CONTRARY TO POPULAR beliefs within the trade, integration has nothing to do with forcing your bosses to actually show up on the jobsite every once in a while and share a bologna sandwich with the common folks. Synergy management has nothing to do with some goofy corporate team-building exercise. Understanding and implementing both integration and synergy management, however, are critical to the future of not just your company's future but the future of our industry as well.
Somebody has to visualize and then implement the integration of what needs to be done, the means and methods of getting it done and the people who should be doing it. Someone has to get off his duff, make the decisions that need to be made, and then have the self-discipline to follow through and be responsible for them.
Otherwise, a project may limp along and never be 100% complete because of unresolved issues. The customer thinks that you have put him on the back burner, which will result in the loss of that client. Customers are simply too damned hard to replace in any economy.
The answer to increasing sales and achieving profitability remains the same as it was before 9/11 — invest in people and systems. Go out and hire the best people out there available right now before the labor market starts to get worse. Give them the basic project management tools such as responsibility and authority.
Oh, and did I mention a company vehicle and (gasp!) a gas card, and a laptop and software so they can market for you and build clients now? Then turn them loose — you'll have your company poised for dramatic, if not unprecedented, growth and profitability.
Recognize that our industry has gone from one of selling HVAC/mechanical and plumbing/piping systems and repair/ retrofit services to one of selling solutions.
Let me repeat this: Your customers don't care that we're in the mechanical services business and want to sell them HVAC or plumbing systems. What they do care about is that you, potentially, can sell them a solution to their "problems," whatever they perceive their problems to be.
It's up to you to figure out what problems your customers have and then offer them solutions. If that's selling them a 100-ton chiller for their new building or a service call to unclog their commode, the point is you have a solution to their problem. If you solve one problem, they'll more than likely give you chances to sell other solutions to them in the future.
Within project management, every action requires forethought to integrate and implement each individual process. The coming together of these actions creates a synergy, which drives the project along to its profitable completion. Without your single-stop project management responsibility for it, it simply wouldn't happen. Being aware that every action or inaction affects the project as a whole is critical to the project's success or failure.
Every single interaction with a customer creates a project, from simply changing out an old air conditioning unit at his house to design-building him a multimillion-dollar electronics plant where he gave you the opportunity to bid because you kept your word and did a good job changing out his old condensing unit.
Each customer interaction requires acknowledgement that it is a project that creates its own (for better or worse) spin-off synergy through integration of your interactions with your customer. No matter how small or large a company is or how tiny or huge a potential sale to a customer is, always think of the future. Think of how treating each sale as a project means increasing customer satisfaction and therefore increasing sales.
Your company doesn't have this mindset? Then within five years your company will be history, being buried by its competitors who recognize that "the market" has irrevocably changed forever.
If you want your company to be around in five or 10 years, hire only the best people you can. Give them the best tools possible to help them sell. Train them in what exactly project/ process management is. Teach them why formalized project management procedures do work to increase revenues and profits.
Now's the time not to hedge your bets but to make them. It's not a win-lose proposition, it's a win-win.
H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/291-0878, or via e-mail at hkcraig@ yahoo.com. His Website is www.hkentcraig.com