The purposeful way to develop a niche from nothing is to publish.
The best way to understand what a good design solution requires is NOT to start designing.
This is not at all obvious, but here is how it works.
OVERVIEW OF “BRIDGING” CONSTRUCTION
A Method Of Project Delivery
The accuracy of estimating costs
relies on just five concepts.
Do you have an easy way to determine the Deliverables you will need
to produce to complete a project?
Why You Should Have a Detail Library
We have all experienced rooms with poor acoustics, particularly unwanted sound transmission. To avoid poor acoustics you need to design a workable solution and you need to see that your solution is implemented.
Good Architectural Acoustics requires the use of just five simple concepts...
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.
Big Picture Advice For Success
I received the best advice of my career, two years after retiring.
That's when I finally got around to investigating the E-Myth. I was cleaning up old TO-DO lists, and got intrigued. What I learned is what 'working ON your firm' rather than 'working IN your firm' means in a practical sense. The Bottom Line: Develop your firm as though you plan to franchise it - even if you have no intention of doing that. If you don't make your firm into a 'franchise', then you and your firm are the same entity - and the firm only has value while you are part of it. If building a franchise is off-putting, you might think of the strategy as documenting your business knowledge, your methodology, your "How we do things around here". Besides the economic advantage of building a replicate-able business that you can eventually sell, there are three other main advantages.
Did you know that census statistics indicate that most architectural firms are small. I have been wondering about that. Why would that be?
Here’s the 2011 data that I found.
All architectural offices = 21,181 offices
1-4 employees = 14,028 firms
5-9 employees = 3,711 firms
Combined, that’s 17,739 of 21,181 firms - or 83.75%.
Priorities Are Good
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:
Specification Notes should have a role in every project. By Specification Notes [SpecNotes] I mean a section by section listing of the key requirements of every type of work, arranged by CSI Division and Section Number. The SpecNotes are placed on the drawings. We usually place the General Requirements on a G-series sheet right behind the Cover Sheet. The Architectural Technical Specs are placed on sheet A001, A002 (if needed) per the National CAD Standards. Take a look at the embedded document to download our 30+ page master SpecNotes to start your own.
The Assembly Concept is a system of categorizing work based on the major components of a building project. This is a useful way of thinking about your project for many purposes - storing typical details, organizing design work, estimating costs, structuring bid packages, planning construction.
The old 16 division (now many more) CSI system with its many sections represents the final work breakdown by individual components. This is helpful when you are looking for completeness or trying to describe, price or specify those components, but in many ways and for many tasks this fine detail is an impediment. For example, a window section in a masonry wall involves Divs 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 for masonry, lintel, flashing, window, and finishes respectively. It is very difficult to think about the window detail in terms of those five divisions, but the detail fits very nicely into one of the Assembly Divisions in this system - Exterior Closure.
I’ve read recently that organizations are starting to recognize that they no longer function like a hierarchy, which comes to us from a military model that is probably 10,000 years old. Instead they recognize that a network is closer to reality. In a network each node (person) is connected to several others. Sometimes there is a client-vendor relationship. I would include boss-employee relationships under client-vendor for the sake of simplicity. Simplicity might be at odds with clarity, though. Other times the relationship is more peer-to-peer or even resource-researcher.
What nodes do you see in a smallish design firm?
It's kind of odd that you can't easily draw a network because there are very few tools that can handle it. CAD is the handiest (lucky for us), but outside the design field what would you use? Lucidchart, mind mapping, drawing tools like the Inkflow app? Because until you draw the network, it's pretty hard to think about it. That’s one reason hierarchies have worked so well - just assign people to roles: soldier, squad leader, platoon leader, company commander, etc. No need to draw it.
Mind mapping doesn't work unless your program allows interconnections - this one (iBlueSky app) doesn't. Fig 1.
Lucidchart works pretty well. Fig 2. A Lucidchart network diagram lets you use shape, color, line types, and arrow heads to convey information about your network. This might be better than CAD. Lucidchart’s toolbox makes it pretty easy to recognize all the subtle relationships in a network. (In Fig 2 I used their ’Flowchart’ shapes with one of the simple themes.)
I tried Inkflow, too, but I didn't see any benefits of drawing the network by hand, even if you can cut and paste easily to re-arrange nodes. Fig 3.
