In improvement of the practice. In architectural education
In this essay I first focus on a problem statement entailing that many architects are positioned outside the managerial culture and the inefficiencies that this accounts for. My argument follows, that design management is the solution to many problems witnessed in the work force as well as it improves the practice and service to the office’s clients. Final reflections include my opinion that management should be employed not only in practice but education as well as it is a fundamental tool that accounts for the improvement of the practice.
In architectural education the student is taught to focus solely on the creative process where aspects such as client interaction, fee restrictions and many other matters in the professional world are fictional. The only event which draws parallels to that of meetings with professionals outside the design team is that of an interim as well as final review. Upon entering practice the architect is therefore focused on design, positioned outside the management culture. This leaves the professional perplexed and disoriented by the many different pressures and controls of what working the field of architecture entails, and if not managed properly, the work flow is disarranged and renders itself difficult to adhere to. Work is less efficient, therefore amounts to more working hours, the design team can feel alienated or misunderstood as they might be “excluded from decision making stages at pivotal stages in the life of a project” (Emmitt, 2014), and the client-architect, contractor-architect relationship is endangered as miscommunication between the individuals can amount to delays in meeting deadlines, fluctuations in the standard of design information given out and necessary alterations due to fees. This compromises project quality, the overall satisfaction of the practice, the relationship with client and contractor and the financial stability of the practice. As it is a highly competitive market, design is “not the only differentiating factor when clients or contractors are making their choice of consultants. Architects need to demonstrate the ability to deliver high quality designs and a high quality service” (Emmitt, 2014). Therefore for both the financial as well as creative success of an architecture practice, the architectural profession needs to integrate certain frameworks which demonstrate their professional management skills and leadership competences.
I believe that with design management, a framework can be provided from which the architect can even more successfully integrate into the project. On our course we are taught to look at brief limitations and restrictions as conditions that heighten rather than inhibit our creativity and so management should not be regraded as a nuancing and compartmentalising task that limits the creative process, but in fact as something that poses the very points which will enhance and better the profession and the practice.
RIBA’s ‘Architects handbook of Practice Management’ itself states in section 1.6.4:
“Architects form a relatively small but influential group among the large number of qualified professionals working within the construction industry. Architects are regulated under the Architects Act 1997, although this legislation protects the title rather than the role – there is no requirement under the law for the designer of any building to be an architect. In practice it is normally the architect’s responsibility to facilitate the coordination and integration of the work of other designers and specialists into the overall design.The architect has traditionally also acted as the overall lead consultant and administrator of the building contract, although this is not always the case on many large projects, where a project manager or other consultant may take this role. Architects are, however, increasingly being called on to provide a single point of contact to the client for design services, sometimes sub-contracting structural and mechanical and electrical (M) engineering and other design services.” (RIBA, 2010)
This further justifies my opinion that it is crucial for the professionals of the architectural field to be fully involved in the management process as it is the architect who is regarded as responsible for facilitating the coordination of the work of other designers and specialists into the overall design.
By employing an efficient framework for working, and a set of rules to adhere to, the advantages fall under 3 categories:
The profitability of the practice rises as miscommunication with contractor or client is eliminated. This amounts to less of a possibility of error and loss of fees, therefore a higher chance of being hired again.
Rise in staff satisfaction as by increasing efficiency, overtime in the office is not necessary which can lead to a reduction of stress.
Better design flow as designers have better communication amongst themselves as well as with the client and contractor.
The main focus of my argument however is that it improves the quality of the built environment and makes the architects job flow smoother. To realise a better built environment such management is crucial as the creation of our built environment is a multi-disciplinary act. Rather than mis-communicating and working against each other, the architect must submit themselves to the related occupations involved. This in itself will amount to a much smoother project execution where each decision is mindfully thought out with the intentions and expertise of all professionals involved. As Emmitt states “it is fundamental that architects are able to communicate with fellow professionals in an environment of greater collaboration and integral working; this requires an understanding and appreciation of management.” (Emmitt, 2014).
For success in the management field it is advised to either hire a design manager or reassign an existing staff member whose sole focus are such managerial tasks, eliminating any extra job strains of having to deal with the design. “The design manager needs to provide the right physical and virtual environment in which individuals can share knowledge and work together to create designs that respond to the brief” (Emmitt, 2014). However, I believe that it is crucial that each member of the design team enters the practice with knowledge of such values and that architects within the practice enter each project with a full understanding of the structure and management of it. It should be to the practices best interest to have meetings on a regular basis where members are informed of the whole scope of the managerial framework and not just their singular task.
