Archive for September, 2010

The Blueprint Debate: Digital versus Paper Plans

September 28th, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized

To tackle takeoffs, more and more contractors are receiving blueprints in some type of digital format.

Many construction estimators and owners have realized that they can avoid the cost and hassle of expensive, bulky blueprints by using software to perform digital takeoff. Whereas the traditional method of using color pens and highlighters to physically draw lines and make comments on costly paper blueprints, the digital takeoff handles it all electronically.

Contractors simply upload plans from a plan room or a CD, or scan them in, and then use computer tools (i.e., mouse, touch screen pen) to draw lines, turns, check marks and count up and measure with pinpoint accuracy. Plus with digital takeoff, contractors capture intelligence all within the system – attach notes, photos, addendums, and the like to the digital plan. No need to rely on the estimator’s memory or crawl through assorted paper files to find important details … it’s all there at the user’s fingertips. And when there are plan revisions, it’s much easier to compare new changes to original takeoff.

Furthermore, environmentalists would likely support the digital method. Software Advice published an article, “The End of Blueprints,” reporting that 42,000 trees are killed a year to print blueprints.Furthermore U.S. Green Building Council endorses LEED and stewardship of resources. Many in the construction industry have posed that LEED credits should be approved for the use of digital plans – review articles at for more information.

To learn more about the value of digital takeoff for business purposes, you can read “Digital Takeoffs: Toward Paperless, Stakeless Job Sites,” published in Grading & Excavation Contractor (pages 34-38 in its digital edition at


Has your business moved away from using paper blueprints toward digital takeoff? What can you advise other contractors? Or are you hesitant to change and use digital takeoff? Why do you stick with paper blueprints?

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Is Your Business Well-Positioned for Growth?

September 20th, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized

A recent article authored by Scott Allen and posted at OPEN Forum, an online resource for business owners hosted by American Express, posed the question: Is your business well-positioned for growth?

It may feel strange to be thinking about growth during an economic downturn. Perhaps more at the forefront of your mind are ways you can reduce expenses and cut costs. But having a “wait and hold” mentality now can hold you back when consumer demand picks back up … and it inevitably does. When the economy rebounds, those companies that are well-positioned for growth are the ones able to capitalize, grow sales, and increase market share.

Additional related questions to consider on this topic: 

  • What does it mean to be well-positioned for growth?
  • How does a company ensure they’ll be ready when the economy recovers?
  • More importantly, how can a company anticipate the recovery and remain one step ahead of their competition?

 The article goes on to address points such as:

  • Every recession is followed by a growth period
  • Why some companies aren’t able to capitalize when the economy turns

As the author explains: “Companies must be vigilant about spending and investment, but also be able to anticipate potential opportunities before they occur. They must be ready and be proactive instead of reactive. While this might seem like a tall order, it’s actually not as difficult as it sounds. It requires some discipline on behalf of management and employees, and a couple of simple and straightforward approaches to stay one step ahead of the game. The key lies in looking for the signs of a market rebound.”

He then explains the signs and where they come from:

  • Market information from customers and competitors
  • Information from complimentary markets

The full article is available online at:


What are your strategies and proactive methods of being poised for growth when the market rebounds?

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Helping Construction Companies Gain Consensus for Business Strategy

September 8th, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized

New Construction Strategies (NCS Radio 3.0) recently posted an audio interview of Norm Levy, known in the Pacific Northwest as a strategist, retreat facilitator, guest speaker, author, CEO and entrepreneur. Host Ted Garrison asked him about the wisdom shared in his book, Seven Questions of Business Strategy.

You can listen to the interview at

Here we offer a brief overview of this very interesting conversation…

During the interview, Mr. Levy advises that the only true way to yield consensus on business strategy is to get people involved. He explains the questions that construction business owners need to ask, including:

  • Which business are you really in?
  • Why are you in this business?
  • Where is your business headed? Where is your industry headed?
  • How do you address the specific needs of your customers? Stay in touch with them as needs/industry change?
  • Who are you as a business? As a leadership team? As a brand?
  • What are you offering? Not offering?

He reiterates a commonly shared statistic: when plans fail, 70% of the time it’s due to poor execution. So how do you not become part of that statistic?

Mr. Levy elaborates on his opinion that organizational strategy follows business strategy. And many business make a common mistake in establishing strategies when they assume that strategies have been set years ago and are static. But they need to recognize that the economy and market changes. So what you established 5, 10, 20 years ago is not truly relevant to making sound business decisions today and for the future.

