HAM Associates consider operational processes as a basis for their ergonomics design schemes. The development of their own internal processes has been a key part of their business success. John explains why companies should always follow processes to succeed.
John Hargreaves and James Murphy started their design consultancy in 1998 after John had worked as a freelance designer for a while and James stopped working for the consultancy where they met. John and James felt that they could offer clients a great hands on service applying ergonomics design principles and delivering fit for purpose solutions.
What do HAM do?
Ergonomics is the scientific study of work and HAM uses this to improve both the comfort and performance of people in their working environments. The company largely apply their knowledge to critical control centres with clients from the emergency services, railway engineering companies and utility providers although they have done office areas and even specialist vehicles.
John says: “How you fit the task to the person is its fundamental principle of ergonomics. For instance a furniture workstation is simply an item that supports an individual whilst they are carrying out these tasks. Ergonomics can be about the process you take to understand people and their work processes in order to optimise the design of their processes, surroundings or workspace. This could be anything from defining the requirements for a new work process, a lighting scheme to support a person working at a VDU, or where people need to be sitting in a workspace to optimise team working.
John had little experience of running a business prior to starting HAM. The business model developed as the consultancy started to win projects and the client base grew. John believes it is vital for businesses to try and define some process to follow from the outset. “Processes allow you to control what you’re doing, to tell customers what you will do before doing it, define the cost, look at what you’ve done to improve further and even help to ensure you have a steady cash flow”.
In the video at the top of this case study, John says: “Know your customer, really put yourself in their shoes.” He says that HAM does this by looking at how people work, interviewing individuals about their jobs and understanding how the design of a room can really improve their performance – it has often surprised new clients how quickly we can understand their business processes.
John goes onto say that although some of HAM’s clients are very different “The fundamental principles are the same in that many are controlling critical situations in some way... there is a common theme but in different settings and contexts.” One core process used by HAM is called ‘task analysis’. This is a method of breaking down activities into sub-components to understand their aims in order to design a process or work space for maximum efficiency.
HAM’s clients are usually in the emergency services, utilities or rail sectors. A range of marketing methods are employed from cold calling, exhibitions and email blasts – John says that there is no one best way of marketing the business and a broad marketing mix is probably needed.
Their main problem in sales and marketing is that the majority of people do not really know what ergonomic design actually is. He says: “Very quickly you’ve got to inspire someone that what you’re offering will save time, money and reduce risk. Often, if a customer is building or refurbishing a control centre they’ll be spending a lot of money – they may already have problems with staff complaining that the current room doesn’t work so as soon as they realise that just having a new room may not resolve these issues, they start listening.”
During the recession, the emergency services market essentially came to a standstill. HAM were able to operate in other markets due to their wide knowledge base and survive the downturn. John says: “We’ve gone through a process of regeneration and improving further our approach to sales and marketing which should give us better protection in the future.”
With the spending cuts announced in the recent Budget, John believes that their clients will be trying to do more with what they already have. While the cuts will impact control centres, he believes that many services will have to run more efficiently, providing HAM an opportunity to work in a different way.
HAM has stepped up its active marketing although word of mouth is still a very valuable part of gaining leads and winning business. HAM are starting to grow their business again and slowly recover from the downturn.
John found that the most difficult part of starting a business was “Getting my head around the wide range of skills required and knowing what needed to be prioritised. With no formal business training it can take longer to understand these issues and if you are not careful this can hold back growth while you’re learning on the job.” He says that in retrospect he could have taken some additional management training although this is not always easy when you are flat out running the latest batch of projects.
He would advise new business owners to be realistic. He says: “Business is not something people just do because it’s nice or they enjoy it; at the end of the day it’s got to save or make money for their customers.