Friday, August 5, 2005

The “start-up” stage of an Unban Simulation department can be a challenge. Here is how I "Exceeded Expectation"...

There were numerous challenges, unique efforts and innovations compulsory to the successful implementation a new service like Urban Simulation –vs.- management of traditional Engineering Service:

I was hired and tasked from the beginning with the following Objectives & Challenges:

Objectives for new Urban Simulation Group:

  1. Urban simulation should become routinely part of our everyday design process for the engineering and planning groups. Just as we deliver plans, we should deliver the simulation. This needs to be marketed as a package, not as the design plans plus extra money for the simulation. This will require staff training and equipment, both in Plano and Dallas. As a second phase, this would spread to other Texas offices.
  2. This group should be doing the highest end, most sophisticated work in the State of Texas
    a. Particularly seek out projects that allow us to deliver these kinds of projects
    b. Particularly seek out venues to display this talent
  3. This group should be doing the highest end, most sophisticated work in (Company-X)
    a. Billable assignments from around the firm should come to Texas
    b. We aren't interested in routinely doing marketing pieces outside of Texas
  4. This group should be integrated in all (Company-X) -Texas projects, and should have clients of their own. This group should be instrumental in obtaining new clients for (Company-X) -Texas. Some of these may be non-traditional clients
  5. Be aggressive in partnering with other (Company-X) -Texas groups to market services as part of a team to win
  6. This group must be profitable
    a. 4x4 performance
    b. Time on jobs for the technology group as a whole equal to 75% overall
    c. No lost earnings
    d. Investments in personnel and equipment commensurate with market opportunity

This “start-up” stage of the department creation included constant challenges and the need to efficiently and most often autonomously overcome the following list of hurdles.

Challanges & Hurdles Overcome in 1st 18 months:

  1. A unique level of Hiring & Training
    i. I hired & trained 17 new personnel unfamiliar with the industries we serve over a 6 months period of time.
    ii. A large number of these new hires were positioned simultaneously; during a time when only two employees (including myself) within the firm were familiar with the required department procedures and industry cliental.
    iii. • This limited the attention certain administrative and high level items received
  2. I performed what I call "Smoke and Mirrors sales" during my first 10 month of employment in order to generate our initial client interest and sales.During this time it is important to understand we had:
    i. No portfolio
    ii. No existing power points or brochures
    iii. No existing customer testimoniesNone the less – over $800,000 in orders were placed prior to our facility being built.
  3. Created and defined the new Product line \ Billable Services which would serve our clients for years to come from scratch.
  4. Designed the staffs Workflow and the supporting technological infrastructure:
    i. Established basic workflow principals of all software toolsets and production task
    ii. Implemented sub-division techniques allowing unlimited size outdoor virtual environments
    iii. Thought a quality control method within our Pre, Post, and publishing services.
  5. Provided Architecture & Design of the physical working environment / facility
  6. IT task included – Ordering of all necessary equipment and software and media
    i. 3D Workstations – specified the new “standard” for 3D modeling hardware
    ii. Software – designated full workflow tools set for every department procedure
    iii. Post Production equipment – Editing \ Decks \ Sounds system \ Etc…
    iv. Server storage – High-speed Fiber Channeled SANs solution.
  7. File storage conventions – Sub divided SANs solution into manageable areas
    i. Backup system for 3.5 terabytes (triple the rest of the office) Soon to be 9+ terabytes
    ii. Network systems – High capacity gigabit switched local topology
    iii. Cabling – Designed DVI integration to multiple workstation and Editing Bay
    iv. Video Presentation – Centralized presentation opportunities within the production studio
    v. In field Data collection hardware \ Cameras, etc
    vi. Blank DVDs, cases, Printable CD-ROMs, etc
  8. Design industry specific reporting tools and labor projection calendars
    i. Revision tracking on digital output \ frame sequences
    ii. Fast turn around of labor intensive projects with staff members new to the industry
  9. Established Department Policies
    i. 3D Modeling conventions
    ii. File storage \ organization principals & naming conventions
    iii. Quality control standards
  10. For each of the projects we performed industry specific quality control critiques -> custom development -> workflow maintenance (The department is one of a kind)
    i. Final results of production are often based on ours or our new client’s subjective opinions
    ii. Technology in this field progresses aggressively each year
    iii. Training of new techniques and refining of workflow is a constant necessity
  11. On demand adjustments to the business dynamics with all new staff members and technology solutions new to the company require numerous course corrections:
    i. I.e. -> Sales successes would occur -> Business reporting (labor Projections) reveals large amount of future TOJ -> Department must increase, personnel, local storage -> technical capabilities -> Post-production must adjust to avoid bottlenecking final output schedule.
    ii. Constant Hand-offs and pro-active decisions to prepare for successful project completion were necessary as we incubated and grew the group. 

