Project Management for Architects
I like organization. Some of you would rather be attacked by fire ants. Here's a compromise that won't hurt much at all.
I discovered Trello some time ago. I really got into it. I shared the post "You Probably Need Trello, Lucky It Is Free".
I was using Trello for everything. And then ... Basecamp pulled me back into the fold. I really like Basecamp, both the app and the company that makes it. Basecamp is a great project management tool, and I used it a lot for architectural project management. So what changed? Recently I was kicking around the idea:
How can architects manage everything with one app?
Most of us don't give a thought to a Janitor's Closet. We put a sink in a small room of 5'x5' and move on.
Well there's a little more to it if you want the space to serve the building owner. We learned what is really needed when we designed a supply warehouse for Banana Republic / The Gap. The owner's project manager, who was in charge of supplying the whole company with stuff for operating the individual stores, was basically an executive janitor.
We received very specific requirements for the janitor's closet. I am passing on his wisdom to you.
Zoning is an odd duck. Zoning is unique among codes because you might not be able to build. Period.
Every other code will allow you to proceed if you can show compliance, which is generally just a matter of money - more of it.
With zoning, no amount of money can buy permission to proceed if you don't meet the requirements. Sometimes you have to wait a year before re-applying!
Flat Roofs Don’t Leak
Flat roofs have a bad reputation for leaks, but I don’t think flat roofs leak. My experience is that any leaks aren’t due to poor roofing or poor roof materials. The leaks are due to the flatness of the roof, which encourages use of the roof for HVAC equipment.
Here is why that is a leak-producing situation, and what you can do about it.
The ‘Standard Details’ concept is deceptively simple. “An easily accessed library of building details that describe how you like to do things.” Everybody gets that.
Have you ever tried to do it?
I found success elusive. But it is worth a try. Here is why ...
MyCorbu just got closer to the vision of offering a real solution to the small firm’s need for architectural bookkeeping. All that’s missing is an invoicing solution. (That’s next.)
Architectural Bookkeeping has come to MyCorbu BOOKS, the renamed, paid version of the MyCorbu timekeeping app.
A year after I started my own firm, I was invited to design a hangar for my Dad's golfing buddy, who happened to have started an airline that was growing by leaps and bounds. We designed projects for his airline for about twenty years until they were bought out by one of the major airlines. One of the main skills that allowed us to keep up with their growth was my knowledge of project delivery methods - mostly book-learning, driven by interest.
Small firms don’t need accounting.
Your accountant doesn’t agree with me.
He’s wrong unless your firm has over 20 members.
The problem with accounting is that it requires brain-surgery-precision for a task that doesn’t much matter. When you stop to think about the time, effort, and aggravation that accounting requires; and what benefit you receive in return; something is fundamentally wrong. Basically you can’t afford to do accounting until you are large enough and complex enough to afford a bookkeeping employee.
I know this because my six-person firm used accounting for most of our existence and got almost no benefit from the tens of thousands of dollars per year that we spent on accounting. Why did we do it?
Ignorance. I thought I had to. I mistook AIA publications as applying to me. They don't. They apply to much larger firms than I ever had.
About 93% of architectural firms are smaller than 20 people. They can't afford accounting. They can only afford bookkeeping.
So what is the difference?
There are a number of things about a truck dock that add up to truck docks needing to be more than an afterthought.
I am not thinking of a distribution center when I say that. The docks are the central focus of that kind of building and will get plenty of attention. I am thinking here of the incidental truck dock that may be a convenience or an efficiency measure. In that case safety is a paramount concern, but every truck dock that isn't part of a professional trucking operation should have a safety focus because people will sometimes use the dock who haven't been trained.
The first design step is to contact a local manufacturer's rep for dock levelers. They can look at your situation and give you great advice about the best way to set up the dock.
Here are a few things to consider about the dock, the building and the equipment:
For over 20 years I had the benefit of having Project Financial Status calculated for me by our (pricey) accounting software after each month was ‘posted’. You could choose from two methods. Method A was automatic but gave useless results. Method B required you to input an overhead factor to allocate overhead per hour of time charged to the project. This method gave consistent results and the results were accurate as long as your overhead factor was up to date.
You can see how to calculate an overhead factor here.
MyCorbu BOOKS (formerly called TIME) now provides the same Project Financial Status as a pricey accounting system. One difference is that MyCorbu does it daily rather than monthly.
Architekwiki is five and a half years old. It's about time that I ask whether I am on the right track. This quick survey has just five questions and will take you less than one minute to complete. Your feedback will really help me.
The first sustainable project that I had a chance to be part of was offices for a Dutch candy manufacturer in the late 1990s. Among other things accomplished, we used Photovoltaic Panels as window awnings - collecting and using the sunlight while shading the window glass. I am sure that is where this ideas comes from: using reflective glass to form an exterior light shelf that also shades the window below. That is what my crude sketch below is trying to describe.
When I started my firm, I didn't have much experience with business. In particular I felt unsure about money matters. Luckily I stumbled upon a business attitude that partly made up for my lack of experience.
I discovered how to apply certitude (real or feigned) to replace uncertainty.
Most Architects can’t afford to do accounting
The reason is simple. Most architectural firms have less that 10 people.
By most, I mean 80%.
And architects can’t afford it because it takes at least 20 hours per week of someone’s time - on average. Just for accounting functions.
The Financial Model of an Architect’s Office is a well-kept secret. I have never seen it mentioned anywhere. But there are several things that need to be in balance to get positive financial results. The resources available from the AIA are only useful if you already have an MBA-like understanding of finances.
A Financial Model entails more than “Income minus Expenses should be a positive number.” Negative numbers equal poison. You can’t survive much poison.
I have to mention Page Highfill here. He is the architect who told me about the
financial model that architects need to know about.
The short answer. A benign version of Facebook.
Do you remember when Facebook first come out. You saw your friends posts and they saw yours. My account has evolved into something I am not interested in any longer. My News Feed seems to be 50% showing off what you just did, and 50% people’s opinions about politics and other stuff that I am supposed to do something about if I agree.
Oh, and ads.
Developing and documenting your processes is the most important thing you can do whenever you ‘WORK ON’ your firm.
Because this one tactic will make your firm better, more effective, and more efficient.
I have an addition to my suggested Office Reading List. It is a book titled REWORK by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37signals (now Basecamp).
The book is a list of business and work concepts that they consider bullshit. They also offer the antidotes. I agree with the book because I did most of these things myself. They are correct. They don’t work.
These are my ideas on how an architect should be selected. I am not a fan of the usual competitions, RFQs, RFPs, and presentations that are used most of the time. I think these methods distract from what is important - the criteria for quality, schedule, and budget.
You might find a use for this article in your work. Feel free to copy and modify it to suit your needs.
The Kolbe System is a very useful tool that gives you an insight into another dimension of your colleagues - how they prefer to take action. This is something you should be aware of sooner rather than later. It is especially helpful when hiring.
Unique Methods are just your personal way of tackling a task. This presupposes that you have given this task some thought and you are happy with the procedure you have developed. For this procedure to be a Unique Method you must write it down.
Teachable is a great software tool for building online courses. I am interested in this because I think there are some topics that I have developed that might be suited to the online course format.
But more importantly you might find it valuable, too.
Everyone knows that projects, being much larger than just a couple of tasks, have phases.
What everyone doesn't know is that
ALL PROJECTS have six phases in common.