architecture blog

How an Architecture Firm Stays Organized

Posted by Christian Navar on Wed, Feb 9, 2011 @ 07:02 AM

When we founded Modative we went through a lot of exercises to create a strategic plan for how to organize the business operations of our design firm. Business operations is a subject matter rarely touched on in Architecture School let alone in most design firms. In fact, most firms operate in the same chaotic manner in which an undergraduate architecture student operates when struggling to weave an endless amount of work into a cohesive final project. Bad decisions, unclear goals, and a lack of clear action items inevitability leads to mass consumption of caffeinated drinks, all-nighters, and mismanagement of time and energy. These bad habits, first developed at a young age, are very hard to break and continuously infect most firms’ culture, becoming an endless cycle of mismanaged projects, bad decisions, and bad ideas. All you have to do after interviewing most architects is drive by after hours and see if the lights are still on or call on the weekend and see if someone answers the phone.

At first, you may think this is the sign of a hard-working office, but most likely it is a sign of poor firm culture, bad project management, and burned-out project teams. At Modative, we are all for hard work, and I would be lying if I said we never work extra hours or on weekends, but there are a lot of firms that run their studios like sweat shops. Not because they have to, but because they have no other choice. The continued mismanagement of project operations and lack of prioritizing and internal communication means mass amounts of energy are spent on tasks that may seem urgent at the time, but really are just the result of poor decision making, over-promising to clients, and a clear lack of short and long-term objectives throughout each phase of a project.

“The Clothesline”

architects clothesline wall

The first book I purchased on my iPad was Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky. After reading about various strategies and concepts regarding methods for implementing ideas and achieving results, I realized it was time to revisit Modative’s strategic plan. It was time for our business operations to evolve into something even better. There is a section in the book that discusses using “progress as a motivational force.” So we modified some concepts found within the book and developed our own strategy to clearly identify action items by “surround[ing] ourselves with progress”. We start every Monday morning by sitting, not in the conference room, but in front of our “clothesline”: a wall made up of a series of horizontal steel cables from which 11X17 sheets of paper are hung from clips, clearly identifying projects, their schedules, and crucial action items that prioritize every project’s goals.

architecture firm organizationSome of this week's goals

We intentionally didn’t make each project sheet overly complicated. Each page has a project logo, a color, and a title. Each item gets assigned by the project manager to a team member, along with a due-date and a check box to show when each item has been completed.  The system allows for very little mis-communication and prioritizes each item so there is never any confusion about what should be worked on when. Our goal at the start of every week is to ensure that we are focusing our energy on things that truly matter that week, will make our projects better, and make our clients even happier. Through “visual organization,” we have been able to develop a system that has become integral to our office’s creative process, keeping us focused and even more engaged then ever before.

architects organization trench

No matter how creative the team, mismanaged office operations lead to the loss of a project’s full potential. A project may seem great in the end, but let’s start thinking about how much better things could have been if a project’s full potential was realized by a team that wasn’t dragged through the trenches along the way. Even award-winning firms suffer from disastrous mismanagement of project operations. Often, long after the AIA award is on the wall, the client and the office are still in recovery mode. The financial ramification brought on by a lack of a clear strategic planning to balance the creative excellence within a firm, can kill morale and ultimately affect everyone’s productivity let alone everyone’s bottom line. In Scott Belsky’s book he explains, “that everything in life is a project, and every project must be broken down into Action Steps...” Well, at Modative, everything really is a project. I’m just glad we are able to rely on our “clothesline” to clearly organize and prioritize our ideas and actions. This way, our clients can be confident that we will inject all of our energy successfully towards reaching their project’s goals.

Being organized allows us ample time to do what we love most: designing and being creative, while still having plenty of time to enjoy life and walk Bella, Modative's office dog.

architects office dog architecture Firms with Dogs
Bella- The early years (before lots of walks)     
Bella- after more organization (& after lots of walks)

 

Contributors to this post include Krystal Návar, Derek Leavitt and Michael Scott .

Tags: Business, Communication, Organization, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Project Strategy

Why Open Architecture Competitions Are Bad for Architects?