So – what can you do now?

According to Mr. Levy, you should identify those 20-30 questions that keep you up at night. Then refine them down to 1-3 most critical issues affecting your business … those issues that could make or break you. Then after that, develop strategies to address those top concerns.

Also ask yourself what’s impacting you right now and if there’s something you should/could be doing about it. Is your major competitor eating your lunch? What are you going to do? Or did they just declare bankruptcy? How can you capture their market share?

And ask yourself what direction you’re going. If you don’t know, ask your customers and you’ll probably get some interesting and valuable feedback.

Mr. Levy and Mr. Garrison also discuss the topic of identifying core strengths. Are you looking at them from the right perspective? Often businesses look at their core strengths from an internal perspective, but what would be more valuable is looking at it from the perspective of your market. How are your strengths and weaknesses identified by those you serve, have alliances with, associations, etc.? How does the outside view your business? It’s not wise to hide your head in the sand. Look around and be open to the perspective of others and move forward with that new knowledge.

Ultimately, the radio interview seeks to answer: How does a business gain consensus to carry out a strategy? Mr. Levy explains that it does not mean agreement. Rather, it means that each person understands the intention, has an opportunity to express his/her viewpoint or questions, and asks “can I support this intention?” And if not allowed to express views, then consensus is not likely to be built. Inclusion is the key to building consensus. If expected to participate in carrying out a plan, those individuals must be involved in the process of building the plan.

In closing, he summarizes that business growth is the result of clear strategic intention. Intention reflects the answers to fundamental questions. If you want better answers, you need to begin with better questions. The more compelling your answers are – the more customers will buy your product and service.

Add your comments below to share your advice (or pitfalls to avoid) in successfully gaining consensus to build and carry out your business strategy.

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Contractors Are Partnering with Software Providers to Best Utilize Technology

September 3rd, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized

In follow up to the August 31st post, today’s topic also address the value of leveraging investments and making the most of what you already have.

According to a CIO Insight survey, 76% of respondents agreed that “Enterprise systems provide a competitive advantage and strategic value to their organizations.”  However, they also reported that (on average) their companies use only 64% of their enterprise systems’ core functions.

In the construction industry, many businesses may not be fully taking advantage of their software due to high turnover of office and project management personnel and limited commitment of time and resources to provide ongoing education for their staff. After all, there are only so many hours in the day – so save time and do more with what you have.

If you have a good software partner, the software you purchased in 2007 and are still using in 2010 has changed. New features have been added, new government regulations have caused requirement changes, and functions you did not need in 2007 are now there waiting for you, but are not being used. Plus, your software provider should have a process for receiving and processing customer requests for enhancements, which will help you stay on the system you like but keep it at pace with the changes and needs in your organization.

Leslye Love is Product Manager at Maxwell Systems, “In my role as Product Manager, I’m responsible for receiving enhancement requests from customers. Most, about 80%, of the enhancement requests I receive are for functionality that is already included within the product they own, or it can be easily added with an available module.”

So how does the business owner or the office staff know what they are missing? Just like you take your car in for regular service, you need to make sure your staff is in tune with the training and understanding of software capabilities to keep your business running at its best. By investing in as little as two hours, a business review could be performed by your software provider. Or, if that software holds a conference for product users, you may find that as a great environment to see what’s new with your product as well as to pick the brains of your peers in your industry.

Gerry Thiel, president, G.W. Thiel, Inc. (carpenter contractors), explained how they partner with their software vendor to stay informed and up-to-date about features to help his business: “There are some things we’re not utilizing to their capabilities and working with Maxwell [Systems] and going back [to the conference] to see if we can eliminate double processes – it’ll be a great opportunity for us.”

John McDonough, project manager at Rossi Electric Company, also appreciates attending an annual user’s conference to learn about the software and suggest future enhancements: “I see new designs that have been put into the system, see how they work and how I can put them to work to improve my productivity on a job. And I love the wish list – I give a dozen items I’d like to see and when I see one of mine in the software it makes me feel good that I was a part of that!”

You have made the investment in your software solutions, so be sure that you are fully leveraging all aspects of the solution to maximize your technology investments. Talk to your software provider to learn about the breadth of offerings available – there may be plenty just waiting for you to take advantage of, starting today.

What new things have you taken advantage of in 2010? Attended a user conference for the first time? Upgraded your system to use new features? Added modules? Participated in training?

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