I think we are in for some really big changes when you combine this management concept, the prevalence of contract workers and the move to embrace more telecommuting. Design firms don't seem to be in a leadership position on these changes except maybe contract workers, thanks to the Great Recession. Not being a leader, though, doesn't mean you won't be affected.
I tried for years to sketch our organization; now I see that I wasn't using the right concept/tool to tackle the job.
Here is an article with an interesting comparison.
Back in the mid-1990s we held a charrette to help a client comply with the parent company’s desire to be sustainable. We brainstormed all the ways that could contribute to that goal. Out of a list of 20+, we found that a few were surprisingly easy - recycling steel and drywall. We found a few were not legal or could not get approval in a reasonable timeframe, if at all - composting toilets, gray water re-use. We found that a geothermal system using an on-site pond was more energy-efficient than any other alternative. Through energy modeling we found out how valuable day-lighting was, and how the occupants’ connected load could undermine a lot of other goals. We set about implementing all the initiatives that were feasible; and especially concentrated on the three best tactics for saving energy - geothermal heating and cooling, day-lighting and reduced connected load.
HVAC is usually the main energy use in a building. Although a geothermal system has higher first costs, the energy consumed is reduced by mechanical advantage to the smallest amount for the same results. Often the first costs are paid back through reduced energy costs in three to ten years or less. Government subsidies (through 2016) figure into the calculation nowadays. We maxed out the pond capacity, and used a geothermal heat pump system for the 27,000 SF of offices. The extra pond capacity not needed for the offices was used in the plant for process heating.
Artificial lighting is the second highest energy cost in commercial buildings. Day-lighting can reduce the use significantly, and has an additional bonus. Artificial lighting creates heat, which requires more air conditioning. So you save even more from day-lighting than just by not using lights. Energy use in commercial buildings over 10,000 SF is driven by what goes on inside rather than the envelope. House are the opposite. This has the curious result that commercial buildings are cooled nearly all year around. So the cooling savings from day-lighting is significant and not offset by a need for winter heating. This recent post on day-lighting is a roof monitor system used to light all new common spaces. Existing corridors were skylighted with frosted borrowed lights bringing the daylight into adjoining spaces. The pictures below show two day-lighting tactics that were used. Note the 'Sunbenders' to capture the maximum sunlight most of the year while providing some shading in summer months. Also visible are the PV panels used as window overhangs. The PVs powered the phone computer systems.
REDUCED CONNECTED LOAD
This is just a way of saying to use less power hungry devices. Some things to avoid:
All three of these initiatives have a payback, and make a building more valuable in an enduring way that bicycle racks and public transport access do not (but, that's a rant for another day). Your client will love you for minimizing his/her carbon footprint and cost of operation, whether you try for LEED certification or not.
The building we designed passed to a new owner when our client’s business was purchased. Alas, the new owner wasn't interested in the building’s ’Green Pedigree’.
Before I ever bought a computer, I attended a seminar given by Paige Highfill for fellow architects. The topic was how to incorporate computers into your practice. It was 1983, so we weren't talking about CAD. CAD systems then cost $200,000. No one who bought one of those systems ever got their investment back by doing architecture with it. We were learning how you could take three programs, Scripsit, VisiCalc, and Profile, and use them to create standard notes, track billable time, and create a project-based accounting system.
Those three programs, which were on floppy disks using a computer with 128k of RAM (we were cavemen), were a word processor, an electronic spreadsheet, and a database. They weren't 'designed' to do any of the things that were being demonstrated. The key, we learned, was to understand the personality of the program so that you could set it up to do things that were useful to you. These weren't likely to be things that the program designers had ever considered.
Amazingly, after three decades, the lesson about understanding the personality of software still is useful. You often find features in a program that are intended for one use, but many other uses are possible. Here's an example using Nozbe. Nozbe is a very nice task manager that I have mentioned several times.
Nozbe offers a free account, but it limits the number of projects that you can have to five. As a designer you need more projects than that. Although Nozbe limits projects, you can have as many 'contexts' as you want. A context is intended to be a place or situation where tasks from multiple projects can be addressed. For instance you might have an 'automobile context' that you use to tag tasks that are errands. Or you might have an 'EOM context' for tasks that you need to do at the end of each month. The personality of contexts is to be a tag or qualifier for a task. So a way to use a free Nozbe account to manage tasks on dozens of projects is to give all the tasks of one project the same tag, say the project name. Clicking the tag gives you the same information as if you had clicked a project. Since each task can have more than one context, you can still use contexts as intended.