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, May 18, 2010 @ 07:05 AM

Architects need to stop entering open architecture competitions. 

Most architecture competitions are not worth it, but none more than the complete waste of time known as the open architecture competition.This type of competition is what it says it is: open to anyone. Sometimes they are for a real project, but most often, they are fake, or as they're often called, an "ideas" competition.

As you may have seen in our last post, we're currently in the middle of a team competition for homeless housing, which is neither open nor purely architectural.

Our office has participated in only one open architecture competition in our four-plus years in business. And although the beach hut competition was fun and inspiring, it was a great example of why competitions are not worth it.

architecture competitions

Our inspiring, but financially draining Sand Hut competition entry.

Since the Sand Hut experience, there have been many opportunities to enter competitions, and of the three Modative partners, I'm often the biggest proponent of entering competitions. Thankfully, my logical business partners are able to convince me not to enter open architecture competitions. They use any number of the following five reasons why open architecture competitions are bad for us:

1.Waste of time and money

An open competition is a project. A project you are going to work on for free. Whether you like it or not, architecture is a business and businesses are in the business of making money, not working for free.

If you're one of the rare architects with idle time, there are plenty of more productive things to do with your time.

2. Projects are almost never built

Every architect knows this. Even the competitions that claim to be for real buildings almost never get built because competition budgets are nonexistent or ignored. The most eye catching and extravagant design wins. The most extravagant design rarely meets budget.

3. Too much competition (You won't win)

Obvious but true. Open competitions have few barriers to entry - it's free-for-all. No matter how good your competition design skills are, you're competing against hundreds or thousands of other architects.

So, for example, if the competition jury reviewed submissions for 8 hours (a generous assumption), and they received 1,000 submissions, that would give them about 28 seconds to look at your project. The same project you just worked on for 100+ hours is getting judged in less than half a minute. You get the point.

4. Provide little publicity, if any.

If you don't get gold, silver or bronze, no one cares. Even if you are recognized in the competition, the publicity will rarely match the effort.

Besides, the world of publicity has changed significantly in the last few years. Hoping to get press through a competition win is an old-school mentality. Nowadays, you can design great stuff then let the world know on the interwebs. If you're really good, and decent at getting the word out, people will find you. You don't need a competition for publicity.

5. They devalue architects

Ooh look, we can get all these silly little architects to work for free. Have you ever seen doctors or lawyers sign up in droves to do free work?

Exhibit A

A few weeks back I received the following open competition email announcement from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This clearly highlights some of the problems with these types of architecture competitions.

architecture competitions suck
 

Disclaimers: I'm an AIA member, and like anyone that pays a lot of money towards a professional organization, I have the occasional right to gripe. Before everyone gets all cranky, I do realize that this competition is for a good cause. However, there are many other ways for you to use your skills as an architect for a good cause which we'll touch on in a future blog post.

Problem #1: Submission Fees: Not only is this not a competition for a real building, nor do you get money if you win, but you have to pay to enter. Pay them, then work for free. Does anyone else find this crazy?

Problem #2: The Reward: So, if you're lucky enough to win this competition, you get to show other architects your work for a few days at the AIA National Convention in Miami. None of these architects will hire you to build your genius temporary relief housing scheme. Not such a great reward for all this work, huh?

 

Instead of just complaining about open competitions, we've got some solutions. In a future post, we'll discuss some alternatives to architects wasting time with open competitions. UPDATE: That post now exists - 5 Things Architects Should Do Instead of Entering Open Competitions

 

Side Note: This post has been sitting in the draft box for several weeks. A few days back, I noticed that a very talented fellow architect blogger, Jody Brown, AIA, LEED AP, posted a very interesting article about architecture competitions on his "Coffee with an Architect" Blog. At first I was hesitant to publish this after seeing his post on the same topic. Who wants to be seen as a topic copycat? But we have very different takes on open competitions. I encourage you to check out his post - Architectural Competitions are a Glorious Waste of Time. He makes some very interesting points that go against most of what I just said. He's pretty convincing.

