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October 2016
1024 683 Andy McFarland

It’s All About “Multi Site”! Nationwide As-Built Survey Programs

Multi-Site As-Built Programs

Last week we started a new As-Built site survey program for McDonald’s (which you may have seen on PPM’s Facebook or LinkedIn pages).  We surveyed 6 locations in Oklahoma City, and we are just finishing up these “pilot” As-Built drawings for our client.  7 years ago if you would have told me that PPM would be measuring McDonald’s in Oklahoma, I would have told you to cut back on the glue-sniffing.  This expansion of our business obviously didn’t happen overnight, and this new survey program got me thinking about everything that has happened went before this step, and all that we have learned over the years about “Multi Site” survey programs such as this.

It started in 2009.  Up to that point, since our founding in 2002, we had worked exclusively on “Single Site” projects, meaning a single location (such as a house or commercial building) for an architect client.  But just as that market was really drying up with the recession, we were approached by a new potential client that needed to get As-Builts for a bunch of Long’s Drugstores (remember them?).  Long’s had just been acquired by CVS, and our client was managing the “rebranding” of those stores.  So over the next 4 months, we ended up measuring about 60 locations in San Diego and the Bay Area. It was a great survey program for us at a very opportune time, but we also realized quickly that it was not scalable or even sustainable – Colin and I did every single one ourselves on weekends, nights, and whatever time we had in between our other “regular” projects.

But that program showed us the opportunity that existed for nationwide As-Built surveying. So since then, we have hired more people and developed a network of 50-100 professional As-Built surveyors distributed throughout the U.S, so that we can offer our services in every major metro area of the U.S. without needing to travel.  But more importantly, we have fine-tuned the processes – such as project management, quality assurance, administration, etc… – that enable us to deliver a consistently high quality As-Built product and first-rate service to nationwide retail clients.

Here are a few of the common questions we hear about Multi Site Programs, and some things we have learned in our experiences:

Q:  What is a Multi Site As-Built Survey Program?

We define “Multi Site” as anything with multiple locations with the same client, type of space, scope of work, and deliverable output.  They can be regional or nationwide. Even within this we further define 2 varieties:

  • Traditional Multi Site – (A large batch of locations with regular scheduling, weekly delivery targets, etc.)
  • Recurring Single Multi Site – (one location released at a time, as needed by client)

Q:  Who are the Clients?

We are typically measuring stores for national or regional brands. The most common clients are retail, restaurant, and banking. Our client can be the corporate brand itself, a 3rd party design/construction firm, or even a further level down the chain (such as a fixture manufacturer/installer).

Q:  Why are they needed?

Most common uses for an As-Built site survey would be some kind of remodel project such as a store rebrand/redesign (the entire store or just a portion). Often this is due to a merger/acquisition with another company (such as the Long’s / CVS program) or a brand new store opening. Other uses include custom fixture installation and facilities management.

Q: What is the typical scope of work /output

That is the beauty of these programs, it is completely customizable to what the client needs for their specific project. Typically we are asked for As-Built Floor Plan, RCP, basic MEP info, and other info such as photos or custom site survey info. Sometimes the client already has their Scope of Work and As-Built plan standards figured out, but often they don’t so we work with them to help dial it in. Then we can produce it exactly that same way for every location nationwide.

Q:  What are the main challenges?

  • Project Management – This is completely different from what is required on a single location survey. Our client is literally coordinating hundreds or even thousands of remodels based on our survey output and workflow, so our scheduling, communication, tracking, and administration need to be proactive and 100% reliable.
  • Workflow Processes – When you are surveying 1 location you can rely on your skill and experience alone to produce a great product. You can improvise when needed.  This is not the case with Multi Site programs.  All processes need to be documented, repeatable, and scalable.  It is the only way you can produce consistent output every time, no matter who does the work.
  • Team/Workforce – You need to have the right surveyors in the right places. But just as important, you need a balanced and effective internal team of Project Management, Drafting, QA, Customer Service, and Administrative staff to coordinate and execute all aspects of the program.
  • Clients – We love our clients – but often they don’t even know what they want or need! But this is not their fault, they just haven’t ever seen it done the right way before.  Working with clients can be a challenge, but it is incredibly rewarding to help them transform the way they run their redesign programs.

Q:  What are the main advantages?

  • Focus/Specialty – When you get a chance to survey hundreds of similar locations for the same client, it really gives you a chance to innovate and orchestrate your processes for maximum efficiency.
  • Fewer Clients – Working with a smaller number of clients you can give more attention to each one. It allows you to be more attentive and obtain a much deeper understanding of your client’s needs.
  • Scalability – Since Multi Site survey programs involve so many locations, you get a lot more volume for each new program. This allows the business to scale much quicker than you do by signing up one location at a time.