By observing how the office procedures fit into the working methods of the staff and by developing an understanding of each members abilities and preferences, the manager is able to introduce a communication culture where workloads can be discussed. By making a series of minor and incremental changes, involving the staff and adjusting to accommodate their feedback, an effective work ethic can be achieved. To provide an appropriate management framework the manager must adhere to strategic design making and operational decision making. If properly managed, a system can be created which will ensure a consistent approach and standard of design information being produced. Many psychology studies prove that by splitting up larger tasks into micro ones, individuals are more productive as it enables the professional to adopt an approach through which the problem is easier to comprehend.
By understand the scope of the project and office, software and hardware can be carefully selected to match the requirements and the correct amount of time as well as the most appropriate people can be allocated to a specific design task.
Structure in the timetable is vital as to make sure that all deadlines are met. As the design process is a process of many varying stages if it is not structured it usually accounts to an imbalance of workload throughout its timespan. (Initial stages involve less material production and more brainstorming whilst the end stages involve more members on the team so that drawings can be finalised).
Standard of design information sent out to clients and contractors needs to be set out from the beginning as the quality and the information needs to be consist and error free.
As architecture is a profession including a vast variety of talents and skills, the abilities and preferences of each member of the group should be understood and this information will aid the manager to assign jobs per strength. This can promote members to apply knowledge, skills and competences efficiently.
The manager as well as the members of staff should be able to constantly reflect on the work done and identify inefficiencies. By having a design manager the practice can feel assured that there is a constant eye on the projects making strategic and operational decisions about resourcing, whilst providing guidance and support. The project manager enables smooth communication with external parties, eliminating possibilities of miscommunication and enabling more time for partners to focus on the creative process.
Communication is key, not only within the design team but with client, contractors and other professionals involved in the project (engineers etc). By acquainting architects with construction costs and engineering matters they can design with such things in mind rather than having complete artistic freedom and then having to rework it after consulting the client or contractor.
By employing a successful design manager staff hours are reduced as productivity is increased. Design often turns out to be a frustrating process where the designer might feel as if time and the design are working against them, whereas once properly managed, the design and the architect can work harmoniously.
RIBA’s ‘Architects handbook of Practice Management’ states:
“Another key characteristic is the wide range of project values, from minor works – frequently either domestic projects or maintenance work costing a few thousand pounds or less – through to major infrastructure projects with budgets of several billions of pounds. Clearly there are enormous differences in the skills, knowledge and resources needed to execute projects of such differing size, and this is reflected in the differences in scale to be found within the industry.” (RIBA, 2010)
Such a statement needs to be taken into consideration so to understand that managerial strategies and organisational methods vary between offices as well as between projects within an office. Therefore management is not something one can assume is easily attainable without implementing a manager or a managerial framework within the office; it must be thoughtfully considered and tailored to the project as well as the members of staff.
Strategic decision making involves the long-term direction of a project. “It is the strategic decisions that set the agenda for the effectiveness and profitability of each project. At a strategic level the design manager will be working closely with the business owners to ensure that project and business deliverables are met.” Whilst operational decision making concerns day-to-day problem solving in the workplace. “Operational decisions are about getting tasks completed and are concerned with the flow of resources (information, people and materials) and the adherence to processes.” (Emmitt, 2014). Such skills are vital in the education of an architect (not only design manager) as it can enable their success within their degree as well as acquaint them with the professional world. I believe that architectural education must integrate management within the modules of architectural design to make the process of management within practice even more efficient; students can go into the work field having practiced different managerial frameworks and methodologies and therefore once entering the professional environment can easily adapt to different managerial types.
I have had the opportunity to have both my placements at the same practice as my first experience with it was outstanding. However upon returning to this practice the firm had grown three times its original size and had taken up even more in terms of projects. Such an ‘overnight’ change amounted to complete disarray in terms of organisation and management. I had witnessed the drop in staff morale as working hours extended profusely and control was lost over the projects; none of us knew the whole scope of any single project however had worked on almost all of them in some way (be it creating drawings, modelling or analysis). It was a random distribution of tasks on a daily basis so every day, each member would enter the office not knowing what project had the closest deadline to which they would then have to jump onto to help finishing. This lead us to be less invested in the practice as we did not get the opportunity to develop a relationship with the projects. This experience has made me realise the importance of management within a practice not only for the members of staff, but for the quality of the projects.
I believe that we should be taught the strategic and operational decision making necessary for good management in our education, as well as the different work flows and frameworks that can be employed to a project. I agree with Stephen Emmitt that practices should have design managers overseeing the practice, but to make the work flow even more consistent it would be most preferable to have the architectural education implement the teaching of such managerial skills to architecture students.
“It is through a professional approach to design management that design organisations are better positioned to make a positive input to the quality of our built environment.” (Emmitt, 2014)