Join us at Device Talks Boston in October

Our SF design office is moving! What a long, strange trip it’s been

April 26, 2018

Being a professional who has managed complex projects while simultaneously raising a family and attending graduate school, I felt I was more than prepared for my latest project – finding a new home for our San Francisco team. 

After all, what could be so challenging about relocating 10 people less than two miles in a city with over 78 million square feet of commercial real estate?

Little did I know that this little exercise would evolve into a full-blown project that would not only fully engage me but also had the potential to suck my entire team into a demanding and all-consuming design problem.

Regardless of the project objective, be it finding a new office or designing a new medical device, any product manager will tell you that understanding your client’s needs and objectives and managing the project team are key to a successful project. As a project manager, the first question you often ask your client is why.

Why did we want to relocate our office?

The easy answer is, “We needed more space.” We currently have approximately 1,800 square feet and our new office has 4,000 square feet. More space would allow us to grow the team and provide an ecosystem for better internal and external collaboration. Dreams of project bays, storage lockers and ADA-compliant bathrooms danced in our heads. We are growing, and our plans include adding to our technical and strategy teams.

The more difficult answer is, “We need an inspiring, inclusive, functional and cost-effective space that reflects the Design Concepts brand promise.” Our current home on Shipley Street just could not deliver on this goal.

So, with this problem statement in hand and an awesome team of 10, Operation Buttermilk was launched.

Who? A project team of 10!

Managing a large project team is problematic, but now imagine that all of them are also stakeholders, clients, influencers, and end users. This is what project management nightmares are made of … 

If we were an office of 50, 100 or 1,000 employees this would not even be an issue. Key roles would be identified, internal team members would be assigned to the project, and you would use outside resources for the heavy lifting. But we were running Project Buttermilk LEAN, which meant no external resources, limited budget, and a project team comprised almost exclusively of SF staff members. Well, to be honest, the entire SF Staff was 99 percent of the project team. So, another challenge emerged: How can you engage your entire team of stakeholders, clients, influencers, and end-users — empowering them in the process, enabling them to influence, contribute, and envision — while also minimizing distractions so the real work, client work, can continue?

How? 

Operation Buttermilk was run using the same frameworks and project management systems we use with our clients. We started with research, designing a survey to elicit feedback on commuting requirements, features and functions, opportunities, hopes, dreams, and fears. We participated in a strategy workshop and held scoping and co-analysis sessions. This research resulted in a list of requirements and nice-to-haves.

Luckily, fate intervened with a property that was a perfect fit for our requirements: 216 11th Street, aka “Bricks and Beams.”

We created a budget (which, of course, is never big enough), we defined our schedule, and we argued over the trade-offs. So, with requirement list in hand, we engaged Tyler, our real estate broker, and started our quest to find a new home.

What and where?

Tyler and the team spent the next five months looking at properties. By the end, we had evaluated over 60 properties. Amazing with over 78 million square feet of commercial property in San Francisco how hard it was to find the perfect home. Perhaps one of our requirements was the issue, finding space for a 3,000-pound Bridgeport mill with a two-phase 220 power specification. I had nightmares about that mill. The mill equaled: reinforced floors, garage doors, freight elevators, and power upgrades. The mill knocked out most of the contenders before we even stepped through the door. After that, the astronomical rents, unrealistic 12-month leases, and erratic neighborhood zoning laws reduced tens of possibilities to a final few realities.

Decision making

Months passed, but at last we had a short list of three possible locations, which the team appropriately nicknamed: The Mouse Maze, the Sauna, and the Beach. I took the team through facilitated analysis and decision-making exercises and in the end, we ended up with …. NOTHING! After four months, we decided that the final three locations did not/could not answer our problem statement and project requirements. The team went back and reevaluated the requirements, emerging with a revised set of priorities and a renewed passion to find the perfect home.

Throughout this entire process, as we struggled to find the right space, challenged our assumptions and reevaluated our requirements, we often returned to discussions about the mill. It became apparent that the mill was more than just a tool in our prototyping space. The mill was a symbol of what Design Concepts is and who we are. We are makers, doers and design thinkers. We develop and design by getting our hands dirty. 

Even though we have Virtual Reality and 3-D printers and countless other technologies in our toolbox, the analogue methods of paper and pencil (or a 3,000-pound Bridgeport mill) are usually the first things we reach for. So, the Bridgeport remained on the requirements list and we went back to our search: looking for a home for 20 people and a 3,000-pound mill.

Luckily, fate quickly intervened with a new property that was a perfect fit for the revised requirements: 216 11th Street, aka “Bricks and Beams.”

Pictures can’t express how inspiring the new space is. Soaring ceilings are punctuated with immense wood rafters, exposed brick walls and incredible natural daylight stream thorough three sets of skylights, with just enough quirky features to remind you that “this is a San Francisco design office!”

Dreams do come true

With the move mere days away, we are in a state of shock that our dream office will soon become a reality. The mill and the team will have a new home on April 30th.  There is still work to be done. The doorbell may be on the fritz, and the paint may still be wet to the touch, but the great wall that divides the shop and the office has been built. The ADA-compliant bathrooms and new kitchen with dishwasher and ice maker are installed. We will be (almost) fully operational on May 1st, thanks to an incredible team that had faith in the process, respected each other, and shared a collective vision of a future for this office.

If you live or work in San Francisco or are just in town visiting, please knock on the door or poke your head through our awesome wood garage doors and stop by for a visit. Our door is always open, and we are proud to be in a space that is incredibly inspiring, inclusive to all, and worthy of the Design Concepts brand.

My deepest thanks to the SF team, Corin, Jesse and Dave for making 216 a reality.