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Friday, 4 May 2012
Image that matters - Strategic Facility Planning for Small and Medium Sized Businesses
Topic: Facility Planning

Author:  Paul Hay - Managing Partner, PAUL HAY Capital Projects


While studying at the University of California, Berkeley, we as architecture undergrads would jokingly remark that "there's no place ‘worster' than Wurster".  We were referring to the building in which our school was located: which was called Wurster Hall.  This should not be inferred that the building was poorly designed.  On the contrary, I recall the lecturers expounding on its design and construction attributes.  We just did not like the image.  We did not like being trained in a building we considered the ugliest on campus.  It was bad for our image.  But, one lecturer explained that the building was specifically designed not to influence our creativity.


Recently, I came across an article in The Globe and Mail entitled "For Google, the Office is Key to Worker Success".  In the article, Canadian-born Google executive, David Radcliffe, was interviewed regarding his role of locating urban spaces that would become "hip headquarters and design them to spark creativity, play and collaboration".  He described this as "Googlïness" - creating environments that support culture, transparency and collaboration: facilities which allow staff to excel.  In other words, Google wants their building to stimulate creativity.


So, which of the two seemingly contrasting philosophies is correct?  It should be realized that the administration of the School of Environmental Design also wanted their staff and students to excel: they just did not want the building influencing their designs.  They did not want any aspect of the building's design reproduced or be held as the standard to which others would be judged.  This is understandable.  So, the appropriate image for any organization really depends on the objectives it seeks to achieve.


Strategic facility planning involves four steps: understanding the values and goals of an organization, analyzing its long-term objectives, planning for its long-term needs, and acting on the plans.  The mission, vision, firm culture, and possibly balanced scorecard, of an organization first need to be understood.  Organizations in creative industries, for example, prefer flexible organization structures, such as organic or matrix organization structures.  So, an institutional look and feel, as well as heavily enclosed office spaces would be inappropriate.  But, the needs of all stakeholders should be understood.  The need of architecture students to have a building they are proud of and one which impacts positively on their self-image is also important.  Our choice of motor vehicles is not only for their functionality but also intangibles, as prestige and ‘sex-appeal'.  Why should we expect any difference in our choice of buildings?


Analysis can utilize SWOT analysis, scenario planning, brainstorming, etc.  An organization's mission or vision may span over the five year limit of a strategic facility plan.  And, it is unwise to create unrealistic expectations in our stakeholders.  So, long-term objectives need to be SMART.  At this point, it will be apparent whether the organization's image needs to be addressed at all.  In the service industry, for example, an organization's tangible assets are used to assess the quality of its service.  Image could be critical, especially if their building is inferior to their competitors'. 


The selection of an appropriate architect and/or interior designer will be critical in establishing a design team to execute the plans.   Vision likely translates to a marketing plan which will guide the selection of an image.  Marketing plans will, no doubt, be innovative, imaginative and resourceful.  They will detail the use of an organization's effort and resources towards a desired end.  Do not entrust your image to a team you have not communicated your vision.  It has been my experience in the Caribbean that only banks, embassies, hotels and hospitals provide this guidance.  I assume the design team creates the image for the others, and I doubt they are carefully selected to deliver on the required objectives either.  The image presented by an organization will be present for decades, it should not be left to the discretion of anyone who may not understand their client, nor follow any rigor in analyzing their objectives and plan for their long-term needs.    Where image matters, it should not be left to chance.

Posted by phcjam at 6:30 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2012 9:59 AM EDT

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