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10 Tips for Justifying Projects to Management

Educating officials on the importance of getting things done involves many obstacles. Here’s how to overcome them

Facility managers often talk about projects they would like to undertake, but all too often, top management doesn't seem to be listening.

The reason? They may be speaking different languages.

Clear communication is vital. Breaking through that linguistic logjam can help get more projects through that all-important sign-off stage and onto the schedule.

Too often, upper management "has never taken the time to learn the language or learn about the business," says Teena Shouse, fellow and president of FM Transitions. "It's an invisible business. It's behind the scenes, and things 'just happen.' It's magic. They walk in the building and the air conditioning is on and the place is clean and the roof isn't leaking and everything is in place."

Much of the blame belongs to facility managers themselves, who have not taken the opportunity to educate executives and "sell their own work," Shouse says. "If you can't sell your own worth it's really hard to sell a project and get things approved."

Facility managers can get top executives to listen to their project needs by presenting data and pictures, using language they understand, and prioritizing requests, says Richie Stever, director of operations and maintenance for the University of Maryland Medical Center & Midtown Campuses in Baltimore.

For Stever, also a contract administrator, speaking the C-suite's lingo means equating the cost of the project to patient days, average length of stay or full-time equivalent.

"Since most healthcare executives understand clinical terms better than facility concerns, express the facility need as it relates to the body," Stever says. "For example, if a new chiller is being requested, explain that the heart of the hospital's circulatory system — the chiller — is failing."

Communications strategies

There are a host of strategies that managers can use to communicate more clearly, meaningfully and profitably.

Be visible: Shouse advocates being visible and communicating effectively. Facility managers must know the value they bring to the organization, and communicate it clearly. They should document how much money they are saving the company and how efficiently their operations are running. She is currently working on benchmarking a company's performance against other similar firms.

"They want to tell their upper management how good they're doing and how advanced they are because they want something, and what they want is funding to upgrade their technology," she says, adding they must first lay the groundwork by benchmarking, the first step in educating.

Visibility has long been an issue for the facilities management industry, Shouse says.

"It wasn't until the last 24 or 25 years that facilities management even had a job code at the Library of Congress," says Shouse, who sat on the board of directors of the International Facilities Management Association when it developed that code. "You have a profession that is not overly sexy or fun and doesn't make the front page of the news unless something bad happens. Yet we take care of the second-most important assets that companies have, their facilities."

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