Spotting the Trends That Will Impact Your Firm’s Future
Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball and know exactly what will occur in the AEC industry in the future? Wouldn’t it be great to understand how your clients will evolve over the next few months and years? This intel would make our strategic planning, marketing planning, business development planning, and resource planning so much easier – and so much more effective.
Fortunately, the data that is needed to help us clarify the future is already at our fingertips. However, it is up to each of us to employ anticipatory thinking to understand, interpret, and act upon data for the benefit of our respective firms. This approach might seem laborious or, frankly, outside your comfort zone, but in this blog, I’ve narrowed it down to a straightforward four-step process that is manageable for everyone.
Step 1: Know where to find the data – and collect it.
The critical information needed may incorporate data within the global environment, the AEC industry, or our clients’ markets. In the not-too-distant past, it took significant time and effort to conduct the research needed to collect data from so many different sources. Some data you could gather through a local library; others through publications that you might subscribe to; and still others you might be able to purchase through the mail from governmental sources or industry organizations.
As I mentioned, these sources are at our fingertips today. Utilizing Google Alerts, regularly digesting information on aggregator websites, and perhaps making online purchases, we have access to an almost unlimited data source. Want to know the manufacturing output for specific states? That’s available. Want to know what demographic changes have occurred in the Southwest part of the United States? That’s available. Want to know what states have approved the use of public-private partnerships for road and bridge projects? That’s available. Want to know the status of various recessionary signs? That’s also available.
Step 2: Identify the trends.
Once you have your data, the next step is to unearth the trends. For this step, you will need to employ some anticipatory thinking and identify both hard trends, which are based on facts, as well as soft trends, which incorporate assumptions. Knowing which trends are hard and which are soft will allow you to apply the proper definitiveness to your information. Some examples might include:
- Have the states utilizing P3 teams for infrastructure projects been increasing by 3-6 per year, concentrating in the Western part of the United States?
- Has the Northeast’s aging population continued to grow, or have they followed others to warmer climates?
- Will inflationary pressures on timber-based products continue to impact residential construction throughout the country?
- Has the number of non-traditional college-aged students continued to increase as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic eased?
By observing the data you uncovered in the first step of the process, some trends may be readily apparent, while others may require additional research.
Step #3: Use tools to analyze and interpret the trends.
Here is where we discover the real “meat” of the process. How do you apply this critical information to your clients’ industries via a future-focused process so you can develop proper action plans? The key is to look at the forces these trends exert on your clients’ businesses and, most importantly, your business. To do this, look at each client market in which you hope to remain (or become) active. Apply the impact of the trends that you found previously to these markets. Will they have a positive or negative effect? Will they only impact a subsegment of that industry? Will they only have a temporary influence? Will they drive future design/construction opportunities?
Of course, the proper tools will make this analysis more comprehensive and definitive. It may make sense to employ a SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis to find the most impactful trends. Perhaps, further analysis of a market via Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework analysis may be appropriate to clarify the future evolution of one of your target markets. For a more comprehensive analysis, the impact of the Sociological, Technological, Economical, Environmental, and Political (STEEP) forces on a particular client market can be performed concurrently. (Or maybe use an analysis that adds Legal and Ethical forces – STEEPLE). No matter what tool(s) you use, the goal is to interpret how these trends will impact the design and construction industry, and specifically your business.
Step #4: Develop a strategy to exploit the uncovered information.
During this step of the process, you use the intelligence you have gained to position your firm for the future. How are the trends going to affect the clients you serve? How should you pivot your firm in response? Should you hire a Subject Matter Expert (SME) to position your firm for upcoming rail station projects that you have identified? Should you open a new office in the Rocky Mountain region to serve your primary client market of senior living? Should you lock in a partner for future Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) projects growing in your healthcare market in the Southeast? By utilizing the correct tools and performing the proper analysis, you will be able to develop successful strategic plans, marketing and business development plans, and resource plans to help your firm for greater success.
Using this four-step process, you can effectively go from pure data to actionable plans. To learn more about how and where to gather your research, spot the critical trends, interpret those trends, and then prepare your design or construction company for the future, join my upcoming webinar with Scott Butcher, Trendspotting: Lynchpin of Successful Strategy. We’ll provide further insight into the best process to use, direct you to the appropriate information sources, provide tools for you to use to interpret the data, and show you how to share this with your leadership team succinctly.