 

What are your thoughts on open architecture competitions?

Tags: Business, Marketing, Ethics, Architectual Practice, AIA, Architecture Competitions

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm - Tip 05: Start and Stay Small

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 @ 05:03 AM

This post is part of the How to Start an Architecture Firm series.

In February 2006, Christian, Michael and I went to work on forming our own architecture firm. The following is tip number five of seven in our start-up strategy.

Tip 05: Start and Stay Small

Small Architecture Firms

photo credit

I've never been a fan of large companies. It's probably because I've never worked for one. Before founding Modative, I worked for three small- to medium-sized architecture firms. Christian and Michael have similar experiences, learning the architecture business in offices where you had to do it all. There was no way to pass along unwanted tasks or hide amongst hordes of CAD stations.

Christian always jokes that in one office, the first thing the boss asked him to do on his first day was to take out the trash. Experiences like this are humbling, but also critical to developing the kind of discipline it takes to start your own architecture firm.

If I don't do this myself, it won't get done.

A philosophy that clearly ties into Tip 02: Do it Yourself.

Growing a Company on Fact vs. Faith?

Many people set out on their own with intentions of growing their offices fast. Far too often, this growth is unwarranted.

Are you hiring people because you can't possibly complete your long-term billable work with your current staff?

Or, are you hiring in a panic because you momentarily feel overwhelmed at a perceived inundation of new projects in the office?

Even worse, are you hiring so you can tell people at dinner parties that your office has X number of people or so you don't have to work more than 40 hours a week?

We have faced all of these situations here at Modative. To expand or not to expand. I credit our frequent internal debates amongst my partners and I to keeping our company small and responsible when it comes to hiring.

It would have been far too easy in our founding year (2006) to grow our company based on faith in the booming economy. But as this glimpse of the U.S. stock market shows over our first three years in business, we made the right call to base our growth on fact rather than faith.

architecture firm growth

 

Technology Enables "Smallness"

When I graduated from architecture school 10 years ago, most firms were organized in a much different fashion. Architecture offices relied on larger project teams to complete the labor-intensive production and coordination that 2D CAD (and even some hand drafting) required. As technology improved, these old-school firms had a tough time changing. Their principals, often from a generation that didn't grow up with computers, would eventually come to embrace new technology, but in a slow evolutionary way, dragged down by large production-based staffs. It has taken 10 years for many of these old-school firms to evolve into technology. Many of them still resist.

Having three founders that grew up with computers and rapid technology changes, our firm was founded with a much different mentality. We embrace technology because it enables us to remain small. Our new-school firm can accomplish the same amount of work with one person that an old-school firm needed 4-8 people to complete. These two technologies help make this possible:

ArchiOffice

This program is the key to keeping us organized. It's a management system for our projects, contacts, time cards, calendar, billing and much more. Check out a prior post where I describe our ArchiOffice use in more detail.

architecture office mangement software

A screenshot of the ArchiOffice dashboard.

ArchiCAD

I've worked with ArchiCAD, our CAD software here at Modative, on and off for nine years. ArchiCAD's BIM (building information modeling) technology enables "smallness" by taking much of the grunt work out of drawing production, allowing us to focus on creativity. Virtually constructing projects before they are built not only creates pretty pictures to show our clients, but it also drastically reduces expensive construction conflicts.

los angeles architects bim software

An example of how our virtual building models contain information on the structural systems, reducing potential drawing errors.

 

Stay tuned as we fill in the last two tips of our 7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm.

los angeles modern architecture firm

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm

00 architect firm

00 Bootstrapping

Not a tip, but a critical theme in our start-up adventure.

posted 12.03.09

01 architect firm

01 Be Cheap

posted 12.08.09

02 architect firm

02 DIY (Do It Yourself)

posted 12.18.09 

 
03 architect firm

03 Get Advice

posted 12.22.09

04 architect firm

04 Learn from the Bad

posted 01.22.10 

05 architect firm

05 Start and Stay Small

posted 03.03.10 

06 architect firm

06 Stay Flexible

posted 04.05.10
07 architect firm

07 Plan It Out

posted 03.13.12

Want to stay up to date as we post the 7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm?  Subscribe to this blog by adding your email to the subscribe form on the right.

