Standard Operating Procedures for Architects
Every week, throughout the EntreArchitect Community, I hear or read questions from small firm architects struggling to find the success they seek.
“How can I make more money as an architect?”
“How can I find the work I want?”
“How can I get my employees or contractors to do what I want them to do?”
“How can I get more done?”
There is one answer for all these questions.
To build the business we want and find the success we seek, developing business systems with simple-to-follow SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) is the answer.
Michael Gerber, the author of The E-Myth Revisited, Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It, said, “Organize around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go, but the systems remain constant.”
Creating SOPs might be the single most important action we take as entrepreneur architects. Each and every repetitive task performed within our firms should be documented and managed using a Standard Operating Procedure.
SOPs Will Help You Find The Work You Want
SOPs will make us stronger, more effective leaders. They will clarify our vision and become the tools we use for communicating and supporting that vision.
SOPs build a better culture. They’re an intentional reinforcement of the behaviors that help us build the kind of workplace that we want our firms to be.
SOPs allow us to build better businesses, so we can be the best architects we can be. Once they’re developed, they will allow us to focus on what matters most and spend more time on the things that we love to do.
But, SOPs Kill Creativity… Right?
Unfortunately, most of us small firm architects have not yet developed systems for our firms using Standard Operating Procedures.
We either know we need SOPs and we don’t know how to develop them, or we cannot fit the time for creating these most important documents into our weekly schedules. After all, we are architects, not business people. We were never trained to develop such systems for our firms and we are doing so many other things.
Or… we feel that standardized systems will hinder our creativity. We fear that a rigid controlled process will result in standard uncreative projects? SOPs kill creativity… right?
Wrong! That’s just not true.
Ultimately, properly developed SOPs will allow us more time to spend on developing our creativity and provide us more opportunities to be better architects.
Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shares the following story,
A woodcutter strained to saw down a tree. A young man who was watching asked “What are you doing?”
“Are you blind?” the woodcutter replied. “I’m cutting down this tree.”
The young man was unabashed. “You look exhausted! Take a break… and sharpen your saw.”
The woodcutter explained to the young man that he had been sawing for hours and did not have time to take a break.
The young man pushed back… “If you sharpen the saw, you would cut down the tree much faster.”
The woodcutter repeated himself in anger, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw! Don’t you see I’m too busy?”
Are you too busy to sharpen your saw?
When we stop to work on our businesses and develop the SOPs we need, a powerful cycle is formed. SOPs lead to a thriving business, which will result in more time and money, which will result in you creating better architecture, which then, contributes back to the business.
A strong business leads to better architecture and finding the work we want. SOPs will lead us to that strong profitable business.
A Simple Standard Operating Procedure Template for Architects
So let’s make this simple…
Each of our SOPs will start from a standard template, which can then be modified for each system. Our Standard Operating Procedure template should include the following 10 sections.
1. Firm Identity. Our SOPs should have a consistent, easy-to-understand format. Start with the firm’s name and logo in order to identify that these SOPs are for our firm. Adding on our firm’s Vision and Mission will provide for the users of the document, a not-so-subtle reminder for what we are all working toward and why we are doing what we are doing.
2. Introduction. Provide a clear introduction and a short description for this SOP. What is the purpose and scope of this document? Why are we creating it? If your SOPs are digital, include keywords that are searchable for quick future reference.
3. Role. Which role is responsible for this SOP? Specifically, who will perform this task?
4. Responsibilities. What is this SOP accomplishing? What are specific objectives for the users of this document? Again, be clear and concise.
5. Skills. Specify the skills required to accomplish this task. We want to align the skills required with the responsibilities and roles. This will allow us to select the right person for the job; someone who possesses the required skills and strengths needed for this SOP.
6. Resources. What are the resources we need to complete this SOP? Organize a list of links, books, a specific section in a book, reference materials, websites, software, etc. Remember that our goal with developing SOPs is to make a task simple as possible.
7. Instructions. What is the process required to complete the task and the expected timeline for completion? Provide a written, step-by-step procedure including every step required to complete the task, no matter how small the detail. (Tip: If it’s appropriate for the SOP, create a screen-share video of the task as you’re completing it. Use whichever tool or platform best communicates the required procedure.) The more time we spend on developing clarity for this SOP, the more time we’ll save when performing the task.
8. Monitoring. Our systems should be reviewed and modified as necessary. It’s a living document that should evolve are our firm grow. Roles and responsibilities will change. Technology will improve. Systems will become obsolete and outdated. What is the procedure for monitoring the effectiveness and usefulness of this SOP.
9. Correction. What is the process for correcting or improving the SOP? Modifications should be managed, reviewed and approved by a manager or firm leader. As our Operations Manual grows with the addition of each new SOP, interconnectedness among documents will evolve and deletions will be required. When a user finds an error, or offers an improvement, how is that process accomplished. (This may be a simple reference to a more developed SOP on correcting and modifying SOPs.)
10. Verification. Effective SOPs require accountability. What is the process and expected timeline for verification? The responsible party will confirm that the SOP has been completed as documented with a date and their signature or initials. The signed document is then submitted for review by a manager or firm leader.
We can create a systems for each and every process performed at our firms; CRM (Customer Relationship Management), marketing, website maintenance, advertising, social media, sales, technology processes, hiring, performance reviews, communications, and more.
The process of developing business systems for our firms is not difficult when a template is developed and used as a basis for each SOP. Remember to keep it simple. The more clarity and simplicity a system has, the more likely it will be used.
Question: Which missing system is most needed at your architecture firm?
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Sashkin