Due to nearly a year of research, I know a lot about the problems that most firms face with their accounting systems. Those problems fall into all three major bookkeeping tasks that architect’s have - Timekeeping, Invoicing, and Expense Tracking. Those three problems often lead to difficulty with Project Accounting, too. That is another problem shared by many firms - not knowing if a project is profitable or how profitable/unprofitable.
MyCorbu is a project-oriented, cloud-based timekeeping system designed by a retired architect for other architects and creative people. I am going to show you how you can solve your Timekeeping issues. Cheaper. Faster. Better.
A project without changes is unheard of. Clients change their minds. Budget problems surface. Contractors happen. A project without Additional Services is pretty rare. No one likes to talk about increases in fees. But which do you prefer? Losing money, but having a content client? Or getting paid fairly even if there is some discomfort involved? The first is not sustainable. The second is easier than you might think.
As usual I am late to the party. For a couple of years I have heard about the E-Myth, but didn't think I needed to know about it. Well, I was wrong. Architects (everybody) need to know about this concept because if you are anything like me you will live or have lived it. (Near the end, below, I have some ideas about how individuals can use this concept.)
I tend to collect pieces of information in Pocket or Evernote for perusal later, so I don't know exactly where I came across the book summary that I bought, downloaded and read about Michael E. Gerber’s 'E-Myth Revisited'.
In a nutshell Michael E. Gerber describes how working IN your firm instead of ON your firm is a recipe for failure. But most importantly he describes what you SHOULD be doing. I know he is right because my firm could have been the poster child for his book.
I'm not talking about travel. I'm talking about how you achieve goals, objectives and non-physical stuff like that. We have all had the experience of making a plan or setting a goal that proved hard to implement or achieve. Somewhere in the process, often right at the beginning, obstacles appear. Not tasks, but real ’how am I supposed to do that’ obstacles. I am going to show you why that is a good thing and not the ’killer’ that you might suppose it is.
Here is a general rule of thumb for setting priorities when you are working on a project. I find that it is the best way to move a project ahead effectively during the design phases. It is ideal to tackle design issues in this order:
Unique Methods is a concept that I learned from The Strategic Coach, Dan Sullivan. Everyone has processes that are unique to them. No two people go about design exactly the same, for instance. There are three main benefits to identifying your unique methods.
Once a process is on paper, it can be delegated or taught, freeing you to do other things or getting help doing this thing.
The exercise of documenting your process often leads to improvements in the process.
The more of your processes that you can standardize, the less time is spent re-inventing the wheel on each project.
Taken together these three benefits add value to your firm by making your successes repeatable on every project.
This is one of the chapters in my e-book, Trello-PM. I want to give you a glimpse at how you might develop a Project Master Template. It is a great Competitive Advantage using a tool like Trello™. See what you think...
One of the major differences I found between designing projects in school and designing projects in a firm was the need to meet others' expectations. To me school design was like solving a puzzle. Having a solution was what mattered. Not how you got there.
When I was designing 'for real', I was never entirely on my own like in school. Getting all the drawing done in time for final printing was just one objective. The client needed to be kept in the loop. The consulting engineers needed drawing updates in time to complete their work. And they needed them far enough in advance for me to make sure their work was coordinated with everything else. Codes. Budgets. Specs. Having all these other expectations encouraged me to find a process.
I have always been interested in the 'process' of architecture. Early on, any path I took felt like I was getting somewhere, but sometimes I was and sometimes I wan't. Once I was convinced that the solution to a small school admin office was designing the building from the front door inwards. Two days later with nothing to show for my effort except my boss's observation:
"What in the hell are you doing?"
I guess this wasn't a path that produced useful results.
I continued to be on the lookout for "the Way".
Nearly twenty years later I stumbled upon a magazine article describing when types of design decisions should be made in the design process to minimize re-work.
