I love spending all weekend filling out hours on spreadsheets!
…said no one ever.
Yet, I can’t tell you how many architects we have talked to that have said they do exactly that.
For decades, architects have adapted to use innovative technology to make their designs a reality. Take for example, tools like: BIM, Virtual Reality, Point Cloud, Clash Defection, Scripts, 3D printing, and more.
Technology has the power to help us design buildings extremely efficiently. At the core, it layers all the data we need in one place and outputs different forms of visuals for you to make design decisions with your team, consultants, or clients in much less time. Where is this in our Practice Operations?
Your argument is probably: the operative side of architecture isn’t enjoyable. Design is what we do as architects. Operations are just what we have to do on the side to run a firm. Operations, intrinsically, aren’t worth re-thinking. It’s not mind-blowing. It’s not eye-catching to bring in work.
We completely disagree. Here at Monograph, we believe that operations should be enjoyable. We believe it so much that we even made up the term — Practice Operations.
Practice operations should be integrated into your design process. It should motivate your team to love their work. It should take the stress off your mind so you can do better design work.
Practice operations should be so easy, so intuitive, so optimized to fit your needs, that it should minimize the time you need to spend managing a project so you can get back to doing what you love and what you do best.
Yet few others think of architecture practice this way. We accept the fact that the main tool we use to run our firms is piles of spreadsheets scattered across our folders. That’s your team spending their would-be-billable hours inputting data into empty cells.
If you’re lucky, it might be color-coded to your liking. There might even be a standard format for the design of this spreadsheet.
The Current Problem
Every firm in the architecture industry depends on a variation of spreadsheets.
Timesheets. Gantt charts. Invoices. Staffing Plans.
Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets.
Sometimes you might even get a post-it note on the wall.
In fact, 88% of spreadsheets contain errors.
Imagine if you use Revit to draft a drawing set, and 88% of the drawings contain an error. But we still send this 88% error to the contractor, which creates millions of dollars in change orders down the line.
We would all unanimously agree that it was a failure of a drawing set. Yet when it comes to practice operations, many architects are unwilling to move beyond these error prone antiquated tools.
We’ve met many architects who struggle with keeping their projects profitable because:
- They don’t know how much money is spent on each project.
- They don’t have the data to plan the right team, schedule, and fee for new projects.
- They’re spending too much time figuring all this out when they should be doing billable work.
- They have no way of seeing where their practice would be 6 months from now.
Why are we still using spreadsheets knowing that they can’t solve our problems?
Design vs Operations Technology
Over the past few years, design technology has evolved so much. BIM in 2021 looks nothing like CAD back in 1999. Now you can 3D print an entire city to scale without bending your back gluing models together.
It’s incredible how much has advanced: the amount of data BIM stores, speed, user interface, integration, visual graphics. Design and visualizations have come so far. Our practice operations hasn’t progressed at nearly the same rate.
There’s been some software that attempts to create platforms for all professional service firms including architects, engineers, accountants, and lawyers. But these platforms fail to understand how architecture firms operate so the core problem of practice operations remains unsolved. They are more like an aesthetic skin over the old spreadsheets than a dynamic new tool.
Adapting Design Process into Operations
For architecture practices to truly scale and make money, we have to admit that the fanciest colors, the best-formulated cells, or the outdated generic platforms won’t bring our practice to the next level.
Great operations are the only way to empower our people with efficient processes to better their performance and drive your firm’s profits.
To create a great operational system, we need to apply the same innovation found in design technology to practice operations. We must take the best practices from our design process — the act that we collect layers of data to make design decisions — and apply it to practice operations.
In design, we create data-rich BIM models that overlap all the information we need like environmental info, site location, construction budget, program areas, material cost, and specs. These models supply those data for the contractor to manage their construction, and later for the clients to manage their facility.
In operations, we need data like our time spent on projects, project fee, timeline, team members, consultants, schedule, milestones, and more. We can use this data to:
- inform our managers how to plan for a project
- let our team know what they should be working on
- show our clients exactly what they’re paying us
- manage deliverables and hit deadlines
We see the power of data in design and building operations – every step from design, to construction, to facility operations. But we have yet seen the power of data in our practice operations.
The Architecture Practice Operations Platform
The possibilities are endless when it comes to technology, and it’s a crime to our overworked team members that we’re not using it. What most of us don’t realize is that when it comes to practice operations, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Making profits on projects doesn’t have to be a struggle.
Having a system in place can propel the most confused team member forward. There is no excuse for us to brush off our operational processes.
Don’t take our words for it. There are operational leaders out there trying to make our architecture practice better with technology.
They often have to hack together different tools to make it work. Asana. Harvest. Teams. Then sometimes still spreadsheets. Or maybe they try some expensive software only to find out the learning curve is so steep that they spend more time learning the software than managing their project.
The problem is no one platform is designed for architects as a whole. We need a tool that lets us:
- Manage projects by phase
- Tracks both billable and non-billable time
- Clearly visualizes how much budget has been spent on a project against our project Gantt chart schedule
- Plan our staffing with fee in mind so we never run out of fee again
- Forecast our revenue so we know how to plan forward
This is where Monograph comes in. We want to create an operational solution that helps you run a better practice. At the core of Monograph, we layer your operational data such as time, schedule, fee, and team members and present you with information that’s not only visually appealing but also helps you make informed decisions on running your projects and practice.
We’re starting with you, the architect, because that’s where our expertise is. Once we grow, we’ll expand to other design professionals in the built environment — just like a design team would be in an architecture project.
A lot of architects have already joined us for the future of Practice Operations. We’re ready. Are you?
Joann Lui, AIA, LEED AP, CDT
As a registered architect with 10 years of experience, Joann Lui brings an influential voice and unique perspective from her past role at Gensler to her new role at Monograph—a practice operations platform for AEC professionals. She’s a Senior Content Strategist at Monograph building a community and leading the conversations around Practice Operations. Designed for Architects by Architects, the platform helps architects and design professionals create simple and integrated workflows to optimize performance and productivity which drives more profits for firms.