Executive Bio

Protecting Operational Requirements is A Development Project Priority

When development project program requirements run up against project budget constraints you can expect Value Engineering and program modification to occur in short order. When done correctly these activities can be beneficial, resulting in program adjustments that fine tune the project without sacrificing important program elements or operational requirements. That is not always the outcome, however.

The Architect and the Mop
Several years ago I was part of a team developing a large corporate facility. Inevitably we had to make decisions about reducing amenity and other areas to accommodate increased headcount. I recall one meeting where the architect suggested that there was really no reason to have a small custodial closet on each floor. He opined that one for every three floors should be sufficient in his experience. This in a mid-rise development with floor plates exceeding six hundred feet in length, mind you. Needless to say, a “discussion” ensued. After a bit of jousting back and forth we agreed to disagree and dropped the matter without resolution so the entire meeting wouldn’t be hijacked.

On the way out of the room we started a friendly discussion, during which I asked if he had ever spent a night with the custodial crew in a large building. Did he even know what their process was? What materials they needed? How lean they are staffed? When he admitted that he had not I issued a whimsical challenge: “Why not join me for a night of fun while we observe their work process and needs?” To my slight surprise he took me up on the offer. We made a night of it. Dinner beforehand, an all-nighter with the crew, and a well-earned breakfast to greet the morning. He got an education and, to his credit, agreed to mop one of the large research labs when I suggested practical experience is a valued teacher. When he had to walk the length of the floor each time he needed to change the water or get other supplies I knew that the operations side of the discussion had won. Okay, I might have set him up on that one.

He became our biggest proponent in subsequent design review sessions. We ended up with three custodial closets on each floor along with other adjustments, and we ended up as good friends as well.

Thank Goodness for the Robots
In another case, I was managing the facilities group during the rapid build-up of a new robotic manufacturing facility. This facility produced personal computers to the tune of twenty-five thousand units a day. The amazing thing (at least to me) was that human hands never touched them throughout most of the production process. We had a three-tier high system that ran the length of each production building. It was quite an operation.

The owners wanted this facility to be a showcase, so they mandated that the floors be maintained in a high gloss bright white waxed condition for appearance. When advised they were adding significant cost and difficulty to the operations side, they shrugged it off as a good marketing investment. There was just one little problem: The three-tiered robotic manufacturing line had large “atriums” in the middle of each cell. They could not be accessed, and you certainly would not introduce buckets of water into the environment. What to do?

After a bit of head scratching, we decided to test robotic floor cleaners. This was twenty-five years ago so these were first generation robots. Not all that attractive or small but very effective as it turned out. They saved us and the facility was indeed a sparkling showplace.

The Point
Facility managers are not always included as team members during design evolution. They should be. When they are, one of their main agendas should be guiding development of a facility that anticipates and supports operational needs, and developing an operational plan that is synchronized with the project. To do this you must have credibility with and the respect of other team members. When you need to stand up for a point you should make your case with evidence, practical thought, and succinct arguments that are on point.

FM’s want to be leaders. My advice? Act like one. And always keep a mop nearby for the architect.

Ken Burkhalter is a facilities and project management consultant, focused on strategic planning, capital projects, and organizational development. You can contact him at

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