Basecamp also limits projects, so use one 'project' for all projects and use separate ToDo lists and Discussions for each real project using an ID to start each ToDo list or Discussion to distinguish it from the others. Basecamp is intended to manage projects but you can manage a club or similar group just as easily - a forum, an AIA Chapter, etc.
I use Inkflow largely as they envision. One undocumented use I make of it is as an electronic checklist. One of Inkflow's features is the ability to give your pages a stationery underlayment. They provide ruled lines and a grid, but they also let you create your own 'watermarks' by importing a photo. If you take a screenshot of a checklist that you want to use over and over, just import it as 'stationery' and you have an unlimited supply of the checklist. See below.
I think that once you start looking at programs in this way you will start to see ways that you can 'hack' them to get more value than was intended.
Using a survey as a marketing tactic is an interesting idea I heard about from a university development director. He uses a survey to ask for prospect's help in determining what is important for the university and ends up knowing what is important to them. He then looks for opportunities to focus on what is important to them.
For instance he would ask prospects to rank 8 initiatives in order of importance. (These initiatives are plans that his development department is working on.) Then months later he can use their ranking to go back to them and tell them about what was happening on that issue. And perhaps win their financial support.
This approach accomplishes two important things. First, you are gaining an insight into what your prospect's interests are, which can inform your approach to them in the future. Second, you are creating a basis for interaction before a project is launched. Asking for help is a well-known tactic for building a relationship. A third benefit is that the process offers an additional opportunity to remind your prospect that you exist.
My development department friend asks for an appointment and does the survey in person, taking notes. That is a very powerful way to implement this tactic. However, the time and attention this requires might not work in every case. Plan B is an electronic survey distributed by email. Survey Monkey is a free (and easy) survey tool you could use. There are others.
You should keep the survey brief and state up front how many questions and how long it will take. Make it as brief as you can while still getting some useful feedback. Below is an example/sample survey. Feel free to use these questions as-is or customize to suit yourself. Each of the first four questions offer the same choices to choose from.
We once surveyed all of our past clients about their experience with us. The feedback caused us to make some improvements. You might consider that use of a survey, too. Or you could make it part of your project closeout. Or make it an annual event.
orig post date Dec 2012
There are four Value Propositions for any business:
1. Best quality.
Richard Branson once said that being the best at something is a pretty good business model, and I agree. Think of brands that set a standard, like Louisville baseball bats, Benjamin Moore paints, and Stradivarius violins. You don't have to be a sports nut to have heard of the 125-year history of the Louisville Slugger, nor do you have to be a classical music aficionado to have heard of the legendary Stradivarius violins. Brands that set standards are sometimes luxury brands, but not necessarily. You don't need luxury to set a best-in-class standard. Brands like Benjamin Moore define quality in their categories. That's an enviable position and a value proposition that works.
2. Best bang for the buck.
Recessionary woes have amplified the fact that some consumers will always buy on price. Best-in-class value doesn't always mean lowest price, however, but rather the best quality-to-price ratio. Jet Blue is a good example of a company that, though it may not offer the cheapest or best in comfort travel, does a good job of communicating its value relative to its price point. Dell, Chipotle, Ikea, and Toyota are other good examples of best-in-class value, and their value propositions have been sustainable through the years. Incidentally, the founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad, has regularly traded places with Bill Gates on various world's richest lists.
3. Luxury and aspiration.
On the other end of the spectrum from bang-for-buck players are luxury providers that promise the experience of a wealthy lifestyle to aspirational consumers. Ralph Lauren is one of the masters of a lifestyle luxury brand; others are Rolex, BMW, and Hermes. While the luxury segment was hurt during the downturn, it is almost certain that as the economy rebounds that customers will return to luxury goods as their discretionary spending increases.
One of the most attractive value propositions we have seen and studied are the "must-haves." These include basic goods — certain foods, for instance. During my prior work with Thomson Reuters, we often talked about "must-have" content that business professionals could not do their jobs without. The critical legal information and tools WestLaw provides to lawyers are an example. As long as there are legal cases, there will be a need for legal information. It does not mean there will not be competition, but if the category you are pursuing is must-have, then the market leaders will have a great prize to share.
