Spring 2004



Here are some observations and suggestions for “adjustments” that seem in tune with what’s happening today in our professional services environment. First …


External Adjustments …

Markets are continuing to shift. Some that have been “dormant” for twenty years or more seem to be coming back to life. Others seem to be part of a longer-term trend that will have a huge impact on our profession … and our quality of life. First …


Solid Waste

Here’s a market in which most civil engineering firms worked … twenty to forty years ago. Eventually, sufficient fills were created. Much of the market went to private clients, such as Waste Management and BFI, who simply charged cities and counties a dumping fee and converted solid waste into a profitable business.

During the “potential growth market” brainstorming phase of a recent client focus group, someone suggested “solid waste.” I hadn’t heard that market even mentioned in a “growth market” discussion for several years. As the clients and firm representatives continued, and computed “Market Attractiveness” scores, solid waste ended up looking quite strong. Maybe a fluke? Maybe influenced by one or two zealots?

A few weeks later, during a growth market discussion with another firm, what market came up in their discussion, as a possibility?

Solid waste!

And the same market was suggested again, in another firm, a few weeks later.

While research on that market has only just begun – and will be focused on the geography of just the firm that’s asked for the research – markets do tend to behave in cycles, and solid waste may be resurfacing. Keep your antennas up for activity.

Army Civil Works Program, Corps of Engineers

About three years ago, a leader in one district indicated that the Corps would have, in five years, only forty percent of their current staff (due largely to retirement) … but would also have a ten percent per year increase in their workload. Initially, that suggested a massive amount of outsourcing, through vehicles such as “Indefinite Quantity Contracts.” While that scenario may hold true for the military side, the civil works program may be shifting …

Evidently, that part of the Corps has been having difficulty (for a variety of reasons) doing the things other agencies want them to be able to do. The assignments from those agencies that have been going to the Civil Works Program may be shifted, and may be awarded directly to outside consultants, by the other agencies. If your firm is involved with those agencies keep your eyes open for contract growth.


Water Supply

The western U.S. has been experiencing a massive drought. According to Rick Ochoa, weather program manager at Boise’s National Interagency Fire Center …

“Most of the West is headed into six years of drought

and some areas are looking at seven years of drought.”

Some parts of the West – western Oregon, Washington, and Northern California west of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada – have near normal snowpack. But – parts of Nevada, Southern California and Arizona are dependent on the Colorado River and its two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This year, they’re half full.

“Water Supply” looks to be a long-term growth market … even in the eastern U.S., with “Water Wars” between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River’s water.


Internal Adjustments …

At the outset of a marketing workshop, I begin by asking participants about their biggest concerns in relations to clients – either to win new clients, or to keep existing clients pleased and repeating. Typical areas that lead to difficulty …

“The client takes too long reviewing submittals, which hurts our schedule.”
“The client asks for things that are out of scope. What should I do?”

“The client has a difficulty understanding our invoices.”
“The scope always seems to be changing.”
“How to present bad news?”

Every firm seems to have a thorough punchlist for closing out projects. Few seem to have the same for beginning projects. Consider creating a “Master Punchlist” of all the issues that arise during the course of a project. Use your Punchlist at kick-off meetings … “If this happens, how would you like us to deal with it?” As unanticipated issues arise, add them to your Punchlist. Virtually all issues expressed by professionals at the start of workshops can be managed in this infinitely better way.

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The Arlington Institute is hosting a “futures” conference in D.C., April 27-28; many of the topics involve markets in which we’re involved. I’ll be there. Let me know if you will be; we can caucus, compare notes, and even discuss impact for your firm.

The March marketing skills workshop in Raleigh was an excellent experience. If you have a just few people who need training, let me know. Similar workshops can be organized elsewhere to respond conveniently to nearby firms with those needs.

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