 

Tags: Construction Conflicts, Innovation, Software, Business, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm

4 Goals for Our Architecture Firm in 2010

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 @ 09:01 AM

Instead of publishing my personal resolutions for 2010, I thought I'd fill you in on what Modative has in store for 2010.

1. Integrated Project Delivery

Here at Modative, we're never mistaken for traditionalists. I'm not just talking about our architectural style, but the way we do everything. This is why we are committed to further moving away from the traditional design-bid-build process into integrated project delivery. We feel that this new way of delivering projects to our clients not only distinguishes us from the competition, but makes the process easier on our clients, contractors and even us.

 

problem design bid build

 

And since we're not looking to procrastinate on our 2010 resolutions, we've already added a section on Integrated Project Delivery to our website so you can see what it's all about.

2. Beyond Architecture

In more and more of our projects, clients have been asking us to go beyond our core architecture services to provide them with many of the other things that go into getting a project built.

Why? Because coordinating with one person (Modative) is much easier than coordinating with ten different consultants. We also prefer this one-stop-shop service because it further enables us to deliver the finished project as envisioned.

A glimpse of what we can provide can be found on our  services beyond architecture page.

architecture services

3. Modative Build

When we founded Modative, one of our primary company goals was so important to us that we put it on our business cards. Instead of "Architecture", we used the tag line "Design, Develop, Build." And while we have assisted with development decisions on the Venice Boulevard Urban Dwellings and Fay Avenue Art District Dwellings, we haven't yet acted as the contractor on one of our projects. That will soon change as I'm proud to announce that Modative Build will be launching this year.


 

 

 

 

 

 

design develop build


4. Small Lot Subdivision

When I tell people I'm an architect, they often ask, "So, do you do houses or (commercial) buildings". "Both" I answer.

Our firm has always kept our project types diverse: a fairly even split between residential and commercial. And within the residential category, there has been a healthy mix of single-family and multi-family projects. However, if there's one project type that we've done more than any other, it's clearly Small Lot Subdivision, which is really a hybrid between homes and condos. We've continued to pursue and take on these Small Lot Projects because we believe in them as the future of residential development in Los Angeles (and a lot of other places).

Small Lot Subdivision Blog Los Angeles

To show our further commitment to this unique project type,  we've expanded our Small Lot Subdivision online presence with a new Small Lot Subdivision Blog and a free guide on the basics of developing Small Lot Subdivision Projects in Los Angeles.

 

small lot development guide

 

Sample diagram from the Small Lot Subdivision Guide

Tags: Announcements, Innovation, Business, Architectual Practice, contractor, Project Strategy, construction

How to Start an Architecture Firm - Introduction

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Dec 3, 2009 @ 08:12 AM

As many architects continue to struggle to find employment, some are deciding that the only way to get back into the game is to start their own firms. For this reason, I thought it'd be an appropriate time to share the story of how Michael, Christian and I founded Modative back in 2006.

modern architect foundersModative's founders, February 2006, at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles celebrating at the end of our last day working for other people.

 

In the last few years, we've lectured a few times at USC's School of Architecture and the Urban Land Institute (ULI)on how to start an architecture firm. The lecture has improved a bit with each iteration, to the point where I feel it's now worth posting. Enjoy.

 

What is Entrepreneurship, Really?

Starting your own firm is really more about being a good entrepreneur than being a good architect. And since most architects have little education or experience with entrepreneurship, they often make the following false assumptions about what it will be like to have their own firm.

Entrepreneurship Misconceptions

Our goal is to tell our start-up story - the unglamorous version. And while it won't apply to everyone looking to start their own firm, there are some key lessons for inexperienced entrepreneurs (like we were) looking to make their move.

 

Bootstrapping

Even though we didn't know it at the time, our approach to starting our firm was very much in line with what is known in the business community as bootstrapping.

You may be familiar with the saying, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps". As it refers to business, bootstrapping is starting a business venture without external help and/or money.