Additional accomplishments made during the start-up process not identified above:

  • Required to pro-actively provide countless operations / facilities / Architecture and construction - design, accountability and direction on items such as; Plenum Exhaust Problems, Tack Light Locations and specs, Ballast Changes for other lights, Acoustic Foam ordering and positioning, Emergency Exit Light locations, Door installations and designs, Electronic Access & Security concerns, A/V cabling design and installation challenges, Shelving and Mill work issues, Furnishing orders - file cabinets, tables, etc., partition wall design and specification, projector specification, plus office supplies, etc…
  • Maintained chargeability during the last 6 months of 78.2% for my fast expanding group. This was a daunting challenge at times given the previously described operational issues and the fact our department is a brand new service offering for the firm.
  • Negotiated a partnership arrangement with Google \ Keyhole which provides all current Google-Earth Enterprise solutions free of charge to (Company-X) (minus the hardware) and provides preferred pricing for all of our clients on the enterprise solution and profit sharing for the individual seat licenses.
  • Coauthored a Technology opportunities Program Grant with the City of Dallas - The Grant described ways to use the latest Internet based technologies along with Real-time Simulation & GIS in an innovative and efficient manner to further economic development and eliminate some of the risks in development. This technology Grant Application described numerous advanced ways to assist in prototype planning efforts for large urban areas.  

Below is an excerpt of my Performance Review conducted two weeks prior to leaving the company, by my supervising Manager, (Employee-X), Technology Manager - Texas

Section IV – Management Assessment
These questions were considered by the "Technology Manager" upon receiving the completed section III (above) and mutually discussed at the employee-manager CPD meeting.

Career Development
A. Insights regarding skills and competencies that will help the employee attain career goals.
1. Considering this employee’s career goals what do you perceive to be the most important areas for this individual’s development?
a. Job/Technical Skills

Michael is the most experienced, simulation/visualization subject matter expert in the firm. His technical skills are more than adequate for his current position. (4000+ employees) He has developed management skills related to managing the operations of a growing business unit, communicating with management peers from other disciplines and upward communication of business strategies and vision.
b. Personal Attributes (communication skills, leadership skills, etc.)
Michael appears to have the ability to convince other Sim professionals to buy into his vision and join his team. He is also very passionate about his technical discipline and the future of the discipline within the firm. He needs to place more of a priority on communicating more frequently with his management peers from other disciplines in order to prioritize business objectives.
2. During the next 12 months, what activities can be introduced that will develop the employee’s abilities and competencies in these areas?
Michael needs to be included in more marketing initiatives for mega pursuits and the Texas business plan for 2006. We are working toward spinning Michael’s team into their own section in 2006 – this is an organizational move that I support. Michael also should be tasked with developing a marketing plan for his section for 2006. Michael has not had an opportunity to attend the (Company-X) PM and Marketing training. Express programs to need to be identified and followed up on as soon as possible.

Job Performance
B. Assessment of employee’s current job performance and achievement of past year’s smart goals.
1. Considering the employee’s assessment of their performance outlined in Section III and your observations, document the results attained for each goal listed on the past year’s CPD. Specify if these results meet, exceed or fall short of expectations.
Goal 1:
Michael’s primary goal was the development of the Urban Sim practice into a profitable, growing business unit in Texas. He Exceeded this goal.
Goal 2:

Goal 3:

2. What do you perceive to be the employee’s key contributions to department or office success during the past year? How do these accomplishments impact the office or department business plan?
As stated in my previous Goal 1 assessment, Michael’s primary contribution was the development of the Urban Sim group. Michael accomplished exactly what we expected when he was brought onboard to establish our 3D practice.

3. How might this individual further contribute to the organization’s success?
Michael’s next task will be to continue the development of the Urban Sim group from both an operations and technical standpoint. Retention of key staff and the continued development of junior staff will be key. Targeting new clients throughout Texas and the rest of the division will also be critical.