The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) defines facility management as a profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality of the built environment by integrating people, place, process, and technology. Clear as mud? Let’s break it down.
Historically, facility management has not been seen as its own profession. In many cases, FM responsibilities were given to the maintenance person as additional duties. FM evolved over the years from a void in the management of commercial facilities. It is becoming more and more rare to see the maintenance technician who has been in a particular facility for longer than anyone can remember, acting as the adjunct facility manager. Increasingly, private and governmental organizations are requiring FM professionals to have degrees, certifications, and actual experience in order to be considered for FM jobs.
To be honest, this is a great thing! With the void in management came a credibility to our profession that had not existed before, which was intensified by aging infrastructure. Executives began to recognize the need for a knowledgeable FM, which you can use to become the most valuable employee your facility has. However, this also means facility managers must become true professionals through degree programs, continuing education, on-the-job training, and past experience. But in order to do this, facility managers must become experts in 4 Facility Management Knowledge Domains: Operations & Maintenance, Project Management, Business Finance, and Leadership.
Facility Management Knowledge Domains
Operations & Maintenance –
The term “operations” implies that the facility’s infrastructure is used to create the environment that it was built to create. And the term “maintenance” implies the infrastructure is serviced so it operates consistently and safely, enabling the operations to continue. According to the WBDG, operations and maintenance typically includes the day-to-day activities necessary for the building and its systems and equipment to perform their intended function. Operations and maintenance are combined into the common term O&M because a facility cannot operate at peak efficiency without being maintained; therefore, the two are discussed as one.
Maintenance activities consist of two types: planned and unplanned. Planned maintenance is any maintenance activity with a scheduled process where all costs, materials, and tools associated with it are available prior to beginning. Unplanned maintenance covers all other maintenance activities. Unplanned maintenance is typically the result of repairing a failed component or poor service quality. In FM, you will never eliminate unplanned maintenance. However, the goal should be to incorporate a comprehensive preventative maintenance strategy to reduce and limit repairs that occur at your facility. Preventative maintenance is regularly planned maintenance conducted on a schedule on equipment still in working condition to prevent it from failing unexpectedly.
O&M is your bread and butter in facility management. It is what you do daily and it is what is expected out of you. You must learn how to manage building systems, engage in life-cycle replacements, determine maintenance schedules, and keep operations ongoing. This can be a challenge, but it is a must.
Project Management –
According to PMI®, a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Project management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project
activities to meet the project requirements. So, let’s take that one step further in our understanding of what constitutes a project, because this is commonly misunderstood.
Two things in this definition stand out to me. The first is that a project is temporary. To go through all phases of project management, you have to have a beginning, middle, and end. You can define a project in other terms, but the intent is the same. It will be impossible to define a project accurately without a beginning, middle, and end. To me, this is the easiest way to understand the many complex requirements of project management. The second major stand-out in the definition above is that a project creates something unique. As an FM professional, you’ll be able to define a beginning, middle, and end to a lot of routine tasks you do or assign to others. That said, a routine task does not yield a unique result and thus, is not by definition a project.
Project Management will be where you can really excel as an FM. If you can learn to plan, execute, and control projects effectively – this will bring a huge amount of value to your organization. Facility managers routinely engage in small- and large-scale projects in their daily routines. Learning this domain is a must in order to stand out in FM.
Business Finance –
As a facility manager, you will almost definitely be expected to create and maintain facility-related budgets, be involved to some degree in procurement, and recommend facility strategies to senior management in financial terms (e.g., payback from energy reduction projects). Even if you are not required to recommend initiatives at the strategic level, it will greatly benefit you to understand your organization’s financial statements. This lets you know the financial health and strategic direction of the organization.
There can be varying consequences associated with failing to understand the basic concepts of finance. At the very least, you won’t be as effective at your job as you could be. As a facility manager, you are entrusted with your organization’s largest assets (real estate, buildings, fixed equipment, etc.). That is a huge responsibility. While FMs operate in the background much of the time, we control a large percentage of our company’s value.
Business finance is arguably one of the most important and valuable knowledge domains a facility manager can master. The good news is, it does not have to be overly difficult to learn. So, if you’ve ever been intimidated by accounting principles or financial terms, start learning.
Leadership lies at the intersection of the three other knowledge domains, because truly understanding leadership and how to do it will set you up for success. To be sure, you cannot manage your facilities,
projects, and budgets by yourself. The people who work for you and with you will make you successful (or ultimately lead to your search for success elsewhere). Understanding how to develop as a leader and then develop other leaders is vital to this success.
To be a leader, you first need to make the conscious decision to lead. The concept of a natural born leader is not one that I promote. Leadership, like many things, is an art that is learned, practiced, and improved. It is a perishable skill that will degrade over time when not practiced and is not binary in nature. What I mean by that is leading effectively is not all or nothing; but it exists on a sliding scale. You can (and most likely will be) more effective in certain leadership competencies than others. You will naturally tend to have stronger leadership attributes than others and it is up to you to improve in weaker areas.
This brings me to the second point I want to make and it is something I have learned after many years of studying leadership and developing leaders. Anyone can lead. There is no magic formula that every great leader is born with, which prevents anyone else from becoming a leader. While this concept seems to run contrary to many opinions and teaching on leadership, let me explain. There are traits that successful leaders share and there are skills, attributes, techniques, and methods of leading that certainly will make you stand out. However, anyone can learn any of these. The key is to make the decision to lead and then learn how. Never let anyone tell you that you are not fit to lead. And by anyone, I really mean you. You can become your own biggest obstacle. Don’t allow that to happen.
These 4 Facility Management Knowledge Domains are the bodies of knowledge that collectively form the foundation of what we do as FMs. Sure, we must learn to do other things like build sustainable infrastructure and communicate effectively with our peers and direct reports. However, in order to really get a firm grasp on the scope of our responsibilities and execute them with precision, we must excel within these domains. If you’d like to get in-depth with all of these knowledge domains, check out my book here: The Complete Guide to Facility Management.
 “What is Facility Management?” IFMA. 2017. Accessed February 22, 2017. https://www.ifma.org/about/what-is-facility-management.
 Don Sapp. “Facilities Operation and Maintenance.” WBDG. October, 3, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017. https://www.wbdg.org/facilities-operations-maintenance
 “What is Project Management?” PMI. 2017. Accessed February 24, 2017. https://www.pmi.org/about/learn-about-pmi/what-is-project-management