Our seven tips for starting an architecture firm will cover how we bootstrapped our way from being three inexperienced entrepreneurs to three owners of a (nearly) four-year-old architecture firm.

bootstrapping architect start upimage source

7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm

Following this introduction post, our story will be organized into seven key tips for starting an architecture (or any other creative) firm. See the graphic below for hints as to what each of those seven tips will be.

Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we fill in the blanks on our 7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm.

los angeles modern architecture firm

7 Tips for Starting an Architecture Firm

00 architect firm

00 Bootstrapping

Not a tip, but a critical theme in our start-up adventure.

01 architect firm

01 Be Cheap

posted 12.08.09

02 architect firm

02 DIY - Do It Yourself

posted 12.18.09   
03 architect firm

03 Get Advice

posted 12.22.09
04 architect firm

 

04 Learn from the Bad

posted 01.22.10  

05 architect firm

05 Start and Stay Small

posted 03.03.10 

06 architect firm

06 Stay Flexible

posted 04.05.10
07 architect firm

07 Plan It Out

posted 03.13.12

Side Note: As an experiment, the images for each tip above were selected by typing the tip phrase (e.g., bootstrapping) into google images and selecting the most appropriate image from the first page. I think the experiment garnered some interesting results.

google images experiment

 

Want to stay up to date as we post the 7 Tips to Starting an Architecture Firm?  Subscribe to this blog by adding your email to the subscribe form on the right. We never spam our fine followers and if later on you discover you hate our guts, you can always unsubscribe.

Tags: Business, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, architect advice, los angeles architects, Starting an architecture firm

Five Ways to Keep Your Architect in Check

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Apr 10, 2009 @ 09:04 AM

Architects are not perfect. They need your help from time to time. Schedule delays and budget overruns can happen on any project. And while it may not be your architect's fault, here are five easy ways to help keep your architect in check:

1. Detailed Contract

Many architects fear detailed contracts because they think it'll deter clients from hiring them. This approach hurts everyone, especially the owner/client. Contracts are not just about architecture fees. A good contract covers all the bases. For example, responsibilities of the various parties and what happens if things go wrong.

Here at Modative, we primarily use the AIA (American Institute of Architects) standard set of agreements. They are lengthy, detailed and a boring read, but they're based on over 120 years of knowledge.

Doing a project is serious business. If you're afraid of a detailed contract then maybe you should reconsider building something.

2. Read It Again

Be sure to re-read that detailed contract throughout the architecture process. This is a good way to know if your architect is delivering as promised.

3. Schedule Monitoring

It's easy to get off schedule when there is no schedule. Your architect should provide you a preliminary schedule at the beginning of the project and update it every few months as things will no doubt change.

Set meetings in advance, so time doesn't slip away. A great approach is to pick a standing day/time and stick to it. We'll meet every third Friday at 3 p.m. Maybe you could even grab cocktails after?

4. Budget Management

In case you haven't heard, architects are not construction pricing experts. They're just not. Architects don't have a grasp on the labor and materials markets like a general contractor does. Either bring your contractor onto the team early or hire one at key moments in the architecture process to price out your design. This is money well spent. Getting too far in the process with an over-budget design can be costly and confrontational to fix.

5. Phase Sign-offs

Architecture phases exist for a reason - to help monitor progress. Get a clear sense from your architect as to when one phase begins and the other ends. A great way to achieve this is through sign-offs. As the owner, you should sign a set of plans/documents to signify design approval at the end of every phase.

Checking this list and giving your architect a little friendly nudge from time to time will help keep things moving along.

Am I being too hard on my own profession?

Tags: Business, Organization, Architectual Practice, architect advice, architecture resources, contracts

The Kayo Connection

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Jul 31, 2008 @ 13:07 PM

Design

Although Modative is at its core an architecture firm, we have always been interested in expanding beyond this traditional role into both development and construction. Hence, the whole "Design, Develop, Build" tag line (see below) and philosophy. As of several months ago, I'm happy to announce that through collaboration, our push into these two other fields is complete.



