architecture blog

Modative Interview by Business of Architecture

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 @ 06:04 AM

Last year we had the pleasure of having Enoch Sears from the Business of Architecture visit our office and conduct an on-camera interview. We've always really appreciated Enoch's approach of focusing on the business side of architecture, something that has been a vital part of our practice. So, last week, Enoch published the interview on his website and we are very happy with the results. It's an open and honest depiction of the critical issues we've faced in the last few years, which include (taken from Business of Architecture's website):

  • Promoting a hands-on approach for staff.

  • Creating a process to help your clients believe in your brand.

  • Learning to say “No” and staying focused on your firm’s goals.

  • The benefits of showing your clients an open and honest process.

  • A design-driven website vs. an informative website.


modative business architecture interview

If you're interested, you can see the interview (and a transcript) on the Business of Architecture site - THE SECRETS TO A SUCCESSFUL ARCHITECTURE FIRM: INSIDE THE MODERN ARCHITECTURE FIRM MODATIVE

Enjoy!

Tags: Marketing, Organization, Architectual Practice, architecture resources, modern architecture firm, employees, Project Strategy

Modative Architecture Summer 2013 Announcements

Posted by Summer Carrillo on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 @ 13:08 PM

We are happy to announce that Modative is growing up! With nine new architecture projects this year, we felt it was time to take the next step and award some promotions. Krystal Návar, one of Modative’s earliest employees, is now a seasoned project manager. We’d like to thank Krystal for steering multiple projects in the office and raising a little one without even breaking a sweat. We’re also excited to announce Jesus Fernandez has accepted a new role as project manager and seems to be enjoying it. Lastly, it’s about time we officially introduce our newest employees: Katherine, Summer, Allison + Shaun. Modative is now officially a team of ten (plus two office dogs).

 

modative architect firm staff designers office bw

 photo by Ivonne Maria Photography 

  

Tags: Announcements, Organization, Architectual Practice, Architecture Experience, los angeles architects, culver city, modern architecture firm, staff, people, employees, designers, modative office

A Modern Architecture Firm's Approach to Organizing Marketing Leads

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, May 2, 2012 @ 06:05 AM

At the tail end of 2010, we realized that the worst of the recession was over for us. Things were getting better. New marketing leads were coming in and we needed to better manage them if we were to take full advantage of this potential increase in business.

As with most small architecture firms, the three principals split up the core roles of running the company. As a principal, one of my roles is marketing manager. So, as 2011 approached, I worked with Christian and Michael to come up with a system for managing leads coming into the office.

When it comes to lead generation, our office is a bit different than most architects in that about 90% of our leads come through our website. So, unlike many older offices that get high probability referral leads, we have to sort through significant noise in our web leads to find the valuable ones. This only increases our need to be more organized.

We began this process by generating two simple diagrams. The first diagram is a simple breakdown of how Modative acquires projects.

modern architects project aquisition

 

The basic idea in this diagram is that you get leads and filter them down to determine which ones become RFP (Request for Proposal) projects (a small win) and then, after proposals and contracts, which ones become real projects (a big win).

The second diagram describes our process of organizing and managing active leads.

modern architects lead funnel resized 600

 

Let's take a closer look at what each step entails.

Document and Assign Lead

1. Add Lead to Master List - This is a simple Excel spreadsheet (we use Numbers, a Mac program) that tracks the basics and is used to give incoming leads a number. Lead numbers begin with an "L" for "Lead" and the last two digits of the year, followed by three digits - L11-001. Here's a sample of the Master Lead List.

