Collaborative learning with peers has proven to be one of the most effective means of learning and discovery. As engaged facilities and business practitioners, we have used the relationships we have built through APPA and its regions to seek advice and guidance on the common ground issues and challenges we share. Whether your organization is experiencing a few minor bumps in the road or looking to build an entirely new highway into the future, APPA now offers a tailored, scalable, and customizable advisory service to help member organizations navigate issues and challenges that are important to them.
APPA Advisors was formed to complement the well-established Facilities Management Evaluation Program (FMEP). Whereas FMEP reviews follow a standardized, structured, and comprehensive set of performance evaluation criteria, APPA Advisors’ services are formulated around a set of scoping questions for which clients are seeking deeper understanding, analysis, and advice. These services can be scaled to fit any budget and/or phased as progressive work packages that allow the client to pace their efforts.
APPA Advisors was launched in summer 2021 after considerable study and evaluation of how to best support our members with the myriad of challenges they face. Aligned with APPA’s strategic vision of Preparing for Every Future through continuous learning, we draw on practitioner experience and understanding of the business to provide clients with insights and knowledge about their organizational challenges and preparedness. We also offer peer-reviewed validations and endorsements for major change initiatives under consideration, which can help advance the business case to the administration and promote the case for change to the rank and file within the organization.
APPA’s community ethos, regional and chapter relationships, published resources, educational offerings, and breadth of products and services offer a unique, integrated platform for APPA Advisors to share professional experience and provide peer advice, evaluations, and recommended solutions. We bring a systems-thinking approach to the complexities and cause-and-effect consequences inherent in our facilities management service and stewardship missions. Our services tap into a robust network of experienced peer practitioners offering unmatched depth and breadth of industry expertise on successful innovative solutions, effective organizational design, operational best practices, comprehensive benchmarking, and strategic planning approaches.
As an engineering student I had a professor who taught that a “problem well-defined is half solved.” I learned many years later that this quote is attributed to Charles Kettering, a noted American inventor, holder of 186 patents, and namesake of Kettering University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Kettering’s premise is simple: If you don’t understand the problem, you won’t find the solution; and if you do find the solution, you won’t realize it.
Defining the APPA Advisors Scope of Work
Hence, central to the APPA Advisors approach to serving our clients is a well-defined scope of work framing the desired outcome of our reviews. We start with “Why?” by probing into the foundational reason for requesting our services. That leads to “Who?” is the intended audience, “How?” our analysis and report will be used, and “What?” does the client hope to get from the study. Next, through a series of guided conversations, I work with the client to develop a set of scoping questions that focus the APPA Advisors team’s subsequent inquiries, analyses, evaluations, and recommendations. These scoping questions determine the desired expertise and backgrounds of the APPA Advisors team, the client’s and team’s pre-site visit preparation work, the schedule and timing of the site visit, and the structure of the final report.
In these scoping conversations, it is common for a client to begin with a particular question or concern in mind only to frame it from another perspective later. A good example is when a client questions why custodial services are not meeting customer expectations. Through these scoping conversations, the question becomes more well-defined as something like, “What APPA cleaning level is being funded and how well is custodial services communicating and meeting those particular service-level expectations?” Other examples include the framing of deferred renewal in terms of institutional risk, the high cost of construction in terms of total cost of ownership, and last but not least, reframing the “How do we do more with less?” question to “How do we do different with less?”
Within two to three weeks of being contacted, a scope of work can be prepared, a proposed team assembled, and a cost proposal submitted to the client. The APPA Advisors team will usually be onsite for three to six weeks following the client’s acceptance of our proposal. Since APPA Advisors develops the scope of work, the client is spared the time and effort of developing a formal request for proposal (RFP). In that sense, we function as an agent of the client, first fully understanding their issues and then articulating those in a proposed scope of work. There is no fee for this up-front counsel and no obligation to accept the subsequent proposal for a review. APPA Advisors is pleased if we do nothing more than provide a well-defined problem.
