In the early ‘80s, engineering had been reduced to a commodity for offshore work and design projects essentially went to the low bidder or a friend. The constant ups and downs and consolidations severely stressed the working environment and took a toll on the people involved. People kept their technical reference material in boxes so they could easily move between companies, chasing the work. In this environment, Mustang founders, Paul, Felix and Bill worked hard to create loyalty and trust between the company and employees. One of the ways they did this was with the mantra, “job on the corner of the desk”.
Excerpt from Mustang, The Story Chapter 6: “Job-On-The-Corner-Of-The-Desk”
For the first three years, 80% of the billable hours were on jobs that lasted less than eight weeks. Our “going out of business” curve…our other albatross…looked like this…
Sometimes the curve was steeper. Being conservative, we always said our going out of business horizon was six weeks. Combine this with controlling overhead hours and lease space and something had to give. The easiest solution at the time, and common in the industry, was to hire and fire technical people to limit overhead and match job requirements.
Loyalty and trust are built on performance. We wanted to build loyalty and trust, so we had to find another way. Our attention had to be squarely on filling the backlog curve with work. We would always be dealing with the margin…the half or full person about to go on overhead. Hiring people who were flexible and able to do many types of work helped. But the reality was that we needed to continuously fill the backlog to create loyalty and trust with our people.
My challenge became to put a job on the corner of the designer’s desk and say “please hurry up and finish, so you can get onto this project”. If we could do this, then the people would not have to be worried about their job and could put all of their energy into doing good efficient work.
In addition to relieving the stress people had for finding a new job, this philosophy increased efficiency. Normally it is hard to finish projects as they have a tendency to drag out. Now people found ways to push for completion and get onto the new hot project.
Small projects on the corner of the desk made us very efficient at starting and finishing projects. This efficiency reduced the manhours it took for us to do a project, making our cost per project competitive even at fully loaded manhour rates. Thus, we could pay the going rate for people and still have a lower estimated cost in our bids.
Job on the corner of the desk also meant that we did not have to include as much downtime in our overhead. This led to increased profitability within the existing industry standard rates. This efficiency is where we were able to squeeze out bonus money for everyone that was working so hard.
Job on the corner of the desk forced a sales discipline and a completion discipline. Sales had to close and projects had to close.
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