My Interview With Business Of Architecture / Enoch Sears
A guy who knew me from my Corbu adventure mentioned me to Enoch Sears. Enoch has a website called The Business Of Architecture. Part of what Enoch offers is a podcast that interviews people in the architecture industry. He invited me to be interviewed. I said, 'Yes'. And here we are.
We got our first email system when we moved into a building where an IT consultant was also a tenant. He wired us into his system and we used his domain name. The monthly cost was affordable and there were no maintenance headaches or costs. It was 1993 and Al Gore had just invented the Internet two years before. We were ’on it’.
Over time all those drawing attachments started clogging up his email server, so we got our own email server with our own domain name. The cool factor balanced out the costs and hid the fact that we were stepping out on a slippery slope.
If you have been following along with my description of how to develop your own customized project management system using Trello, you know it's time to start implementing the idea. Implementing Trello in your firm is pretty simple. Here are the steps I suggest.
I think Trello works exceptionally well for architectural project management because its features align with the way design projects are organized. Trello’s flexibility easily accommodates an unusual project and all types of other projects.
I have been promoting Trello for a while now. I think Trello is a good tool for planning and managing just about anything, but especially design projects. Here’s why I like Trello for Project Management.
It used to be real simple - floppy disks carried from computer to computer, a sneaker-net.
Then came a hard drive for your computer, but you still used a sneaker-net with floppies. Next came ethernet wiring for a real network. When modems arrived you could access files and even programs remotely with Citrix over telephone lines.
The Internet changed everything again, making it possible for your server to be in the cloud using Dropbox. Now all my stuff is in the Cloud, and storage via Dropbox has been joined by my three Google Drive accounts, plus an iCloud Drive, plus the special cases of photo and music storage.
Things were simple; then they got complicated; then simple again; and now they are complicated again.
During the Total Quality Management (TQM) craze of the 90s, we studied what we could do to avoid several time-consuming traps that we repeatedly fell into. The result was a fairly rudimentary checklist of what needed to be done in each phase of a project. It helped a lot. So we congratulated ourselves on having mastered that TQM stuff, and moved on. Big mistake. We mistook what we could see of the iceberg as the whole problem. Now I know better, but - I'm retired. Here's what you should consider about the problem.
If the problem is quality control headaches, the lack of consistency, excessive re-work, and an unprofitable practice, what's the solution?
The Technical Design Diagnostic came to our attention about 1990. Unfortunately we have lost track of its origins - perhaps Fred Stitt?
The concept of the Technical Design Diagnostic is that it is a first step in getting a handle on the project. If your goal is to find the best design that meets your client's program, including budget and schedule, which it should be, then the Technical Design Diagnostic is the most direct way to do that.
The Technical Design Diagnostic also takes less time than a design study that ignores the parameters that will inevitably bring you back to just a subset of what you once thought was possible. We have found that by using the Technical Design Diagnostic, the project design concept becomes very clear in just a few days for most projects.
The Technical Design Diagnostic is intended to be followed one step after the other in roughly the order shown here. When you have thought all these issues through, then you are ready to start designing.
One of the key features of PM-Steps is the use of STEPS. The STEPS subdivide the work of each design Phase into four sets of tasks. Breaking the work of the Phases into more manageable chunks that are in turn arranged in a logical order is intended to provide more control over the performance of the work. One of the aspects of project management that I always found challenging was delegating tasks in a way that kept the process moving forward. Too often the delegation had to be revisited (reworked) when later work showed that the early assumptions were now wrong. STEPS help to prevent that.
I guess the calendar year is the accepted time frame for taking stock of achievements and planning for the new year. That process never worked very well for me. Although client interaction slowed down between Thanksgiving and New Years Day as they were distracted by their own year-end issues and the season, we had the same distractions. Planning takes a lot of time. Nevertheless, the planning effort is always worthwhile. You learn about your opportunities and your obstacles. Good stuff. The problem is trying to implement the plan. Stuff happens. The written plan is too time-consuming to access regularly, and it is disappointing to see the year slipping by with not-so-much being accomplished.