APPA’s status as a nonprofit professional association utilizing proprietary member-developed resources and peer practitioners positions us to be sole sourced under most public procurement regulations, as has been the case historically with APPA’s FMEP. An apt analogy is the manner in which our institutions engage academic peer and accreditation reviews. Additionally, APPA Advisors fees will often fall below competitive bidding price thresholds established in most public jurisdictions or governing board policies.
In the months since our inaugural review, APPA Advisors has issued eight proposals, of which six have been completed and two are under consideration. Another four proposals were in the initial development phase at the time of this writing. Consistent with the vision for our services, the scopes of work for the reviews have represented a diversity of interests, needs, and purposes. Our scopes have varied in terms of team size, fees, and scale of institutional involvement.
We have served clients from coast to coast, private and public, and both higher ed and K–12 schools. Of our eight proposals to date, three were requested by the senior facilities leader, four by administrative vice presidents, and one by the institution’s president. As an indicator of the strategic importance of our work, two of the six completed reviews were followed up with an additional request to present our findings and recommendations to the institution’s governing board.
Here is a sampling of our work to date:
A college looking to recruit a vice president for operations and facilities sought the advice of APPA Advisors on the skills and knowledge they should seek in their next leader given the strategic importance of their facilities, the challenges they were currently facing, and the transformational changes required going forward. The team worked with the administrative leadership and the executive search firm to rework the position description and inform the search committee process. In addition, APPA Advisors connected the institution to an interim leader.
A large public school district in Southern California was interested in improving the appearance of the grounds and landscape at all locations within the district. A team of experienced active professionals with relevant grounds experience, utilizing the APPA grounds staffing guidelines, provided a set of recommendations and benchmarks and delivered a presentation to their board for increased funding, staffing, and adoption of best practices.
The long-serving president of a prestigious midwestern college was approaching retirement and wanted a series of assessments of several of their administrative units for their successor. APPA Advisors was chosen for the review of the facilities organization. The review addressed five groups of scoping questions related to five areas: service delivery, staffing levels, systems and processes, organizational structure, and change management readiness.
A mid-sized New England private college recovering from COVID-19-related staff reductions and needing to recruit a senior facilities officer was looking for guidance in the rebuilding of the facilities organization and advice on how to better inform the search and recruiting effort for the next leader. The APPA Advisors team provided analyses and recommendations to aid both the near-term rebuilding effort and the longer-term work of the next senior facilities leader.
A premier specialty institution is facing challenging deferred renewal and modernization needs for the majority of their facilities portfolio. They sought analysis and advice on best practices for funding strategy, planning and prioritizing projects, executing project delivery, and enhancing facilities operations. The APPA Advisors team provided an overview assessment and recommendations, citing APPA published resources, APPA regional engagement, and APPA Business Partner services as available resources to aid in implementing the recommendations. The case for significantly increasing capital renewal funding was presented to their governing board.
The most gratifying outcome of the APPA Advisors reviews is the clarity we are bringing to the issues of concern to our member institutions. While many of our observations and analyses are already shared by those we interview, our site-visit exit presentations and final published reports validate and help foster alignment across the organization and institution.
“If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
The APPA Advisors teams follow Einstein’s advice by conducting an in-depth review of requested information and data submitted in advance of the site visit and by conducting broad, 360-degree type interviews while on campus. The team avoids running with isolated opinions or grievances and instead looks for validations, trends, and systemic markers to ensure our observations and analysis are conducted from a foundational understanding of a problem, challenge, or concern. In our final reports, the thorough descriptions of our observations and analyses (Einstein’s 55-minute problem definition) lead the reader to understand and see the rationale for our recommendations (Einstein’s 5-minute solution).
All APPA Advisors final reports are professionally edited and produced by Glen Haubold with GHaubold Consulting and FM Excel. Glen is a well-known retired senior facilities officer and active contributor in APPA circles. He possesses a mastery of grammar, punctuation, editing conventions, and writing style. The combination of his editing skills and deep knowledge of the profession results in clear and concise reports, edited from the perspective of an industry insider ensuring nothing is lost in translation. APPA Advisors reports read with one clear and articulate voice and are professionally produced for the targeted audience.
