Strategic Facility Planning — Now More Important Than Ever

by By Mark Sekula — In this time of economic downturn, it is difficult to think about strategic planning. Most everyone’s focus is on surviving the storm. Organizations continue to cut costs—again. They’re looking for new business and creating innovative ways to package and deliver existing products and services. They’re offering new products and services. They’re rethinking everything. As the facility manager, you have obviously been impacted. It’s likely you’ve been asked to reduce your operating costs and defer some maintenance. Or maybe you’re scrambling to consolidate space because of workforce reductions.

This is exactly why strategic facility planning is so important. It forces you to think of the what-ifs. Maybe you would be doing things differently now if a few years ago you asked yourself a few questions like: What if the global economy fell apart six months from now? What if all of a sudden national unemployment rose to nearly 10 percent? What if my company’s revenues fell 25 percent or more in a matter of months? What would I do?

You know what your boss would do. He’d tell you to cut costs, cut staff and cut space. But how would you do that? Where would you start?

Eventually, this downturn will end and we will recover. What will you do in six months or a year when your organization suddenly starts to gear up for an upturn and they can’t hire enough people fast enough?

Get a step ahead

Strategic facility planning is the platform upon which to create scenarios and develop potential solutions that will help sustain your organization or help it thrive. Nobody can predict the future. But a facility manager who prepares for it allows him or her to be one step ahead of the game. Now there’s a tool to help—IFMA’s Strategic Facility Planning: A White Paper ( files/SFP_WhitePaper.pdf ). As excerpted from the white paper’s executive summary: “The strategic facility plan (SFP) is a twoto- five year plan encompassing the entire portfolio of owned and/or leased space that sets strategic facility goals based on the organization’s strategic objectives. SFP helps facility managers do a better job and ensures that all employees are working toward the same goals and objectives. A flexible and implementable SFP based on the specific and unique considerations of your organization needs to be developed through a four-step process. The first step, understanding, requires thorough knowledge of your organization’s mission, vision, values and goals. Second, exploration of the range of possible futures and triggers is needed to analyze your organization’s facility needs using analytical techniques—such as systematic layout planning (SLP), SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, strategic creative analysis (SCAN), or scenario planning. Third, once analysis is completed, plans for potential responses and periodic updates to existing plans in response to changes in the market need to be developed to meet the long-range needs of your specific organization. Fourth, take actions as planned to successfully implement the SFP. ”

Think strategically

One of the most important things to understand about strategic facility planning is that it is not a static activity. Rather, it is a dynamic ongoing process. As we see on the news and experience in our everyday lives, the world is changing at a faster rate than it ever has—and it will continuously do so. That’s why strategic facility planning is so important. It makes us think farther out than today or tomorrow. Sure, the chiller will eventually break down, the fire alarm is going to go off and there will always be someone who is too hot or too cold. Those scenarios will never go away—we have to learn deal with them. But facility managers must step back from the details of the daily grind and spend time giving serious thought to what might happen that could impact their company (both negatively and positively) and what they would do to adjust and adapt to it.

Strategic thinking isn’t daydreaming. It is a deliberate, thoughtful and reflective process intent on understanding the future and how the facility function can best support the overall organization and it’s most important and expensive asset—its people. If the facility is a hindrance to people getting their jobs done in an effective and innovative way, then it’s not fulfilling its sole purpose. As the facility manager you cannot leverage one of your company’s most important and costly assets, second only behind its people, in order to help ensure the success of your company.

Adapt to the scenario

Developing and writing the strategic facility plan should only be the beginning of a continuous strategic planning process. It’s similar to owning a house. You don’t go and buy a house and simply live in it for 50 years without doing anything to it. You think about what it might need if you have kids, when those kids are older and when they are gone. You put plans in place to accommodate for various scenarios. If the kids live at home longer than you expect or your mother-inlaw moves in, you adapt those plans to the new scenario.

Strategic planning is not about knowing exactly what your facilities will need to be like in 10 years. It is about having a 10-year picture of what they might look like based on logical assumptions, good business forecasting and a good sense of history. One needs to be flexible enough to change direction at any given moment—just as the home theater you added to your house when the kids moved out can be turned into a mother-in-law suite.

Stay connected

One of the keys to planning for the future is to look for those things that will stay the same. These are the nonnegotiable, intangible things that will exist no matter what happens. In the case of your organization, it’s understanding and acquiring a thorough knowledge of its mission, vision and values. These are things that typically stay constant and steer successful companies. However, the goals needed to achieve the mission and vision and carry out the values may change over time. As the facility manager, that’s what you have to try and plan to meet. In order to do that, you have to stay in touch with your organization’s business strategies. In IFMA’s Facility Management Forecast 2007, Exploring the Current Trends and Future Outlook for Facility Management Professionals, the number one trend in facility management identified by a panel of industry experts is to link facility management with business strategy.

Facility managers need to understand what the organization’s business strategy is and what specific business initiatives it must accomplish to successfully carry out that strategy. Then they must find ways to leverage their facilities to support those business initiatives. They need to ask questions of senior management, stay connected and in touch. The C-suite doesn’t typically reach out to the facility manager until the strategy has already been developed or when the scenario has changed. So it is imperative that the facility manager be proactive and take the initiative to ask first instead of waiting to find out.

That’s what strategic facility planning is all about. Use IFMA’s Strategic Facility Planning: A White Paper as a guide to create your strategic facility plan. But don’t stop there. Remember, when the plan is done, the planning begins. Keep it on top of your desk as a constant reminder that things change and you must adapt. Mention it in your staff meetings. Measure everything you do as an facility management organization against the basic principals set forth in your strategic facility plan—and then be prepared to change.

Author Bio

Mark Sekula is senior facility management consultant at Facility Engineering Associates, a national 60-person facility management, engineering and sustainability consulting firm.

With more than 21 years of facility management experience, Sekula provides guidance, expertise and project management to clients—helping them develop strategies for the future of their real estate assets, physical workplaces and facility management organizational development.

A Certified Facility Manager© since 1993, Sekula has served as president, vice president and secretary for the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of IFMA and founded the Facility Management Consultants Council of IFMA. He is a former director of the IFMA international board of directors and currently co-chairs IFMA’s knowledge center task force.

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