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What would you do with a million dollars? Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time dreaming up answers to that hypothetical, but it was a real question Scott Minnix was faced with. And when then-Houston-mayor, Annise Parker, posed it, Minnix — her incoming director of the General Services Department, with oversight over the city’s municipal facilities portfolio — admits his initial answer was: I don’t know. Five years ago, fresh from his prior position as director of facility operations for the city of Seattle, Minnix hadn’t yet seen all the buildings and so couldn’t establish priorities. Instead of blowing the windfall on something showy or on the squeakiest wheel, he used the resources to perform an exhaustive assessment of every facility in the portfolio and create a facility condition index rating.
That decision showed the values that Minnix prizes, and that define his leadership style: meticulous method, continual improvement, an inclusive process, and above all service to the mission. And in Houston, that means focusing the facility department on better serving the city’s 2-million-plus constituents who use the more than 400 municipal facilities in a sprawling metropolis covering 700 square miles.
That’s not to say that turning facility management around in the nation’s fourth largest and third-fastest-growing city has been a quick or easy process. But by building his team, charting a clear roster of goals for the portfolio, and leading with an unflappable style, Minnix is squarely engaged in making sure Houston goes nowhere but up.
Investing a million dollars in a facility condition assessment might seem like a surprising decision, but the first priority for Minnix was getting a handle on the situation in Houston. And the firm hired for the job came back with an eye-popping figure: The city was mired in a $450 million backlog of deferred maintenance.
Before Minnix arrived, the facilities department was purely reactive in its operation, which he says is not uncommon in municipal organizations. “People were waiting for phone calls and reacting to work,” he says. He ballparks the department at that time at 96 percent reactive. The industry best practice, he says, is 80 percent predictive and preventive, and 20 percent reactive. “We were just a reactive department,” he says. “So what I really wanted to do is become more intentional and strategic in how we do our work.”
Using the facility condition assessment, Minnix and his team crafted a strategic facility plan. That plan has been driving the organization for the last five years. “So now everybody in the organization has a clear direction on where we’re trying to go,” Minnix says. Minnix uses the plan as an educational and reference tool for his department, and for everyone else touched by the decisions made by his department. This includes the mayor, the city council, city services department leaders, and Houston citizens at large.
The facility condition assessment and facility master plan have allowed Minnix to concretely illustrate the needs of Houston’s municipal facilities. Starting with the most critical needs, the department has been methodically addressing the maintenance backlog and incrementally increasing its percentage of predictive work. Currently, the department is operating at roughly 65 to 70 percent reactive work, 30 to 35 percent predictive and preventive maintenance. “It has taken time to move that gauge from being a reactive department to being a strategic department, and then aligning the culture to think strategically and behave in a way that you handle worst first,” says Minnix.
In addition, the facility condition assessment and master plan allow Minnix the clarity to see where a problem will never be fixed because the plan is to get out of a facility. “I don’t want to invest X dollars in a building that’s not worth X dollars,” he says. “You’re able to see and make better decisions.”
It’s not all roses, though. As time elapses since the master plan was put in place, stakeholders start agitating for lower-priority projects. While Minnix is focused on addressing safety and MEP concerns, the community wants a pretty building with a fresh coat of paint. And then there’s always the elevator that conks out just before another major project is supposed to launch — yet constituents have a hard time swallowing the idea that budget dollars won’t stretch far enough to cover both. “That’s just the world we live in as the facility manager,” Minnix says. “Every facility manager has to deal with that reality. It’s just different when it’s in the public eye.”
Houston’s Scott Minnix Made Facility Assessment His First Priority