Friday, 24 July 2009

Investing in Standards During a Recession

Going back to the 80s I was one of the greatest critics of the BS5750 and the Quality Assurance process. I remember wading through huge documents and ticking thousands of boxes just to be able to demonstrate we had carried out everything in accordance with our procedure. The reason for my criticism was that I was not convinced that this delivered any real value to the business.

However, over a number of years the standards have been reviewed and have been changed to ISO 9001 which used the Demming plan, do, check, act model.

We spent a lot of time as a business reviewing ISO 9001 and decided to develop our own continuous improvement wheel based on plan, do, check, act. We used the 9001 standard as a base however. I remember in the past when we had a QA audit there was two weeks of frantic activity before the Auditor arrived to make sure that every box was ticked and every piece of paper was in the right place. Now we look forward to the auditor arriving and make no special arrangements for these particular days. We use the audit as opportunity for continuous improvement.

We have named out internal management system _scils (_space Continuous Improvement and Learning System) and have been able to integrate other standards within it without major change.

We have recently been accredited with ISO 14001 in relation to environmental standards. Far from believing that quality standards are a hindrance I have now moved my thinking to believe that such standards are imperative in time of recession. Particularly with ISO 14001 it has structured our thinking in relation to waste and risk. We now look at every aspect of the business and consider where waste is being produced and how we can minimise it. By measuring what we use in the first place we can monitor resource movements and percentages against others.

We are now aiming to include the ISO 18001 standard within our _scils model to ensure that our Health and Safety achieves the highest standards.

During a recession when process, waste and risk are very important I would recommend any business to invest in these standards to ensure that the organisation is run as efficiently and effectively as possible as I believe they add real value.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Big Four O

Life begins at 40... / photo

I reached a major milestone at the weekend. On the 11th July I hit the grand old age of 40. Some say life begins at 40 and I look forward to what that may bring. I have to be honest usually birthdays have little impact upon me however, I got to thinking that if 80 is a good innings, by the time you get to 40 you are half way there meaning that its all down hill from here!

My 30ies were an exciting time for me and this period generally coincided with the last 10 years of growth. Whilst growth was very exciting it provided its own challenges and headaches.

It is likely that my 40ies will have a different set of challenges as we steer the business through a difficult period.

For the man who has everything birthday presents were always going to be a challenge. The best present was the party which I had last Saturday night. These are rare occasions where all of your friends are gathered together in one place at the same time. Obviously one is your wedding providing you only have one and the other is likely to be your funeral which you won’t be at.

The one thing that struck me on the evening was that friendships are recession proof and in my case I have been fortunate enough to have a solid bunch of friends through the ups and downs over the years.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Batten Down the Hatches

Over recent months one of the terms which I keep hearing in our industry and in particular from architects is that they plan to ‘batten down the hatches’ and ‘ride out the storm’. I think in the past this has been the way many architectural businesses have responded to recessions and generally the profession is badly hit by such down turns. Much of this is caused by the fact architects depend upon capital spending and in recessions this is one of the first things to be cut.

Over the past decade our industry has made huge strides forwards in relation to its approach and technology. There is no doubt that there is still further to go but my worry is that much of the hard work we have done in relation to partnering or integrated working will be stopped and potentially be forgotten.

As an industry we need to continue to invest in training and development.. With Building Information Modelling and integrated project delivery we are on the cusp of a revolution. Unfortunately many companies are battening down the hatches and cannot afford to invest.

I also worry that by battening down the hatches the storm will happen around us and when many companies open the hatches there will be no industry left.

At _space we made the decision to think very carefully about how we move forward but do not intend to batten down the hatches or bury our heads in the sand. We will continue to invest in our people and technology and think differently about our industry.

Hopefully this will stand us in good stead for the future and in fact help us weather the storm.

We are always looking at how we can diversify our offer to enable us to sustain our business for the long term.

Monday, 6 July 2009

An Old New Town

Milton Keynes/Wikipedia

I spent sometime in Milton Keynes last week, this was the first time I had had the privilege of visiting this much talked about town.

My first challenge was getting there, as a regular train traveller cutting across country was going to be problematic. The answer was to head into London and back out to Milton Keynes. I was on a secret mission and the first thing that struck me on that particular day was the incredible heat with temperatures reaching 32 degrees.

At _space we talk much about sustainable communities and I am always looking for the collective elements that can make this happen. Clearly, at some point, Milton Keynes was thought to be state of the art. Many years later the masterplan has been developed and the new community created.

What I am not sure about is, if this is an integrated or sustainable community. It has all of the pieces but many of the elements operate in isolation. It has to be economically sustainable in that it is operated for several years and continues to grow. However the roundabouts and road system gave little priority for pedestrians with huge industrial zones being surrounded by forests of trees.

The housing seemed to be remote lacking the usual mix of a buildings and styles developed over many years.

Much of the architecture was of a similar 60ies and 70ies style again with little response to human scale.

It would seem from the outside that commercially Milton Keynes has been successful, possibly due to its good links to London by both road and rail. I would challenge however, whether this is the best place to live if there is the rich mix of uses, ages and architecture which can create a place.

I came away from Milton Keynes believing that it was difficult to force a community to happen on a rigid plan such as this. Communities need to evolve over time and respond to the times in which they develop.

Places also need to be particular to their geography and I did feel that whilst I thought I had not been to Milton Keynes before I had visited the same place in Telford and Washington.