Develop

As previously announced, we have had an ongoing collaborative relationship with Pacific Beacon Properties, LLC, a development company, working on two small lot subdivision projects in Los Angeles. We not only provide architectural services for Pacific Beacon, but assist with development analysis and decisions.



Build

For the "build", we have teamed up with Libiano Construction Inc., headed by Mark Libiano. We have known and worked with Mark for many years and the results have been great. Libiano Co. is also involved the the two small lot subdivision projects, offering his construction expertise throughout the design and construction process. Having a close collaboration with Mark has proved so successful, that we have decided to offer this collaboration between architect and contractor to other potential clients as a true design/build team.



The Kayo Connection

With this design + build collaboration comes the opportunity to collectively market our services as well. This is where Kayo comes in. Kayo is a long time (11 year) friend and colleague of the three founders here at Modative. She also happens to be Mark Libiano's wife. So, who better to go out there and spread the good word of both entities.

Just as we here at Modative have let you know a bit about ourselves in the profile section of our website, we thought we would give you a sneak peak into the life of Kayo N. Libiano...



Early Years

Canadian born, Kayo moved to Southern California at the age of 3 and began her training in classical ballet, continuing as an avid dancer for over 17 years. She attended dance academies in the OC, LA and even studied ballet in Japan for a year, so it was not surprising that she greatly appreciated the arts and cultures of different countries from an early age. Though, what did come as a surprise, was when she wrote in an essay in Junior High English class that she wanted to be an architect, NOT a dancer when she grew up. Her thought process was that the body deteriorates with age, but the creative mind lives on... What sealed the deal of her conviction was when she fielded comments like; “There aren’t many famous female architects in the world” or “How will you succeed in such a male dominant profession?” Kayo’s stubborn and tenacious personality took hold and she set out to prove everyone wrong.

Fight On!

The instinct to create personalized spaces always interested Kayo and she was constantly rearranging furniture, designing accessories and painting pictures on the walls in her family home. Her first sewing machine was gifted to her at the age of 10 and though dance was her #1 passion, making her own clothes and throw pillows came in as a close second of her favorite things to do. By the time she graduated from High School, she had completed 3 years of technical drafting courses as the only girl in the classes and her hopes of attending architecture school were cemented in place. USC served as a training ground where she honed her skills and where she met many of her future colleagues whom have greatly influenced her career thus far.

Experiences in the Field

Post graduation, Kayo went to work for David Jay Flood Architect (DJFA) with her friends, Derek Leavitt and Michael Scott whom both graduated a year before her from USC’s Architecture school.As a team player, she worked on several architecture and interior projects.From DJFA, Kayo took a job as Project Manager at Jacquez Marquez Architects (JMA), where she got a taste for designing high-end homes and day-spas in Beverly Hills and Greater Los Angeles.

Going Corporate

Knowing the importance of the great American Corporation on the economy in the United States, Kayo worked for Merle Norman Cosmetics as a franchise designer, where she built-out stores and oversaw installations for studio owners across the nation from Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.

One of the Guys

As girly as Kayo might appear on the outside, she has no problem sporting a hardhat and a construction belt on-site, or dealing with city officials.Whatever it takes to get the job done, she is up to the task, even if it means roughing it with the boys.Her path crossed with Christian Návar, another old friend from USC at Studio 9one2 Architecture when she moved to the South Bay. As a designer and project manager, Kayo kept the office organized and had the opportunity to collaborate on beautiful contemporary homes, commercial buildings and most importantly, developed contacts with a slew of subcontractors which are vital connections in the building industry.“It's all about who you know and how well you can keep up good public relations!”

To Have and to Hold

The little secret to Kayo’s success in architecture comes from her husband Mark, whom she dated since her senior year at USC. Being a General Contractor by trade, Mark has steered and coached Kayo through the nuances of the architecture/construction world and while letting her make her own mistakes, has above all, taught her what it takes to survive in the admittedly “male dominant” building industry. Today, Kayo works hand in hand with Mark (whom she married in 2007) to build his growing construction company and also acts as the link between Modative and Libiano Construction, Inc. as a Design + Build team. She heads-up the two companies’ marketing and is an enthusiastic supporter of both thriving businesses.