Lead # Lead Name Start Date First Contact Date Assigned To Project Type Lead Type Notes
L11-044 John Doe 06.12.11 06.13.11 CDN SFR Phone W. LA Home
L11-045 Jane Smith 06.18.11 06.19.11 MDS SLS Web Form Venice Beach

2. Create Lead Folder - Active leads are assigned to managers and the following folder structure is copied into the lead managers folder (on the server) and given the appropriate name - "L11-044 John Doe 06.12.11".

architecture lead folder structure

In the "Lead Log and Checklist" folder, there is a word processor file that is filled out with the same info from the Master Lead List and most often, a copy of the the web form data. Below that is a log for the lead manager to keep track of all correspondence with the lead.

modern architects marketing lead log

 

3. Add Lead to Clothesline - If you missed last year's post on "The Clothesline", check it out to see one of the ways we stay organized. Similar to the Master Lead List, the lead info is added via permanent marker (old school, I know) to the Clothesline in the office for everyone to see.

 modern architects marketing leads clothesline

As marketing manger, this provides me with a quick visual on how leads are progressing.

4. Email Lead Assignment to Manger - After the lead has been documented and assigned, we send out a simple email to the lead manager, letting them know that they now have an active lead.

 

Contact Lead & Follow-Up

1. Initial Lead Contact - It is the lead manager's job to contact the lead within 24 hours and log this contact in both the Lead Log and Clothesline. Most lead managers print out the Lead Log and hand write in the information while on the phone.

2. Lead Follow-up and Determination - After contacting the lead, it is the lead manager's job to determine whether the lead is "Dead", "Inactive" or has the potential to become an "RFP Project". If the lead has potential, the next step is often an in-person meeting. If that goes well, the project graduates to become an "RFP Project" when the potential client asks for a proposal.

3. Weekly Updates - At our regular Monday morning meetings, we review all active leads and managers give a quick update.

Does This Lead Management Process Work?

I'm sure for many, this process seems like overkill. There are several steps and many of them accomplish similar things. But for us, this system has created a series of checks and balances that has worked well versus the alternative of Post-it notes and haphazard internal conversations. No matter how you look at it, without proper lead management, we would be lucky to get any new projects. Besides, any aspect of running our office where we can be more efficient, only leaves us more time to better serve our existing clients.

What systems do you have in place at your office for lead management?

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

Tags: Marketing, Organization, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, Starting an architecture firm, modern architecture firm

Modative Architecture Welcomes Krystal Návar to the Team

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 @ 10:06 AM

2011 has been quite a year here at Modative. After utilizing our "be cheap" and "start and stay small" philosophy to get through the tough architecture/real estate market of the last few years, 2011 has required us to make a change.

After an increase in projects this year, we found ourselves very busy and in need of some help. While exciting, the thought of expanding was a bit unnerving, because while Modative is a business, it's also a bit like a family. The three Modative principals have known each other for over 15 years. This level of trust allows for complete honesty amongst the group - a key ingredient to design and business success.

So, when the time came to expand, we decided against a big search, but rather to keep the "family" connection going by bringing on Christian's wife, Krystal Návar. Krystal's well-rounded architecture experience fit well with our needs. Besides, Krystal already felt like part of the Modative team. She has shot photos of our projects and has been our blog editor since its' inception. Nothing has been posted on this blog without her prior review. While she will continue in this editorial role, I'm happy to announce that Krystal will also be authoring blog posts starting immediately. Since she's a better writer than the rest of us combined, we're excited to have her help on the blog.

We thought a great intro post would be for Krystal to document the design process of a new single family residence we've been working on since her arrival here about a month ago. This blog post will be up later this week. In the meantime, feel free to check out Krystal's profile on our website.

Krystal Navar @ Modative Architecture

Welcome to the team Krystal!

Tags: Announcements, Organization, website update, Architectual Practice, Architecture Experience, employment

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

Modative on the Move

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Fri, Apr 17, 2009 @ 13:04 PM

Starting today, we are moving our office. Thankfully, the new location is just next door.

Some features of Modative's new architecture headquarters:

  • About the same size as our current office.
  • Better location (not joking) - although only next door, the new spot fronts right onto Venice Boulevard, so it's easier to find.
  • Better layout - a more open plan will allow for better internal communication.  

Our mailing address will remain the same. Our new office location is:

8734 Venice Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90034

The move begins today (04.17.09) and should be wrapped up by mid-day Monday (04.20.09). Our phones may be down periodically during this time.

modative moving

Exterior view. Some interior pics coming soon.

