3 fatal flaws your architecture firm has right now

After visiting over 200 architecture firms, I was aghast that so many of them were committing these costly sins of mismanagement and miscommunication, without even realizing it. If I can stop even one more firm from shooting its own foot, then this is worth it.

January 23, 2014 |
Steven Burns

Photo: Adamr; FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Years ago I sold my Chicago-based architectural firm of 17 people after being presented with an offer I couldn’t refuse. Over the next two years, I visited nearly 200 architectural firms all around the country. I spent anywhere from one to five days in these offices, learning how they operated and observing their culture. It was an eye opener to say the least.

As I toured firms of all sizes or specialties, I started seeing some disturbing patterns. I frequently saw three common flaws that could put an architect’s practice in peril.

Saving the World One Building at a Time

Architects are notoriously under-compensated, for many reasons. One reason, I observed too often, was what I’ll call the Struggling Artist Syndrome. For architects with this syndrome, being poor is a badge of honor–like a war wound. They pride themselves on the meager compensation received for the hard work they do, the value they provide their clients, and for building a better world.

In truth, architects aren’t motivated by money. We’ve arrived at this profession out of a potpourri of passions; art, design, construction, urban planning, environmental stewardship, etc. I can guarantee that you will never find anyone who entered our profession with the intention of making money.

Most architects are too timid to even discuss finances. When asked about money, like a practiced politician avoiding a question on global warming, they’ll change the conversation to something they really want to talk about, like design and construction.

But if you want to get paid, you have to be able to talk about money and why your firm, its staff and its project management practices are exactly what a client needs.

You also have to be able to talk about business practices with your staff to ensure projects are managed properly and profitably. This is a must to have positive cash flow and a sustainable business.

If you don’t think you can do this, hire an Office Manager so you can focus on designing. Otherwise, go work for someone else.

Not Minding Your Own House

Many Architectural firms place a heavy emphasis on presentation. Clients see their offices as pristine, artistic and orderly. They believe this visual order is reflective of how a firm runs its business. But during my tour of architecture firms, I frequently found that the neat organization did not extend beyond the office’s elegant façade. In reality, most firms’ internal processes were the opposite of orderly.

Architects spend hours making sure structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and architectural considerations are in perfect balance to one another when designing a client’s building. But when it comes to managing all the components of their own house such as accounting, marketing, human resources, project and resource management, they drop the ball. If their office management was a building, it would look like something Rube Goldberg designed.

This disorder may fly in a good economy but when times get tough inefficient management will drag your firm down.

Forgetting How to Share

One thing you learned early in school as a kid, hopefully, was how to share. Kids who didn’t share weren’t popular, and occasionally got beat up. The same goes for adults–usually without the beating part.

In my firm visits, I noticed a disturbing trend of firm owners withholding project financial information such as fees, costs and profitability data. Guess what, this didn’t work out too well. This miserly practice prevented workers from fully doing their job and left many feeling marginalized, frustrated and ready to quit.

For a project to go well there needs to be total transparency–for employees and clients. Employees feel valued, engaged and can make informed decisions. Your clients feel greater trust when you keep them informed. And out of this trust comes repeat business and referrals.

If you really want your architectural firm to succeed, avoid these pitfalls. Get your own house in order before trying to build someone else’s. Know that you have to talk business with clients. You can’t just be the creative designer. If you can’t wear more than one hat, reassess your career goals. Lastly, create an environment of open communication that engages staff and inspires them to do exceptional work.

Editor's Note: This is sponsored content. All text and images were provided by the sponsor company. 

Steven Burns | The Business Behind Design

Steven Burns, FAIA, spent 14 years managing the firm Burns + Beyerl Architects, during that time the firm’s earnings grew at an average rate of 24% per year. After creating ArchiOffice®, the intelligent office, project management and time tracking solution for architectural firms, Steve took his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is refining their business strategy and product development.

Related Blogs

Why employee advocacy is key to social media success
December 07, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

Employee advocacy is key to boosting social media engagement, and employee advocacy is about more than just...

5 ways to bring data into marketing and business development
November 30, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

Here are five ways to use data to enhance the client acquisition process

The benefits of selling your firm to employees

Other benefits of selling a firm to employees is the opportunity to mentor the next generation of employees and providing your clients with continuity. Photo: Flickr/401kcalculator.org

November 17, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

One business advisor recommends professional services businesses to develop a group of employees who are wi...

November 02, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

Hiring for culture fit doesn’t mean hiring people who are all the same

August 25, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

By analyzing the “benchmark firms” selected from its annual surveys, PSMJ has identified several characteri...

Understanding the values and aspirations of millennials

Only 28 percent of millennials believe that their organization is taking full advantage of their skills, research from Deloitte revealed.

August 20, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

A recent LinkedIn workplace survey revealed that millennials (defined as individuals aged 18–24) are quite...

How to improve project planning
August 11, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

A recent research project revealed that more than 75 percent of project owners have no consistent method fo...

According to research by talent management firm Development Dimensions International, 89% of leaders with strong interaction skills have more engaged teams. Photo: Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr

July 10, 2015 | Building Team | The Business Behind Design

Much of what’s written about employee engagement focuses on how leaders can help their employees become mor...

How to earn respect as a leader
June 18, 2015 | The Business Behind Design

Employees will give you minimum effort if the only reason they respect you is for your authority

Add new comment

Your Information
Your Comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Overlay Init