It has not been an easy road to enter this market, and we have made mistakes to be sure.  We have learned through trial and error over the course of 20+ nationwide As-Built survey programs, and 5,000+ individual locations surveyed.  But through hard work, a willingness to learn, and unwavering commitment to satisfying our clients, Multi Site projects are now 2/3 of our business.  Over the next few articles we will go into the details of starting and running a large As-Built Survey program that upholds our purpose as a company – “Worry Free Renovations”.

Do you have a Multi Site survey program to discuss?

1024 512 Andy McFarland

Why it’s important to Win (or at least try to!)

Teamwork and the Importance of Winning.

I participated in a couple of seemingly different events last week that got me thinking about the topics of teamwork and winning. The connection between the two might not seem obvious, but by the end of the week I could definitely feel the similarities – see if you can relate…

It all started on Monday with a last minute trip to San Francisco. If you know me, you know that I am a HUGE baseball fan, and that the Giants are my favorite team. The Giants were hosting the Chicago Cubs for a playoff game and so my dad and I flew up to watch the game. Playoff sports are always exciting, and I could feel the energy in the city from the moment we stepped off the BART station on Market St.  San Francisco is never short on buzz, but the atmosphere was downright electric as we walked to AT&T park surrounded by other fans. Sitting in the left field bleachers (where the best fans are) throughout the game, we all cheered together or groaned together depending on the circumstances on the field. If you are a sports fan I assume you know this feeling – as if YOU are actually on the team yourself, and a win for the team is a win for “Us”.

Me on the right, my dad on the left, and our friend Lon in the middle.  Go Giants!

Then at the end of the week on Friday, PPM had our Quarterly Staff Meeting.  This has been a ritual of ours since at least 2008, where we all get together to review how things went for us over the previous 3 months, and talk about our goals for the next 3 months.  We eat a catered lunch, review our financial results, talk about any challenges we faced or processes we improved, and if things are well – we make sure to celebrate our success as a team.  It is a feel-good event where everyone can feel proud of themselves and their teammates for what we have accomplished, and motivated about the improvements that we plan to make in the next quarter to become a better As-Built surveying company for our clients, vendors, and employees.

Question:  What do these events have in common?

Answer:  Teamwork and the power of winning!

As weird as it may sound, I got the same feeling at the company meeting that I got at the baseball game.  It was a feeling of comradery and shared purpose – that we all had the same goal, were all in it together, and all wanted to Win. It is why complete strangers at a ballgame will high five or even hug when something great happens for their team, or why 20 people at PPM will start cheering when I announce that we acheived our As-Built program delivery goals for the quarter.

People want to feel like they are playing for something. In sports, the goal is usually simple – to score more points than the other team.  In business it’s not usually that easy – there are no end zones, home plates or finish lines.  So you have to define your own goals so that your team will know what they should be striving for, and if and when they have won.  But the best part about winning in business is that you can ALL win together.  Unlike in sports, you don’t have to also have a losing team.  You can all be cheering together!

Here’s a few things we’ve done to bring the concept of winning into our business:

  • Define the goals.  Every year and every quarter we set goals for things like revenue, client satisfaction, employee engagement, systems to improve, etc…   They should be ambitious, but realistic.
  • Track and announce progress.  Just setting goals isn’t enough.  You have to track them and talk about them regularly.  In sports, there is a scoreboard there at all times so you always know how you are doing.  You need the same thing in your business.
  • CELEBRATE!  Give everyone an extra incentive to want to win – it needs to be fun!  The danger of not celebrating is that your goal starts feeling more like a punishment if you fall short, rather than a reward when you win.

Our tracking sheet for Q3 Goals.  The reward for achieving them all? Employee Racing Event at K1 Speed!

Getting your team aligned behind the company goals is one of the most impactful things you can do as a leader in your company.  So take a lesson from sports and harness the power of teamwork and Winning!

1024 778 Andy McFarland

Step 3 For A Simple Way To Measuring A House For Renovation

How To Measure A House For An As-Built Survey – Step 3

If you have read my previous articles, you are now well on your way to creating an accurate As-Built floor plan.  To recap, I covered the first two steps in those blogs:

  1. Preparation
  2. Measuring

With this article we will cover the 3rd and final step of a basic As-Built survey – Drafting.  This is the crucial step where you take all of your field information (sketches, measurements, photos, etc…) and turn it into an accurate, useable floor plan drawing.  For the purpose of this article I will be covering the drafting process using a CAD software program, such as AutoCAD, although the same basic principles and processes could apply to hand-drafting as well (it would just take longer).