Lifted from an article titled "Value Propositions That Work", by Anthony Tjan on the HBR Blog Network.
orig post date OCT 2012
If you have watched the TV program, A Person Of Interest, this concept will be familiar to you. The program is based on a city-wide surveillance system that ties all independent surveillance systems together, analyses the data, and outputs "security issues" for the stars of the show to resolve. (Supposedly NYC actually has something similar up and running.)
In the more mundane world of the individual facility something similar is possible. By adding computer analysis to your new or existing video security system, you can receive live alerts to the presence of anomalies without anyone watching the camera feeds, or without risking that the watcher is distracted or simply misses the event. Further, there are some events, like the 'package left behind' that are very difficult to notice in a busy space.
The definition of video analytics according to Honeywell, a major vendor in the field, is "cutting-edge software that uses algorithms which detect, track, analyze and classify behaviors and objects, vehicles and people in a live or recorded video system".
The main applications are detecting incidents that are difficult for conventional sensors; detect, track and alert on incidents that threaten operations; monitor more cameras effectively with less labor; and collect data for operations.
Two key benefits of video analytics are the elimination of storing vast amounts of irrelevant data and of 'inattention blindness'. A military study of surveillance demonstrated that, when monitoring two or more sequencing monitors, the operator will miss as much as 45% of all scene activity in a two minute period. Over a 22 minute period the percentage missed goes up to 95%.
Here are some ways that video analytics can be used.
Video Analytics can provide better security, improve the efficiency of your system through alerts and searches, provide the additional benefit of counting, and reduce costs of personnel, data storage, and data collection for management use.
Costs vary significantly based on what you want to accomplish. However it is not hard to imagine that video analytics will become standard in more and more facilities in the near future.
orig post date NOV 2012
Not everyone is 'wired' to look for ways to improve a process. Some people like tackling a task differently every time it comes around. But even the act of designing is a candidate in spite of every design problem being unique. Recognizing your unique method of designing can make it a smoother process. Here's an example of what I mean.
I like to start a design problem with context, understanding the present situation, taking note of the surroundings. Context tells me what "kind" of solution the problem "wants". From there I often look at constraints next, zoning, codes, approvals needed. I want to know where the danger zones are, where I might waste time looking for solutions that will never be "clean". You can see that my overall approach is about elimination. I am much more comfortable knowing up front where the boundaries are. Infinite possibilities is not reality. There are always boatloads of solutions that won't work well. I like to get rid of them up front.
Next is a quick peek at schedule and budget followed by a rough estimate of size and needs. Then I like to mull the whole thing over while I dig into the size and needs issue in more detail.
I had few projects early in my career where there were serious misfits that took way to long to understand. One was a suburban library that wanted to be one-story because it just wasn't big enough to justify two stories. The site was a truncated wedge shape. The building wanted to be in the narrow end of the wedge and the parking in the wider end. About twenty schemes later I realized I had two problems where I thought there was just one. I had been working on the 10 lbs. in a 5 lb. bag problem without realizing it. Not only did the shape of the site make things difficult, the SIZE of the site was just large enough to accommodate building, parking and setbacks. Things started to fall together once I realized the real limitations.
There is no point in trying to hurry the process while I am working on space an needs (or watching someone else work on it). The whole thing needs to simmer for a while. Something critical to the process happens here. If you rush it, you don't really make any progress. The bigger the challenge, the longer it takes. This probably looks like procrastination, or a learned disfunction from college days. I prefer to think of it as time needed to marinate.
My method of design works much better when I can follow these steps at my own pace.
Take a look at this article to see some other benefits of Unique Methods and a tool that I use. Two other articles on documenting methods are here and here.
I have only seen three filing systems in my career. The first was Manila folders with Acco fasteners. The project name was put on a Pendaflex folder. A Manila file collected all the paper for each phase in chronological order. Three or four folders per Pendaflex hanging file. We rarely needed to retrieve anything from the file but it was a job best left to the secretary.
The second was a binder system modeled after the system that I observed a Japanese client using. They retrieved items all the time with no bother at all. I adapted their system of binders to work for an architect’s needs. We quickly found that more than one binder would be needed per project - three normally. Design, Project, and Construction. We used a custom-designed set of tabs for each binder, the same every time.
The Design Binder was used for all the design phases with code research, estimates, schedules, materials research and so on. As it filled up we started the Project Binder and moved contract-type documents with Owner and Consultants into it, added Bidding Phase documents.
