Five Warning Signs of Chaos in Your Growing Business

Anticipating issues helps you get on top of the chaos—before it gets the best of you.

I like surprises at work as much as the next business owner (i.e., not at all). As A/E/C companies grow, they often become susceptible to unpleasant surprises, from communication breakdowns to budget shortfalls and staffing issues.

There are some obvious tell-tale issues that point to trouble ahead, such as labor hours that run above or below budget, rising staff turnover, invoiced totals that creep up on contract value too early, and missed project milestones. Here are five other warning signs of disarray I’ve seen crop up as firms scale operations.

If any of these sound familiar, you’re overdue to introduce more consistency and structure into your organization. Anticipating issues helps you get on top of the chaos—before it gets the best of you.

1. Haphazard meetings

A status meeting without an agenda and meeting minutes is like a cloudy day on the beach. You don’t get the best views and you can still get burnt. Even at larger firms, there’s a surprising lack of preparation and tracking of meeting items for specific follow up. No agenda or minutes = no

2. Chasing the next big thing

They say it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. Some firms drop everything to land a new contract with a new client at the expense of paying attention to existing clients’ needs. Plus, getting those new engagements off the ground takes managerial time and focus off everyday project management of current contracts.

3. Supply chain slip-ups

Let’s say a shipment of hard hats doesn’t arrive on time in the field, or accounts payable unexpectedly runs out of checks. These may seem like small headaches or simple miscalculations, but running out of supplies could be indicative of much larger problems brewing.

4. The blue screen of death

Your internal server and desktop computers may be perfectly adequate now, but if you rely on deskside applications for critical documentation, it’s only a matter of time until something goes wrong. Many smaller firms start modernizing with off-the- shelf tools like Office 365, Google Drive, and Dropbox, but you need to look out two to three years in advance for cloud-based solutions that will provide effective security and redundancy.

5. Too many cooks (or not enough) in the kitchen

Having too many people in the loop can be just as troublesome as not communicating enough. You may be committed to operational transparency, but it’s best to keep people focused on what they can control. Otherwise, you run the risk of distracting or duplicating effort among staff who need to be executing on client deliverables. Not enough cooks in the kitchen can also risk distraction from being overworked, bogged down, and missing milestones and deliverables.

It takes a consistent application of analytics and communication to avoid surprises and stay on top of your project portfolio. Clear project reports provide a mechanism to review agreed-upon metrics on a consistent basis. I’ve found that standardizing reporting protocols makes teams more proactive – knowing a review is coming, they’re more apt to get out in front of potential issues.

My job is to help engineering and construction firms untangle complexities and avoid chaos. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or gearing up for a growth cycle, I can help! Let me know when you’re ready to talk.