The Bottom Line: The “8 Steps Challenge”

Jan. 1, 2006

By David Shepherd

Success depends upon your firm’s ability to effectively deal with one constant: change.

I'd like to issue a challenge to you. I'd like to challenge you to make 2006 the best year ever for your A&D firm; a breakthrough year. If you're willing to do the work, I'll provide you with eight proven steps throughout the year that can help you to achieve that goal. I'll give you Step One in a moment.

But first, let's take a look at the nature of the industry in which you compete. It is rapidly moving and the pace of change will only accelerate in 2006. New business technologies will come on stream that will threaten the business models of the past. Web-based collaboration and project management will become a reality. Product manufacturers will forward integrate (into retail and design), and designers will backward integrate into project and facilities management.

Thousands of firms who didn't even know they were competitors will collide in the murky intersections of this complex industry. By the end of 2006 there will be fewer profitable A&D design firms, but those that adapt will be generating more sales—and more profits—than ever before. From sole practitioners to international giants, business strategy will become the focus of the successful firm, and processes will overtake results as the leading indicators of growth and the greatest value-drivers of all.

When we think of business processes we don't always think of the elegance of a brilliant design. But perhaps we should. Who says a process can't be elegant? Simple? Beautiful? Strategic?

So yes, you'll still need talent, but in the new era of design, talent is no longer enough. You must also design—or redesign—your business processes. You must step outside of your business and look at it differently. You must ask, "Why do we do this thing, or this process, this way?" You must ask, "If we were starting from scratch, would
we do this thing, or this process, this way?"

To help uncover the problems that you may not even know exist, management guru Tom Peters is fond of using the metaphor, "Don't pave the cow paths." Thousands of years ago, the story goes, a cow attempting to go from the fields to the watering hole, came upon a hill. The cow, possessing no particular intelligence, turned left and began to meander through a forest, weaving and bobbing between trees for hours until finally coming upon the water. Other cows followed.

Day after day, they traced this same route until a clear trail was trod. Later, a man wanting to make his way to the watering hole saw the cow path and followed. Other men followed him, and centuries later, it was only natural that horses and carriages would work their way down this well-worn and reliable trail.

And when asphalt came along, it didn't take much discussion to decide to pave the 6-mile-long trail that the cow had created by turning left when it came upon the hill. The moral of the story? Had the cow turned right, the distance to the watering hole would have only been a mile—a straight line with no trees. But nobody ever walked to the top of the hill and just looked down; they were too busy following the trail.

How many "cow paths" have you paved? Despite the changes in technology, how many trails are you going down that haven't changed in years? Decades? How about your filing systems? Your proposal generation? Your financial statements and management reports? Your time-billing collection? How much data is double entered among employee groups? How are you collaborating with partners, suppliers and clients?

The single greatest difference between the winners and losers in the A&D future will be found in their ability to adapt to change; to embrace change; to lead change.

About four years ago, I wrote a book for small business owners and managers called Your Business Or Your Life: 8 Steps For Getting All You Want Out of BOTH. I wrote it for a generic audience but have spent the last several years fine-tuning those eight steps for the A&D community. Firms that have adopted the "8 Steps" have had phenomenal results.

That's why I'm hoping you'll take the "8 Steps Challenge" in 2006, and Step One is appropriately entitled, Preparing For Change. But it is the subtitle that is more enlightening, and more daunting. It is a quote from Henry David Thoreau: "Things do not change; we change." In other words, all the innovations, new programs, best practices, and great ideas in the world could be handed to you on a silver platter, but if you aren't willing—personally— to embrace the uncertainty and commit to adoption, then nothing will result. Things don't change. We change.

So, here's your assignment if you're ready to get started. Change something—anything! Oh, sure, the consultant in me would love to hear about how you blew up this or that old cow path, but even the tiniest changes will start an important process of momentum. Change is an attitude, a culture. Change is a habit, a practice. Small changes beget more small changes, which, like an athlete in training, prepare your organization for greater changes down the road.

Paint a wall. Rearrange the furniture.
Buy a potted plant—anything. Challenge those around you to make small changes as well. Tell them to wear a color they've never worn before. Have a formal day ... or pajama day. Trade offices for a day ... just shake things up. As we all remember from physics, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, while an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Get in motion. Do it today. Make 2006 your year. Do this and you'll be ready to capitalize on Step Two next month. I think the title alone will help you to look forward to it: Doing Less, Making More.


    David Shepherd is president
    of Designing Profits, Inc. a company dedicated to the financial success of A&D firms. For information on conferences, business schools, the best practices network and other services, please visit

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