With the Construction Phase we started the third binder for Field Reports, Pay Requests, inspections, Test Reports (soil and concrete), Submittal Log, Punch List and Closeout Documentation. The project manager owned the binders, but didn't necessarily do the filing, so you knew where the binder for a project was located. You also knew where to find anything because the same tab system was used on every project.
The third filing system is the one we use now. It is as paperless as we can make it. See description of the paper part. The electronic part of our filing system relies on the binder system for its organization scheme. The tabs have become sub-folders on the server, where every project’s records reside as original native format files like Word, Excel, MS Project, Dwg, etc. There are also many, many PDFs from all the paper documents that we scan or document attachments that have arrived by email. Here is what our Project Folder Template looks like.
You may see ways of improving upon this, or see other folders that you would like to add. Here is what goes in each folder. Most labels are fairly obvious but others not as much.
The advantage of this system is that no special knowledge is needed to find any project-related file. Usually, you can do it in seconds. And you can email a copy while you are at it. Besides sorting by name or date, you can do a search for whatever you need. And, since we use Dropbox as our file server, you can access all of this data on your smart phone or tablet wherever you have cellular data, which is just about anywhere. I haven’t taken a briefcase, file folder or roll of drawings onto a job site since owning a tablet.
Note 1.) All the projects underway are filed under PROJECTS. Every year or so we relocate closed projects to a 'zArchive' folder under PROJECTS. That way every project is handy, easy to find, but not cluttering up access to the work-in-progress.
Note 2.) Our project-naming system is unlike any I have seen elsewhere. We use 3-4 letters to designate the client’s name, which is separated with a dash from another 3-4 letter ID representing the project name. The client name is abbreviated like a corporation’s stock ID, e.g. APPL for Apple, Inc. The project ID often stands for the initial letters of the actual project name, e.g. FAX for Fine Arts eXpansion.
Here is a dependable way to determine your hourly rate as a consultant. This works whether you are a freelance consultant or have a firm with employees.
TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSE
First total your yearly business expenses. This is EVERYTHING except design consultants. This includes business consultants, wages, payroll expenses, everything that you spend money on because you have a business.
Now divide by 12 to get your average monthly total expenses.
TOTAL PRODUCTION EXPENSE
Next you will calculate how much you spend on the labor to produce the work that you are able to bill for. You will do this for each individual in your firm (or just yourself if a freelancer). Gather these pieces of information:
Occasionally we have worked for the contractor instead of the Owner. Lots can go wrong in this arrangement, but with the right firm it can also work well - for everyone.
One of the things that might be different working for a contractor is that they may have specific requests for how they want information shown. We rarely use a sheet size other than 36x24. This determines the placement of a lot of information. Considerations like this ignore the user of the drawings.
One of my favorite contractors is the third generation in his family's business, usually a bad omen; but he is more hands-on than almost anyone I've come in contact with. For an office addition for his (our) industrial client he had a very clear idea of how he wanted our work laid out on the drawing sheets. See the image.
His instructions were: "Get both floor plan and ceiling plan on the same sheet along with door and finish schedules so everything is together and I don't have to flip back and forth when I'm working with my subs."
As you can see, it worked out very well. Although, compliance with the National CAD Standards was shot all to hell!
Would it work for an architectural team to work from their respective homes or co-work offices? ('Co-work' is the concept where you rent a shared office with other companies -- often for as little as $200/mo.) Or what about working from Starbucks, the local tea shop, the library, a restaurant, your consultant's office, your accountant's office, a co-work sublet, or an office building's shared conference room / equipment. What do you really need?
I brainstormed this list of activities that normally take place in the office. I only found four that couldn't be completely addressed by the tools available to you today. For instance wi-fi and LTE devices, Bacecamp, Google Hangouts, Skype, SMS, chat, cloud storage, mobile phones and laptops. Throw Kinko/FedEx or your local repro house into the mix and everything is pretty well covered.
Savings? Looks like at least $1,500 per month -- $18,000 / year
Can't cut loose from having an office? Have a mini-office of one room with two desks and supplies. Or a conference room with scalable tables (ref tables when not a conference table). Go in one day each in rotation. If five people, go in once a week. If seven or eight, go in every week and a half. Etc.
- OR -
Get an RV and drive it to sites and client meetings. ’Own’ your no-office, nomadic existence. Hold charrettes and bring the ’office’ to them. An intense hands-on experience like a charrette is just made for PR and marketing.
Think about it. This economy is going to give you plenty of time to right size yourself for survival. Be creative.