This is a problem because business is dependent on delegation, and the architectural business is not any different.
Now that I am retired, I am pretty much out of the business world, but I was thinking that many other architects face the same thing.
By the time that I had someone else to help with the work, I had 35 years of DIY experience. It is probably not surprising that it was difficult to turn that ‘ocean liner’ around.
If you think of delegation as giving someone work to do, like I did, you find out that something is wrong when you reach about three people to give work to. What is wrong is that you spend your entire day keeping those three people busy. The crazy idea occurs to you that maybe you need another person just to keep the first three busy because you are working nights and weekends trying to stay ahead. You are “delegating” door and finish schedules in Schematic Design just to have work for your staff so you can do invoicing.
That fourth person is actually a good idea, and it explains why you hear the advice that you should hire the best people you can find. They don’t need babysitting.
I did that. It works fairly well. I was proud of the fact that 75% of the staff were registered architects. But it isn’t the best solution in my opinion. Some of the downsides:
- Payroll gets pretty steep.
- Registered architects are doing everything - door schedules, sheet layout, CAD drafting.
- You (I) really don’t want to let go of an experienced person once they know your processes. We all took a pay cut to prevent that occassionally.
- Experienced people like to do things their way, so everyone does things a bit differently.
- You don’t get much say in a lot of cases. You may not like being on the sidelines.
Circumstances made me deal with the delegation issue. It was my first year in business. It was just me. I had two jobs. A 30,000 SF manufacturing plant and a 4,500 SF doctor’s office. I couldn’t get anything done. Phone calls. Managing consultants. Client meetings. Invoicing. Typing letters (this is 1980). Paying bills.
So I borrowed an intern architect from a friend who wasn’t busy, and hired my landlord’s sister/receptionist to type and do bookkeeping. Things were getting done now, but I was involved in everything, absolutely everything. And still working nights and weekends.
If I had read Stephen Covey, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. 35 years of always doing it yourself and being too busy to step back were tough to overcome.
The key lesson I would have learned from Covey would have been to delegate responsibility instead of work. This is the key concept for successful delegation.
Somewhere along the line I came across the following piece of wisdom and wrote it in my Palm Pilot (so it was the 90s). This is what I would aspire to do now. I would work with each person I wanted to delegate to so that they rose from ‘Level D’ to ‘Level A’.
Level A - Complete
"A" authority enables the employee to have full responsibility and authority to carry out the full operation. [You take care of it.]
Level B - Act and Inform
"B" authority entitles the employee to perform the responsibility as stated with an additional responisbility of informing upwards the accomplishment or status of the job operation. [Keep me posted.]
Level C - Approval Prior to Action
"C" authority entitles the employee to assume the responsibility to make plans and preparations to conduct the job operation, yet the manager's approval is necessary prior to final decision or implementation. [Check with me first.]
Level D - Wait For Direction
"D" authority entitles the employee to take no action on the job operation until specifically informed to do so. This level of authority is used as rarely as possible. [Do what I tell you.]
Unfortunately 80% of my delegations didn’t make it above Level D. “Do what I tell you” is as close to Do-It-Yourself as you can get.
Here are a couple of other tips that I have picked up along the way that might be worth considering.
The old UNIFORMAT Assemblies are a good way to delegate architectural responsibilities because the boundaries of the Assemblies don't overlap.
The Assembly Divisions give you a way to choose what to delegate and the limits as well.
Revit seems to agree.
"Team Member Roles
Typically, designers work in teams, with each assigned a specific functional task. Each team member has control over a particular portion of the design, for example, interior, exterior, site, HVAC, electrical, or plumbing”. (From the Revit guide.)
The second tip is a concept that I picked up from The Strategic Coach program. In a nutshell it is a method for documenting the procedures that you want to delegate. You get to be DIY by designing the procedure just the way you want it to work, but now that it is documented you can easily delegate it to someone else. Your time is freed up, but the results that you want are easy to get.
(See the further reading links below.)
If I had it to do all over again, I hope I would have the discipline to keep my eye on the big picture. I would work constantly to document my Unique Methods - even before I started my own firm so that I was in a position to delegate those processes with confidence, and easily.
I would start every person on Level D or C and make it a project (long term?) to work with them right up to Level A delegations.
And I would use UNIFORMAT to organize and guide the delegation of architectural project work. My Trello project, PM-Steps, embodies my attempt to do that.
I crashed into the need to delegate. But delegation is what it takes to turn an architect into an architectural firm. With my experience to fall back on, perhaps you can make a better job of it.