opportunity to interview and present our position, we were denied the project. Another team did indeed demonstrate their ability to meet the abbreviated schedule.

We lost the project, but did we really lose? What if we went along with the unrealistic-schedule charade and were awarded the project? We would likely have had to begin playing a game of chess to protect ourselves. Some strategies might have included:

 Build a schedule that allots one day for the client to review and approve the drawings.
 Schedule 2 or 3 days for the design team to return comments to the building department. Or, better yet, have perfect drawings with no comments.
 Have a multi-phased project and a RFP that would require overtime work. Sure it would increase the owner’s overall costs, but we [...]

Present Like A Super Bowl Announcer

By |January 25th, 2016|

Being from Chicago, I was blessed by having the Bears’ games announced by Pat Summerall and John Madden (I won’t even mention Harry Cary since this blog is football-themed).  I learned from these greats and others that presenting is an art form and every presentation matters.  What can you learn from these professionals?
1. Know when to stop talking.  Some call it diarrhea-of-the-mouth, but the fact is, what you say may not be as important as you think. If someone asks a question they usually just want an answer, they don’t need the entire history of how you came to your conclusion.
2. Know your audience. The Super Bowl announcers do a great job of getting their message out to a mass audience. This game draws a wide demographic, not just the religious watchers, to what will be an epic clash. When you present, keep in mind that not everyone is an expert in your field; talk to them in a way they can relate and become engaged and excited.
3. Sense of Humor. If the announcers only focused on the technical aspects of the game, you would shut off the sound and listen to music. John Madden was an entertainer and sometimes taking a break is just what you need to do. See this example:
4. Mistakes.  The announcers, refs and coaching staff make mistakes when under this type of pressure, so will you. Don’t announce them, dwell on them or debate them to a point of ad nauseam.
5. Mix it up. To keep things current, the Super Bowl has added interactive graphics, female announcers and more. Mix up your presentations, listening to one person talk is simply boring.
We have seen great presentations at [...]