Steve Cripps is director of maintenance services for the Calgary Board of Education, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is a member of APPA's K-12 Task Force.

Traditionally, managers have looked to the efficiency and effectiveness of the front-line workforce as the beginning and, often (unfortunately), the ending of a business improvement initiative. Somehow the perception was that inefficiencies rested with the person with the tools. Enlightened organizations now begin improvement initiatives within the management structure. The philosophy is that if the processes and procedures are the best they can be, then the front-line workforce, in turn, will be the best they can be. Management has the responsibility in collaboration with the front-line workforce to study, analyze, and ultimately design processes that enrich the workplace and create opportunities for success, not failure. It is too easy to place blame on those who are most distant from the front office. An attitude of continuous improvement begins with an aptitude for teamwork. If we are successful, we share the praise; if we don't succeed, we share the responsibility.

APPA recognizes this principle of management accountability, and through the FMEP (Facilities Management Evaluation Program) provides an opportunity to put into action an improvement process that begins with management level business process evaluation.

The Calgary Board of Education embarked on this path in the fall of 1996. We are a school district of 224 facilities encompassing in excess of 13 million square feet of built area. Schools span 90 years of age, creating challenges for our workforce to keep abreast of many styles of buildings from multistory sandstone structures to steel structures with a myriad of ancient to modern operating systems. Several years prior to calling APPA to inquire about the FMEP, we had realized the need to audit our built environment, but it wasn t until later that we realized part of the formula for success also included a management audit.

In the fall of 1994 the maintenance department launched a comprehensive three-year facility management business plan. With the assistance of consultants, our department spent 16 months formulating a business strategy that was not intended to be a flavor of the month proposal. Rather, it was intended to be a cornerstone in a dramatic cultural shift for provision of customer focused, employee centered maintenance services.

The first page of our business plan contains a list of the 200-plus staff of the maintenance department who all contributed to this new vision for the future. Each of our business processes was evaluated, each of our position descriptions reviewed, all of our stakeholders consulted and finally after many months of introspection and strategic thinking our plan was published and put into action.

Improved results were immediately evident. Staff morale improved, they were valued not just for what they were (professional trades people) but also for who they were people capable of contributing significantly to long-range thinking, planning, and strategizing. Many new initiatives were prepared by self-empowered teams focused on marketing services to our customers, business process improvements, awards and recognition, quality initiatives, core staffing, communication, budgeting, and training.

Not content to sit back, our culture of continuous improvement propelled us forward. The momentum that was building seemed to be leading us in the right direction, but we wanted to be sure that we were meeting our internal goals and our external customer expectations. We believed an outside looking in approach would best serve our needs. We wanted the answer to three questions:

  1. What are we doing right?
  2. What are we doing wrong?
  3. What can we do about it?

It was at this point that we approached APPA and contracted with them to conduct an FMEP study. To say this was a contract would be doing APPA a disservice. What we really had was a partnership. APPA and the FMEP team were interested in our future success, and they did not bring their own agenda to Calgary and try to impose it on us.

Utilizing the Stephen Covey principle of beginning with the end in mind, we shared with the FMEP team our expectations for outcomes for their study. These outcomes focused on the following categories: quality assurance, accountability, customer service, employee centeredness, efficiency, effectiveness, alignment with corporate vision/purpose, industry best practices, and strategic business thinking.

The FMEP can be utilized in several ways. It can be used to evaluate a management program which has high need for new thinking; to evaluate the assumptions of an ongoing redesign initiative; to critique a mature management system; or to provide analyses of long-term renewal strategies. Whatever your need, it must be well defined to provide a focus for the FMEP team. Our department had two underlying purposes. First, to evaluate our management system after two years of working within our business planning initiative. Second, to provide direction for the development of the next three-year phase of our business plan.

Any study must have clearly defined outcomes which can be filtered through corporate values to validate their usefulness. Outcomes in a building project take on a physical form and are predetermined by detailed, precise specifications contained in bid documents. Outcomes in a FMEP study are not achieved through precise specifications but rather through a process of discovery, a journey. The outcomes are defined through a communication process involving internal and external customer interviews.

