facilities management

Three fundamentals of facilities management

Don't let trends distract from these building blocks of future FM success
Thursday, January 19, 2017
By Michel Theriault

Facility managers do a lot, and sometimes that gets in the way of other things they should be doing but aren’t. They get re-directed by the latest trends and concepts and neglect to focus on the fundamentals that drive results and improve what they do.

Spend less effort always responding immediately to the latest facility work order or email, or being distracted by BIM, the Internet of Things, big data, sustainability and the most recent trend. Instead, here are three things that should always be at the top of a facility manager’s list to focus on and get done, no matter what else is happening. Listening, planning and promoting are the foundation for building success in other areas.


“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” — W. Edwards Deming

Listening is about gathering information and data.

It includes hearing from senior executives about organizational objectives and goals, reading reports, receiving and analyzing facilities data from building systems, talking to other experts and colleagues, attending conferences and training, and talking with (and listening to) facilities staff and contractors who are experts in what they do and can offer advice on what should be improved, changed, etc.

As big data trends, facility managers simply need to have data, even ‘little data’ to make a material impact in their responsibilities. It isn’t acceptable to use intuition, ‘gut feel’ and anecdotal evidence to lead and manage facilities departments — facility managers need facts they can analyze and act on to increase services, manage costs, and be more efficient in dealing with facilities issues.

The IFMA Benchmark Report #34 indicated that only 53 per cent of FMs have a computerized system to manage their responsibilities (79 per cent have a space system, 45 per cent have a move-management system and only 35 per cent have a maintenance-management system). The overall trend shows increasing adoption of facilities software, which is important because these software systems are a fundamental tool in managing processes efficiently and providing data for management, analysis and decision making that every FM should have. It is worth noting that even if FMs have a system, they don’t always go to the next step and use the data to analyze and inform their decision making.

Listening takes time, not only to collect information and data but also to do something with it — to analyze it and turn it into decisions and actionable changes that improve results.


“People and their managers are working so hard to be sure things are done right, that they hardly have time to decide if they are doing the right things.” — Steven Covey

Planning is about looking forward, whether to tomorrow or next year — and importantly, taking a more strategic approach to that planning. Since a lot of the basic facilities role is reacting to occupant needs and solving them, facility managers seldom take as much time to plan strategically as they should.

This problem isn’t limited to the overall facilities portfolio for the next five years, it includes a lack of strategy for dealing with common issues, for the meeting tomorrow, for improving how services are procured or for how to get needed resources and staff.

Facility managers aren’t just paid to get things done, they are also paid to think, which sometimes looks like unproductive time — something most facility managers believe they can’t afford. Yet sitting at their desk with their feet up thinking or planning something is more valuable in the long term than spending their time on the third floor or on the phone resolving issues. If facility managers are spending most of their time putting out fires, they will never be able to prevent them in the first place.

Planning takes focus and time but it also takes courage — courage to delegate and courage to put the long-term objectives in front of some short-term tasks, and to change from managing the urgent items to managing the important ones.


“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.” — Paul Hawken

Promoting is about ensuring the facility manager’s organization and senior management understand the importance of the facilities management department and provide support when the facility manager presents proposals for staff, resources, changes or strategic plans.

It is about getting what facility managers need to make improvements, increase efficiency and add value. Remember that facility managers are competing with their colleagues in other departments for attention and resources. Facility managers can’t just go to management, tell management what they need and expect management will hand it to them. Facility managers need to promote and sell their department’s interests. And facility managers need to have a plan and data to prove what they need.

This doesn’t come naturally to most facility managers since many are used to simply doing what they do behind the scenes. Instead, facility managers should provide evidence of their impact and communicate successes as well as failures, including what they did to reduce or eliminate the problem. Hiding failures is a good way for management to assume everything is fine and facility managers don’t need any more resources or staff. Highlighting them helps to demonstrate what facility managers need, such as capital replacement money, staff, training, tools or contractors who aren’t the lowest cost.

Learn the language of the executives, including legal, finance and operations, so facility managers know what the C-suite cares about and how to communicate in terms it understands.

Promoting takes time and a shift from being in the background to being out front. It requires a change in approach, including self-promotion (of the department) and marketing what facility management does and why it matters to the organization. Success in promoting their department makes it easier for facility managers to get support and make a difference.

And in combination with listening and planning, promoting paves the way for future success in other areas.

Michel Theriault is principal of Strategic Advisor, a facility, property and asset management consulting firm. For more information, visit www.fminsight.com.

6 thoughts on “Three fundamentals of facilities management

  1. Michael,

    Thanks for this critical reminder of those few critical items we should not neglect as busy facility professionals. This was very helpful. Thanks for referencing Dr. Deming.

  2. Very interesting guiding principles. How do you see the adoption of IoT systems being integrated into buildings? Will there still be multiple systems that will work interdependently or are the solutions for that will be able to link all IoT devices together securely?

  3. Wow, Great Article. Great to see someone other than me writing about this. You’ve Highlighted some great points and I do love the use of the Quotes, Especially; “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” — W. Edwards Deming”. I can’t emphasize more on your last line; “And in combination with listening and planning, promoting paves the way for future success in other areas.” What a way to finish off the Article. Keep up the Great work. I will look forward to reading more of your work………..

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