Tags: Building, Development, Small Lot Subdivision, Business, Communication, Marketing, Organization

Digital Organization with ArchiOffice

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 10:07 AM

If you ever want to feel like an architectural community insider, just ask an architect "What CAD software do you use and why?" This will undoubtedly be answered with more information than you care to know about the digital world of architectural design. Explanations as to why their CAD software is the best, most efficient, a great design tool, etc, etc.

Now ask that same architect, "what office/project management software do you use?" Most often, this will be met with startling silence.

While most architecture firms pride themselves on their CAD prowess, they often ignore or undervalue all of the other important aspects of running a practice. These include contact organization, timecard and expense tracking, project management, correspondence, billing and calendar coordination. Sure, they probably have something to handle these items, but more often than not, these seemingly mundane tasks are accomplished with disparate pieces of software.

Aware of this hodgepodge way of doing things, we instead opted for a software system that manages all of these items in one concise, easy to use database. Our office/project management system is called "ArchiOffice" www.archioffice.com. This system is used as much, if not more than our CAD software.

One example is the timecard portion of the system. We diligently use the timecard system to track hours for all projects, office overhead and marketing. This information is not only used for our billing, but also provides us valuable historical data over the life of a project. How efficient were we on this project? Did we make a profit? Can we be more efficient? We also use this stored information to give future clients a proper fee on their project because we know how much time was spent on past projects of a similar nature.

Here is a sample screen shot of a timecard from last year.



Note that the system tracts the project, project phase, job code, description of what was done, and the amount of time. The system is easily navigated via the top menu with icons of the various modules in the system: Contacts, Time/Exp, Projects, Billing, etc.

The ArchiOffice database is stored on a central server here in the office. Every memo, e-mail, project and contact are interconnected and automatically sorted, so no information is lost or improperly filed. All appointments and tasks are easily accessible to everyone in the office. Invoices are directly tied to to our timecards and expense reports. This ease of using this seamless system versus a mixture of non integrated software packages allows us to spend more time on design. This approach not only helps us run a better office, but it helps us better serve our clients.

Being creative doesn't mean you can't also be organized.

Tags: Software, Business, Organization

Smaller, More Attentive, Better Quality

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jul 8, 2008 @ 10:07 AM

Following up the last post on why selecting a younger, energetic firm (such as Modative) can be an advantage over going with a more established firm. Here is something that we have always considered an advantage:

Larger, more established firms often have many more projects and larger staffs. This is not necessarily a good thing for you as the client. With those many projects and staff comes less attention to your project. The principal (boss, lead architect) that you initially met with, will probably have very limited time on your project. They will often hand it off to someone lower on the totem pole to manage, such as a project manager. That project manager may even have most of the work done by someone even lower on the pyramid, a draftsperson or intern. The quality and attention you receive will no doubt be somewhat diluted.

In an office such as ours, there is no grandiose hierarchy. The principals you meet with with manage, design and most often perform most of the work on your project. That kind of attention is hard to beat.

Tags: Business, Marketing

Battling Ageism in the Architecture World

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Sat, Jul 5, 2008 @ 14:07 PM

A few months back, the partners here at Modative had lunch with a very well known international architect. The three of us admire his ability to have achieved success at a relatively young age. So given this opportunity, we had to ask him, "How were you as a young architect (such as ourselves) able to convince clients to go with you over older, more established names in the industry?"

His insightful answer was ripe for the taking. He said that there were two clear reasons for selecting a young energetic firm over a more established firm:

  1. With older firms, there is a reputation that is already established. Whereas with younger firms, your project is critical to the building of our reputation. We have a vested interest in making sure your project is great in order to build our reputation.
  2. Older firms typically have an established ego. This is not meant as a negative jab, but rather that they often have a set way of doing things. So, when you hire the established firm, you will often find yourself competing with this ego. With a younger firm, we keep your "client vision" as the priority. We are more flexible and open to new ideas.

Tags: Business, Marketing