FMEP outcomes have a causal relationship with customer expectations and departmental goals. They will:

It was important that not only the FMEP team be familiar with these expected outcomes but also the department staff. Full disclosure with the workforce of the outcomes or evaluation criteria is essential to the success of the FMEP. In today's climate of outsourcing the workforce is very critical of any outside evaluation of their work environment. The FMEP initiative was clearly communicated to the workforce in advance of the team's arrival in Calgary. Our goals did not include downsizing of staff. The evaluation team continually reinforced this throughout the evaluation process. Openness about the focus and expected outcomes paved the way for a meaningful process by eliminating suspicions or fears from the workforce.

The FMEP process begins long before the arrival of the team. A self analysis tool must be completed and forwarded to the team four weeks prior to the scheduled visit. The self analysis is an objective statement of conditions as seen by members of the department, managers, and front-line workforce alike. The following categories are used to formulate a response: purpose and goals; organization and resources; policies, procedures, processes; personnel training and development; fiscal planning and management; facilities condition and appearance; and communication and quality of relationships. We designed a chart to facilitate the recording of our self analysis. This chart enabled us to communicate to the FMEP team objectively and supply comments justifying our analyses.

The host department is responsible for arranging the itinerary for the duration of the evaluation. The FMEP team leader will advise on what blocks of time are necessary and who they want to meet with. In Calgary the team met with the district s elected trustees, the CEO, members of the front-line workforce, management, supervisors, union representatives, and various other stakeholders. A broad spectrum of customers were also interviewed to validate the conclusions reached.

Once on site the FMEP team took complete responsibility for the process. It was an intensive five-day process with long hours. Typically the team was at our office by 7:30 a.m. and didn't leave till early evening. After a supper break the team would reassemble to compile notes and prepare for the next day.

One key objective of the site evaluation is to debrief the host organization on the final afternoon of the evaluation. The four members of the team was each responsible for several categories. Often the team worked individually to maximize their exposure to the stakeholders. Our final afternoon briefing impressed us with the quality and quantity of information. The insights shared illustrated the competency and professionalism of the team. Members of the team had a combined experience of more than 100 years. Rumor has it that the team leader (current APPA President Pete van der Have) accounted for over half the service years all by himself!

Once home the FMEP team each took responsibility for a section of the final report. The team leader compiled each of the individual reports and prepared a comprehensive draft. The draft was sent to us for comment on correctness of detail (not content). In a 12-week period we had experienced the process from self analysis to final team report. Very impressive.

The value of an FMEP can be illustrated in many ways. One of the questions you probably will ask when considering an FMEP is, Can I afford it? In my experience with the Calgary evaluation I estimate that a minimum of 260 hours were spent by the four evaluators on advance preparation, site investigation, and report preparation. Given the project costs of approximately $14,000 and the quality of the results, this is the best deal in town.

Let me illustrate. In the business world, projects are evaluated on the basis of their ROI (return on investment). If I spend $14,000 on an FMEP, can I expect to recoup my investment? How long will it take? A reasonable assumption would be that the evaluation could result in a 1 percent annual improvement in efficiency. For the Calgary Board of Education this would mean a savings of approximately $140,000 over a 12-month period, or an ROI of one month or less. By anyone's standards, that is an excellent investment.

The value of a FMEP extends well beyond a monetary payback. The following list serves to illustrate other significant values:

There are many other values, but these will illustrate enough to validate the FMEP process. The study left us with much food for thought. Having received the report and accompanying 59 recommendations, it was now up to us to capitalize on the rich source of information. Our assessment led us to develop seven strategic categories and 47 strategic initiatives to support these categories. Now we had the basis for development of the second phase of our business plan.

Developing an action plan was the next piece of work. The 59 recommendations were prioritized, responsibility matrix developed, budget prepared, and a time line committed to. The action plan was published and formed an effective communication tool for both internal staff and external customers. The action plan also made us accountable for results. If you involve stakeholders in the information gathering phase, you had better involve them in the action plan phase.

Eighteen months have passed since the FMEP team arrived. Life has not been the same. The recommendations reached deep into our department. Some took much courage to implement others were popular and enthusiastically implemented. We are now completing the redesign of our office to accommodate a new customer service center (some may call it a resource management center). Completion of the center will mean we have responded meaningfully to all 59 of the original recommendations.

Our journey has helped us to become customer focused, employee centered, and able to work within efficient/effective business processes. Our core business processes are aligned with customer expectations. We know where we ve been, where we are now, and where we need to be.