The Architectural Woodwork Institute's Chicago chapter saw a good turnout for the November meeting.
The Architectural Woodwork Institute's Chicago chapter saw a good turnout for the November meeting.

Architectural Woodworkers Project Management TipsMargaret Fisher, Lange Brothers Woodwork market development manager, invited me over to the Architectural Woodwork Institute Chicago chapter meeting on project management techniques last week. She promised a high energy meeting, and I can report it was exactly that.

Chris Farrell, Inter Ocean Cabinet Company, is president of the AWI Chicago Chapter, and he got things started with basic business and talking about AWI, before moving into the program

AWI Chicago is one of 23 chapters in the Architectural Woodwork Institute. 

To  keep the presentation from dragging, an unusual format was used: 9-20-20. it involves 9 speakers showing 20 slides apiece, talking off the cuff, with each slide changing on a timer every 20 seconds. A bell rang at the end of 20 seconds, and that assured no one spoke beyond their alloted times - totaling 6 minutes and 40 seconds each.

Talking about project management, presenters included nine construction specialists. "Learning from them will be like drinking from a firehose," was how Margaret promoted it. "What else are we going to do-talk about sand paper?"

Randy Lange of Lange Bros Woodwork in Milwaukee lead off, and he was a good choice. Speaking from his position as an AWI Project Manager, Randy provided a business perspective on the architectural millwork marketplace with provocative market metrics.

"We're aimed at turning quotes to cash," he said, noting te irony in the fact, "We're in the worst recession, and yet we can't find people." The market is improving, he said, noting the Architects Index business indicator was running above 50 "for the first time in years."

Highlighting the experience of the Architectural Woodwork Institute as a barometer of the indnustry's circumstances, Randy noted that nationally, AWI has seen a decline in membership in recent years from 2,900 firms to 2,705 currently - a 6.72 percent drop.

Architectural Woodworkers Project Management TipsDuring the same period, small firms fell from 170 to 157; those in the middle tier remained stable. But bigger firms took the brunt of the hit, dropping from 456 in total to 356 - a 21.9 percent fall-off for this segment of AWI membership.

"What have small firms done that allows them to survive?" he asked. Randy suggested that they are more agile and flexible, and they can now benefit from the same technology for production and project management that they big firms have - but without the big overhead.

Randy said that formerly the average job his firm did billed for $250,000; now it is around $80,000. So that means many more jobs are mosing through the bidding process, and through productino, than ever before. Which made a meeting on prject management very timely.

"You have to get your company operations to expand and contract," he said, noting that there are 60 projects moving through Lange Brothers Woodwork at any given time, with lots of checklists and constant reviews.

Andrew MacGregor, Sr. Project Manager of Skender Construction, noted that "the challenge is getting stuff there," for projects, with "long lead time items" from subcontractors requiring special attention.

During the proposal period, "Don't be afair to overstate the obvious in telling your client what you do," he said. "If you manage the schedules you'll get the work and make the money."

Jeff Conner of Eckenhoff Saunders Architects stressed the importance of a team working well together, which sometimes means ironing out conflicts. "Negative communications must be worked out," he advised, "if you want to have a team that will want to work together on the next project."

Adam Quigley of TK + B Architect: "The richest projects also have the most challenging constraints," he said, citing the Japanese proverb, "None of us is as smart as all of us."

Kevin Mack of Holzkraft Door Manufacturers described his firm's operations, a 250,000 square foot door plant with $25 million replacement value. The Barrington, IL firm produces custom rail and stile doors, operating a plant in Mexico.

Other speakers included:

  • Dave Urschel of LSH Architect: 
  • Mark Jardon of Roger Shaw & Assoc., Software Experts
  • Ken Lee of Sierra Forest Products
  • Tim Chmura of Barsanti Woodwork

With 77 in attendance - mostly architectural woodworking firms - it was the one of the best attended meetings. We were happy to promote the event in two Woodworking Network daily newsletters. (If you have a meeting to promote let me know and we'll get the word out.)

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