Unlike a design drawing, where everything fits perfectly according to the architect’s vision, an As-Built drawing is never “perfect”.  This is because it comes from a real, existing building – and buildings are not built perfectly. Corners are not exactly 90°, surfaces are not perfectly linear, wall thicknesses are not precisely uniform, and so on.  But no architect that I know wants an As-Built drawing that shows all of these 1/16” or .01° imperfections – it would make the plans much more difficult to work with.  So the goal of the As-Built surveyor is not to eliminate error (which is more or less impossible anyways), but rather to minimize error, by establishing a tolerance and knowing where and how to make minor adjustments to their field data which results in the best overall As-Built plan.  For this reason, drafting is where the true skill and craftsmanship of the experienced As-Built surveyor are on full display.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn!

Before we get started with the process, just a couple more things related to the general “philosophy” of good As-Built drafting:

  • Think about what tolerance you are comfortable with – or in other words how much you are willing to adjust your measurements.  In some cases 2-3″ might be OK for you depending on how you intend to use the As-Built plans.  For me, since I am measuring with a precise laser device and since I’ve been doing this for awhile, I don’t want to make any adjustments more than 1/2″.
  • When you do make adjustments, try to make them to the longer and/or less critical measurements.  So for example if you need to make a 1″ adjustment to make something fit, don’t make it to the 3′ door opening (which is a standard size) – make it to the adjacent 10′ wall segment.
  • Always look for symmetry/consistency in the building as you are drafting. Buildings aren’t put together randomly – they are intentionally designed and constructed to be structurally sound and functional, as well as beautiful.  So for example you might notice as you are drafting that an exterior door in the back is only 1/2″ away from being aligned on center with the front door entrance.  Consider making the adjustment so they align perfectly on your As-Built.

OK OK you got it and you’re ready to draft your house!  Here’s a step-by-step process you can use:

  1. Draw the exterior perimeter of the house.  Start in one corner and go all the way around back to where to you started.  At this point you will have a “closing error” on the X and Y axis.  Hopefully if the house is square and your measurements were good you are within about 1-3″ on each axis (any more than that and you might want to consider remeasuring – depending on the tolerance you are comfortable with). You will need to make adjustments to some measurements to reconcile that closing error – but which way should you adjust?  Should you make a measurement on one side of the house longer?  Or make one on the other side shorter?  Or a little of both?  Don’t make that decision just yet – hang tight and proceed to the next step.

Exterior perimeter drafted with Closing Error in upper right.

  1. Draw and adjust the “primary” interior walls.  Start by offsetting the exterior wall line to show the thickness of those walls, and then use more offsets to place the main horizontal and vertical walls in the house, including those wall thicknesses also.  The goal here is to see how well the interior measurements fit within your exterior perimeter – this way you will know which way to adjust the Closing Error on the exterior.
    • For example, if there are 5 primary vertical walls across the X axis of the house, and the last dimension is coming out 2″ short, then you know you should adjust your exterior measurements in the direction that helps minimize that error on the interior.
    • Make all necessary adjustments to all walls to minimize the amount of adjustment that you make to any one measurement.  For example don’t adjust one measurement by 2″, adjust multiple measurements by 1/2″ to make it fit.
    • You can also use your interior “overall measurements” (explained in my last blog) at this stage to give you even more guidance as to which way to make minor adjustments.
    • This is the KEY Step for maximum accuracy!  When this step is done you are 90% done with the project – everything else is just putting a bow on it.

Primary interior walls drafted with wall thickness. Clouded areas are telling me where to make adjustments.

  1. Draft the rest of the walls and door openings.  Now that the primary walls are all placed and adjusted, this should be easy.  You will still likely need to make some minor adjustments as you go, but primary walls should not have to move again if done correctly.

All walls and door openings drafted and adjusted where necessary

  1. Add windows and doors.  Draw in these elements or better yet use blocks.
  2. Clean up the drawing.  One of my pet peeves is sloppy As-Builts!  Look around for any lines that need to be fileted, extended, trimmed, deleted, or anything else.  Make it look great!
  3. Quality Assurance.  Look through your photos and your go over your entire sketch one more time to make sure there isn’t anything you may have missed or drawn incorrectly.
  4. Add any final details.  Annotations/labels, dimensions, title block info, or anything else that you want to add to the plan.

Final drawing with blocks, millwork, plumbing fixtures, annotations and dimensions

Well, that’s it!  You have now created an accurate As-Built floor plan of a house.  Like anything else in life it takes practice, and I obviously couldn’t cover everything in these articles but I hope that you got something out of it and are willing to give it a shot.