Understanding that managing facilities within education institutions is a complicated undertaking involving various integrated and interdependent facets of the facilities portfolio, APPA Advisors takes a systems approach to our reviews. Because we know the business from the inside, our recommendations are practical, pragmatic, tested, and tailored to the institution or organization. We are still early in the launch of APPA Advisors but are pleased with the positive response we are receiving for APPA’s latest member service.
Continue reading for an APPA Advisors case study below.
The Washington and Lee University APPA Advisors Experience
Tom Kalasky, executive director of University Facilities at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, approached APPA Advisors to evaluate their plan for developing and implementing a Facility Asset Management Program. The plan was developed by a University Facilities six-member, multidisciplinary working group commissioned by Tom and charged with the goal of providing customer-focused service, maximizing the value of university physical assets over their life cycle, and utilizing an effective maintenance program to reduce operating costs.
The working group surveyed best practices within the profession and availed themselves of the resources of APPA and the advice from business partners and peers. The result was a comprehensive, integrated assessment of current practices and a corresponding set of recommended practices. The plan addressed preventive and predictive maintenance, work scheduling, budget control, material and inventory support, geographic information system (GIS) asset database and mapping, computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) utilization, key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics, organizational structure, and more. In short, it was a visionary and ambitious plan for transformative change. One of the working group’s general recommendations was to engage a peer review of their work prior to implementation. The working group specifically cited APPA Advisors for conducting the review.
Nine groups of scoping questions were formulated around the overall goal of a successful implementation of the proposed plan. These questions related to areas of organizational readiness, viability of the implementation schedule, financial resourcing of the plan, needed talents and skillsets, change management readiness, and other due diligence questions. Once the scope was set, it was determined that a two-person team visiting for three days would be appropriate for this review. Furthermore, it was decided that expertise in maintenance operations and implementation experience with similar facilities asset management program initiatives would best serve the working group’s desire for an experienced-based peer review.
Jay Klingel and APPA Fellow Gary Reynolds served as the two-person APPA Advisors team. Both Jay and Gary have extensive experience in higher education facilities management, serving in senior leadership roles. They have long track records with APPA through their active participation on a variety of contributing efforts. Through their long-standing service as faculty for the APPA Institute for Facilities Management, they had developed robust professional networks and gained a broad knowledge of the best practices within the profession. Both are retired and were readily available to meet the desired quick turnaround for the review. Gary possessed relevant institutional experience, having served at Colorado College, a private institution of similar size to Washington and Lee University. Jay, having served at the University of Virginia and residing an hour away from Lexington, had the benefit of proximity and familiarity with the local practices, culture, and conditions.
Gary and Jay worked closely with Tom to request and review organizational information and data ahead of their visit. Their time spent preparing translated into more efficient and productive time spent on campus in interviews and conversations with campus stakeholders. At the conclusion of their three-day visit, they provided an oral exit report to Tom and his leadership team. Their observations and recommendations were well received and accepted. Following Tom’s review of the draft report, a professionally edited report was submitted.
Washington and Lee University, like all our surveyed clients to date, gave the highest ratings to the APPA Advisors team, the highest marks for value received, and strong endorsements for recommending us to friends and colleagues. “I appreciated the way in which APPA Advisors worked with me to customize a review that addressed our specific needs,” says W&L’s Tom Kalasky. “And our working group benefited from the observations and advice provided by Jay and Gary and the value it brought to finalizing the development of their proposed Facility Asset Management Program.” As a further indication of the value of peer-to-peer learning and collaboration, Tom arranged to have Jay on a retainer for any desired follow-up assistance during the implementation phase of their plan.
Don Guckert is Vice President of APPA Advisors, an APPA Fellow, and a Past APPA President. He previously served as associate vice president for facilities at the University of Iowa and is based in Coralville, IA. Don can be reached at [email protected].