Tags: Organization, Architectual Practice

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

Keeping Building Projects Alive in a Down Market

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Thu, Feb 5, 2009 @ 10:02 AM

We've all heard the story too many times now. Banks tighten up lending, the stock market tanks, housing prices fall, etc. etc. This downturn has no doubt affected just about everyone, but cetainly the building industry has been one of the hardest hit by the economic crisis.

Saving Projects

Although not all building projects have been saved from this downturn, we at Modative have utilized a strategy to keep most of our projects moving forward in this time of uncertainty: SIMPLIFICATION.

Value Engineering

Several of our projects have called for a "simplification" of their designs to lower construction prices and regain feasibility in this new market reality. This "simplification" of a building's design is what we in the industry typicially call "value engineering". Value engineering is esentially reducing the construction cost of a building by changing it's design, quality or both. Although this often has a bad connotation in the architecture world, we have been happy with the results of the few projects in the office that have recently undergone some value engineering.In the coming weeks we'll post updates to the designs of these two projects.

 design changes design changes car wash
Venice Boulevard Urban Dwellings              
 Fashion Square Car Wash

The Timing of Design Changes

The reason the value engineering of these buildings has gone so well has everything to do with timing and our approach to project management. Often times in a traditional architecture process, the contractor is not brought into the project until late in the game, after the project has been almost fully designed and most of the technical drawings complete.

Get a Contractor Involved

We at Modative learned long ago that this traditional architect/contractor relationship is often risky because you don't really know realistic building costs until most of the architecture is done. Architects are good a number of things. Estimating market-rate construction costs, however, is better left to contractors. For this reason, we prefer to bring a contractor on early and often to give feedback on real construction costs throughout each step in the architecture process. This means that if the project is over budget or you have a massive shift in the market (as we have recently witnessed), adjustments in the design can be made much faster, easier, and with minimal cost to the project owner. The alternative of changing a project's design when its far along in the process can be very expensive and unpleasant for everyone involved.

Contractor involvement in architecture processA comparision of our typical approach to contractor involvement versus the traditional design/bid/build approach. Learn more about the architecture phases by downloading our free guide.
 

Starting a New Project

Now that we are in a down market, we feel that this approach that we have embraced enables us to handle the tighter budgets that many new projects now face. Having a contractor around to give cost feedback throughout the process is critical to keeping things on budget. We work with several contractors that can provide this service to our clients even if the client does not want to commit to using that contractorfor the actual construction.

Design Changes

In the coming weeks we'll be posting a few examples of our projects that have undergone some value engineering design changes to adapt to this new economic climate.

Tags: Organization, Architectual Practice, value engineering, contractor

An Architect's Website Breaks from the Norm for the Public's Good

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jan 20, 2009 @ 10:01 AM

If you've spent any time perusing architect's websites, you'll probably notice one common theme: architects like talking about themselves and their projects. Does this mean architect's are self centered ego maniacs? Well...long pause...not necessarily. Architects, like most businesses, are somewhat obligated to tell you about themselves; show you their work, and give you a feel for if they are the right firm for you.

Unfortunatly, all this "selfish" architect behavior has left us with a world wide web that is pretty void of honest useful advice for all the non-architects out there(ie. our potential clients.) Most people have the feeling that in order to get an architect's help one must hire them first.This approach seems a bit suspect, since few people, have any experience in hiring architects or understanding what it takes to start a project.

So we have to ask ourselves, does all this uncertainty make people want to hire an architect?

The answer: Not really.

This unfortunate reallity has caused us to make a bit of a change to our site here at Modative. A shift away from architecture website norm.


Yes, our site will still mostly be about US with images of projects, profiles of the partners, and a bit about firm philosophy. However, we have added a new section called resources that is dedicated to YOU, our current and (hopefully) future clients. Our hope is that this section will help alleviate some of the uncertainty associated with starting a building project and deciding on an architect. New free resources for non-architects will be added in the coming months that will be available to anyone with a computer and internet access.

An architect's website about you. How's that for some out of the box thinking?

Tags: Innovation, Organization, website update, Architectual Practice, architecture resorces, architect advice, architect website

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