Mangement For Design

Autumn Release

The Business of Architecture

The business of running an architectural practice requires ongoing focus from business leaders, yet is often neglected in the process of servicing clients and delivering projects. Management for Design addressed these issues in a series of monthly webinars for the Association of Consulting Architects. Rob Peake investigated the main elements that make up an architectural business. Looking at people, strategy, business and financial management, legal, brand, systems and delivery, Rob simplified the complexities of business management. The webinars were presented as a 3 part series — we covered the first two foundations to building a successful architecture practice in the Spring issue of this eMag and the third and fourth foundations in the Summer issue earlier this year.

We’ll continue to deliver content from the webinars throughout the year, encouraging business leaders to take a closer look at the foundations of their businesses and to implement some of these insights on an ongoing basis. Links to the webinar slides are available at the end of this article.

The 10 foundations to building a successful architecture practice are:

  1. Purpose and Plan
  2. Leadership
  3. Systems
  4. Financial Control and Profitability
  5. Team
  6. Management
  7. Managing Risk
  8. Marketing, Communications, and Brand
  9. Design and Delivery
  10. Succession

Let’s take a look at Sessions 5 and 6

Session 5: Team

Architecture is not about buildings; it’s about people — the people who use your buildings, the public that experience your buildings, the clients that commission you, the consultants and the builders. Your team is made up of a lot more than simply the people you employ — they are only part of the equation. Alongside your employees, your team is made up of owners, advisors, specialists and employees. The main difference between a business and being self-employed is the team you surround yourself with. Surround yourself with experts, mentors and advisors and work out who you need around you — financial, tax, legal, risk, strategy. By learning from the experts around you, you will get the return on your investment that is imperative to the success of your business.

Without people you don’t own a practice — you own a job. It is necessary to focus on hiring people that have the correct skills but, more importantly, who culturally fit in your business and can bring quality and talent to the business that you may not have. Surround yourself with people trying to build a career rather than having a job and foster a culture of accountability. The key issue to remember is trust your judgement. Don’t make the mistakes of putting the wrong people in charge of hiring or failing to let go the employees who don’t fit well in the business. Your team needs to have experience, passion and commitment.

Develop clear performance criteria (expectations) and a comprehensive review process (with clearly defined objectives) with your team and ensure you reward and recognise employee contributions accordingly. By being a good listener, you will ultimately build stronger relationships with your team. If you know how to listen you know how to problem solve. Having systems in place will enable you to delegate responsibility to the right employees that in turn will ensure your staff members confidently take control within their roles. As a leader, it is crucial to spend time on business management while also mentoring and educating your team to help them grow and evolve with the business itself. Key people contribution criteria encompasses:

  • Work generation
  • Business representation
  • Strength of client relationships
  • Extra curricular activity
  • Design initiation
  • Design delivery
  • Fees written
  • Project profit
  • Client satisfaction
  • Quality of outcomes
  • Delivery of scope
  • Leadership
  • Personal organisation
  • Professional development
  • Mentoring

Session 6: Management and Operations

Management has far less to do with people than you’ve been led to believe. Architects — and most people — are almost impossible to manage. In its simplest form, managing is about managing a process, a way of doing things, a system. Having a great management system in place is imperative when wanting to succeed. Consider the following when thinking about how things get done through people using such systems:

  • What is the result we want to achieve?
  • Why aren’t we producing that result?
  • Are our project expectations clearly communicated and understood?
  • Do we lack a system and if we do, why aren’t we using it?
  • This is how we manage around here, not who manages here.

It is also important to consider how you manage your projects by:

  • Engaging your team in the plan (show them the scope and the fee!)
  • Assigning responsibility to your team
  • Scheduling weekly programming meetings (45 minutes)
  • Providing a schedule of consolidated projects
  • Setting priorities, milestones, deadlines and expectations for each project (draw up an organisation chart)

To complete any project efficiently and to the best of your ability, a project needs a plan. By planning a project beforehand, you and your team have a clear vision of what’s expected and when. Tracking progress along the way by noting down how much of the project has been completed and making any adjustments to completion estimates will ensure you and your team stay on track and aim for the same completion deadline. It is also important to keep track of utilisation/chargeability of each project. Project plans should consist of the following:

  • Tasks by phase — provide timeframes for every stage of the process
  • The responsibility assigned to every member of your team
  • The work required
  • Number of hours estimated to completion

Using systems correctly and efficiently for every project will make a huge difference to how your team performs and the overall outcome of the project. Rather than spending your time on managing people, focus your time on creating innovative systems that you can use and monitor. A great system will make it easier to find great employees. Once it has been implemented, train and mentor your team to follow the system and evaluate them according to their use of the systems.

The real essence of the business of architecture and business success is the need for business owners to focus ‘on’ their businesses rather than ‘in’ them. By getting this right in your business, it will enable you to focus your attention on establishing relationships with your clients and maintaining a cuttingedge position in your industry. This will ensure that the quality and value your practice delivers is maintained that will ultimately encourage your clients to remain loyal to your services.


You can download full slide decks from the webinar series at the following links:

Webinar 1 (foundations 1 and 2):
Webinar 2 (foundations 3, 4 and 5):
Webinar 3 (foundations 6–10):

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