Dave Cain is director of facilities at Illinois State University, Normal, Illinios; he can be reached at dacain@ilstu.edu. Doug Christensen is director of the capital needs analysis center at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; he can be reached at douglas_christensen@byu.edu. Both are members of APPA's Strategic Assessment Model Task Force.

"In order to know where you where you are going, you have to know where you have been." This truism has been expressed for many years, for all professions, throughout all disciplines and cultures, and is a common sentiment in all countries. It represents the simplest concept of assessment and continuous improvement. To illustrate this point, picture an imaginary solid line of learning that extends into infinity, then impose a round black dot on that line. This is your assessment point, or "where you have been." Then impose another round black dot somewhere on the continuum beyond the original assessment point. This represents your forward change point, or "where you are going," through the measure of continuous improvement.


Assessment is not an end in and of itself, but rather a strategic tool for continuous improvement. Assessment is a process whose power is cumulative. Assessment can be an isolated snapshot to monitor the pulse of the operation or organization. However, continuous improvement is more effective when it entails a connected series of assessment activities undertaken over time. Assessment places the importance of monitoring the progress toward the intended goals, in the pursuit of continuous improvement. Assessment, therefore, is an effective vehicle that collects data, can be collated into information, then extrapolated into knowledge, transformed into understanding, and finally conveyed as wisdom.

Assessment recognizes the value of information in the process of continuous improvement. For this to be useful, the data must be connected to the issues that people really care about as well as the elements of the organization that need change.

Assessment is not always easy and can be time consuming for the facility professional. Assessment can also be both strategic and non-strategic. For example, if an assessment for change leads to the improvement that replaces the original function and is a part of ongoing replacement, it is not considered to be strategic. Conversely, those assessments that do significantly alter and improve the function are considered strategic in nature. Organizational change and learning occurs when you move forward from the point of assessment, through change, to that point on the learning continuum toward continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement by definition is the ability to constantly adapt to change by using information, and to constantly evaluate the environment to ensure effectiveness. Continuous improvement requires systematic evaluation to measure the progress and the outcomes of the your changes.

Continuous improvement requires dedication and a willingness to be guided by objective information sources. Compare the relationship between assessment and continuous improvement. To compare the relationship between assessment and continuous improvement: If assessment is considered the "cause," then continuous improvement is considered the "effect."

The key question for assessment and continuous improvement then becomes, "What causes you to make assessments?" Many in the facilities profession prescribe to the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Because we do not like change, we don't have (or make) time for change-we just want to manage.

Higher education facilities management is well represented of possessing good managers. We manage the what, how, when, and where extremely well. These skills and activities to control it, direct it, budget it, plan it, and complete it on time are essential management skills for all facilities professions.

However, leadership is the ability to view this situation differently, and asks the Why question. Leadership in facilities is understanding that continuous improvement is achieved through assessment. Leadership is accomplished by using a skillful technique to assess a problem and then artfully motivating people through the process of change to a new level of effectiveness. Facilities leadership empowers people to align their performance with that of the organization's goals, mission, and vision. When this is done correctly it is enormously rewarding and personally satisfying for the individuals involved.

What Does This Have to Do With SAM?

Following four years of effort, APPA unveiled its publication, The Strategic Assessment Model, at the 1999 Educational Conference & 84th Annual Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Strategic Assessment Model (SAM) combines self-assessment, continuous improvement, and strategy into a powerful and useful strategic tool for the facility professional. SAM represents a blend of the Kaplan/Norton balanced scorecard approach, the national Baldrige Award criteria, and MIT's Learning Organization Model. These and other related topics will be featured in the March/April and June/July issues of Facilities Manager. Future SAM deliverables will include a workbook, greater SAM presence on APPA's website (www.appa.org/sam), annual and regional implementation training, and much more.

Finally, while some might argue differently, APPA's Strategic Assessment Model Task Force believes that in order to have good strategy (vision and mission), you need to have continuous improvement. And in order to achieve continuous improvement, you need to have good assessment! Stay tuned, and start putting your assessment pieces together in the continuous improvement puzzle.