Now if you care to return the favor I would love to hear what you think, or if you have any questions, suggestions, or praise in the comments below.

1024 778 Andy McFarland

Here’s Step 2 For How to Measure a House

How To Conduct An As-Built Survey- Step 2

In my last article, I talked about some basic preparation to consider prior to measuring a house, if your goal is to create an accurate set of As-Built drawings.  As I mentioned, every As-Built surveying project essentially has the same 3 steps:

  1.  Preparation
  2.  Measuring
  3.  Drafting

With this blog, we are moving on to step #2 – Measuring.  My goal here is to keep things simple, sticking with a basic process that anybody can use with simple tools (and a little bit of practice).  Obviously there are much more sophisticated tools and processes that a professional As-Built Surveyor would employ when working for an architecture client, and some projects by their very nature in size, scope and difficulty demand a customized approach which is way beyond the scope of this article.  But I think that for your average Single Family Residence, this process should get you pretty far.

Good As-Built measuring requires a consistent process that you can follow as you move through and around the house.  It can be tempting to simply walk into a room with a tape measure and start measuring whichever feature catches your eye first.  But this approach can leave you vulnerable to forgetting something – and there is (almost) nothing worse than leaving a jobsite, sitting down at your computer to start drafting the floor plan, and then realizing half-way through that you missed a critical measurement and you have to go back to get it.

OK enough jibber jabber!  Without further ado, here’s the basic process that I still use:

  1. Sketch and measure the exterior of the house.  I do each straight section of the house, including doors, which helps place them relative to your interior measurements.  I am right handed so I always go counter-clockwise which makes it easier to hook and pull a tape measure. When you have made it all the way around, you can add up each side of the house to make sure you’re your measurements “close” to within 1-2” on each axis (as long as the house is rectilinear).

Exterior sketch with dimensions.  No doors drawn in this case (I usually would though)

  1. Sketch the house floor plan on a new sheet of paper.  Draw the exterior perimeter first, then interior walls, then additional elements such as windows, doors etc…  A few tips for a good floor plan sketch:
    • If you have graph paper or an architect’s scale you can draw the exterior perimeter to scale (using the exterior measurements you just took). You can even draw some or all of the interior walls to scale as well if you are willing to take some additional measurements before/during your sketching.  The bigger/more complicated the house is, the more helpful this technique.
    • Make sure you have seen the entire house before you start sketching. Your goal is to create a clean, well-proportioned sketch – so you need to know the relative size of all areas, where certain walls line up, any “hidden” or tricky areas, etc…
    • Try to segment the house into areas if possible while you are sketching. For example if the house has an interior wall in the middle that lines up with an exterior wall, draw that wall FIRST.  That way you can be sure your overall proportions are correct while breaking up your sketch into smaller areas.  Think big to small.

Full Floor Plan sketch. Exterior drawn to scale.  Garage omitted to make it fit better

  1. Measure the interior.  My process here is similar to the exterior – Start in a corner of a room and go counter-clockwise around, capturing the dimensions of every segment (wall, window, or door).  I start in one of the corner rooms of the house and then proceed room to room in this fashion, including every space such as hallways, closets, etc…
  2. Don’t forget wall thicknesses!  As you move through an opening from room to room make sure to measure the thickness of that wall.  This includes exterior doors as well.
  3. Take “overall” measurements.  For larger rooms I always take the “X by Y” dimensions across in both directions (in addition to the individual segments in step 3). I also look for anywhere in the house I can take a long dimension that spans multiple rooms – the longer the better.  Overall measurements can be your best friend when you are drafting the plan to help you make everything fit as accurately as possible. Redundancy is the key here.

Full Floor Plan sketch. Exterior drawn to scale.  Garage omitted to make it fit better

  1. Use extra pages for detail.  If you also need to include additional elements on your As-Built floor plan such as millwork, electrical fixtures, ceiling elements, etc… then it will be easier to use a clean sheet of paper so that everything can fit legibly.  You can either:
    • Re-sketch the rooms that contain these elements (Potentially sketching them larger than your 1st sketch to allow for more space)
    • Overlay a vellum sheet on top of your Floor Plan sketch to add the sketch and measurements of these elements.
  2. Take a bunch of pictures!  Even having a process for this will help.  My preference is to proceed around the house in the exact same order that I measured it.

With your Measuring completed, you are ready to move to the final step in creating an As-Built Plan – Drafting.  In my next article a week from now, I’ll cover the process that I use for drafting a house (in CAD) as accurately and efficiently as possible.

Thanks for reading!  Let me know what you think in the comments below!