From a commercial perspective, the degree of opportunity for architects in Australia to improve the financial performance of their business through adopting efficient and effective operational practices is massive.
Yet with the primary focus of many understandably revolving around the core function of design, improving productivity is not always front and centre of their minds.
Indeed, in a recent survey conducted by architecture business and consulting company Management for Design, 39 per cent of respondents indicated they did not actively measure productivity. For those that did, common strategies designed to improve outcomes in this area included implementing greater levels of accountability for performance and improving the way in which they used resources and management systems as well as identifying and reducing inefficient work practices.
According to Management for Design director Robert Peake, reasons lying behind the relatively low rates of active management in this area revolve around a couple of underlying problems.
First, he says, many architects lack an understanding of how to go about measuring productivity and of the extent of the benefits involved in doing so – a phenomenon which he largely attributes to a lack of emphasis upon this area in terms of architectural education and professional development.
That’s a problem, he says, as having systems in place to capture critical information surrounding productivity delivers a number of important benefits. These include enabling a better understanding on the part of project managers as to the scope of projects, stronger capability around managing tasks, variations and milestones, and greater levels of rigor in terms of assessing performance on a given project in terms of actual hour used to complete given stages as compared with what has been planned. Indeed, with strong systems in place, practices have commonly derived improvements in terms of hours worked on any given project within the realm of 20 to 30 per cent, he says.
“I think the main reason (why many architects do not measure or manage productivity) is that I just don’t think they understand or appreciate the value that can be captured by putting in place systems and protocols that capture the right information,” Peake said. “I don’t think they appreciate and understand what can be gained from it.”
A further factor, he says, is that many architects are understandably passionate about design but are less passionate with regard to the business and commercial aspects of running their practices. Leaders often delegate management aspects of their practices such as driving performance expectations and project deliverables to others, such as project managers. Whilst delegation of management is not necessarily a problem in and of itself, Peake says there can be issues whereby communication and expectations with regard to these matters are not being driven from the top.
Peake is not alone in suggesting that productivity amongst architecture practices can be improved. In a recent article published on the Association of Consulting Architects web site, US-based RM Klein Consulting Principal Rita Klein wrote that unproductive practices within architecture firms occurred in a number of areas, such as recreating details which already exist in previous projects or redoing work that went in the wrong direction courtesy of miscommunication.
Amongst her ideas for improvement, Klein talked about the need to identify all of the major types of tasks which they perform on a regular basis – the more routine of which can often be improved through systemised forms, checklists and standards (and can easily be delegated to less experienced staff) and others of which can be improved through mentoring and coaching.
Whilst Peake says there is no one correct way as to how productivity should be measured, he says an easy way to think about the concept revolves around comparing the percentage of work on a given project which has been completed with the percentage of hours budgeted for the project which that have been used.
Peake says having strong systems in place assists architects to largely free themselves up to focus more on the design aspects of their practice knowing the delivery is under control. He says a large part of the key to improving practices in this area revolves around a greater level of focus on business related issues in architecture education and professional development.
“Your management and business systems are one of the key foundations of your business,” he said. “Without strong systems in place, you won’t free yourself from the day to day running of your business to concentrate on what you are great at – client relationships and designing and delivery great work.”
“Unfortunately, there is not a lot of great business education happening within architecture courses currently. Not only that, it appears to be diminishing as a priority and industry is being left to pick up the pieces.”