It seems like every year we come across articles telling us about the best apps out there that can make our lives better. As architects, we think we’re somehow special and that there are these magnificent apps built specifically for our business and we should jump on these to become more productive, better at our jobs, or simply to make us feel as though we’re not being left behind. After all, we need to demonstrate that we’re on top of technology and not only are our designs cutting edge - but we use the most cutting edge technologies to achieve them.
Now, what I’m about to share with you is going to seem a little odd coming from me, an architect and a technologist. As some of you may know, I’m the crazy guy that walked away from a successful architectural practice in order to become a software developer. But I’m about to share with you 10 different “apps” that I think will benefit you both professionally and personally in more ways than any mobile or web app can or ever will.
Architects are notoriously bad at tracking and charging clients for legitimate additional services. It’s one of the biggest problems I hear from firms that we work with.
Many architects are shy about discussing anything to do with fees with their clients because these discussions often deflect from the design issues which are paramount for most architects. However, your failure to recognize that the work you are doing is not part of your basic services is something you alone can control.
Project managers need to understand the Owner-Architect contract so they can quickly respond to additional services when they arise. As soon as your team is aware of the rules and the protocols, they can start to track their time spent on items that are not basic services. But before any time is spent, you must stop and send your client a notice that these services are necessary and how they will be billed. Your contracts should be explicit with regard to the additional services and the procedure that is followed for formalization and approval.
Everyone reading this article has experienced what occurs during construction when a General Contractor proceeds with work that does not have a prior approval and later submits a change order for that work. It’s been completed; everyone knows that this was going on; but the owner acts stunned that he has to pay for this. He then says that he wouldn’t have approved it if he had known it was going to cost more, or he certainly would not have approved it for the amount being requested. It’s an ugly moment in nearly every poorly managed construction project.
I’m simply suggesting to everyone that you will most likely have additional services and before you start that work get it pre-APProved from your client. This is work you are spending your precious time designing and documenting; this is work you are adding to the value of the project for which the owner is the sole beneficiary; this is work that is increasing your professional liability. This is work you deserved to be paid for.
Some firms welcome interns and others shy away from them since they require more monitoring while other firms just don’t think they have the bandwidth to guide young talent.
Certainly, you will most likely have staff that have graduated with a professional degree in architecture and are still working their way toward licensure. These are your Interns. I’m suggesting you also open your doors to having students who are either in a work-study program and have a semester to be imbedded in a firm or just any student interested in the profession who has their summer free.
For many years, my own firm didn’t want summer interns because of the distraction. However, when we finally had a client that wanted their college bound son to have experience in an architectural firm, we felt compelled to take him in. This was a great moment in the firm. Not only did this young lad have an amazing experience, but we had the most enthusiastic young person in the office asking everyone and anyone what he can do to help. Our younger staff had the opportunity to become mentors for this young student which is also highly satisfying.
From that summer on, our firm has always opened it’s doors to summer interns. It’s better than bringing a puppy into the office. Not only can they bring joy and laughter, they actually can help get work done. And sometimes that work is stuff you just wouldn’t do without them.
#3 APProbation (APPreciate) (APPlaud)
So often we’re under considerable pressure to get work done and meet deadlines that we forget to stop and appreciate the team that helps make this happen. Everyone wants to feel appreciated and this shouldn’t have to happen at an annual performance review or when issuing bonuses.
Take the team out to lunch. Sit down with an employee who has been working those extra hours or bringing in the most interesting and challenging ideas. Let them know privately how much you really appreciate what they’ve been doing and how important their contributions have been. If it seems right, even share your feelings with the entire team so they can be equally inspired to earn your gratitude.
Your firm's’ identity comes from the character and quality of your employees and your clients. You need to regularly (at least once per year), stop and reappraise who are these people in your firm and, are they contributing to your mission and the culture you are trying to create. This is often a harsh thing to do when you realize there is a particular employee who does quality work, but they’re just not the right fit for your firm’s culture. It could be they have a difficult personality or come to work with a lot of personal baggage. If, after attempts at guiding the employee to where you want them, they really don’t evolve, you need to break ties. While this is painful for both you and the employee, your firm will ultimately benefit. You might have difficulty doing this because that employee is needed to meet your schedules and it will take too long to train a new employee, or place an unnecessary burden on the existing employee pool. But in my 30 years in business, I’ve never seen a situation where the firm suffered after letting go a qualified employee who was just a drain on the company moral.
Likewise, your firm needs to take stock of your clients. Are they so difficult to work with that your staff is really having trouble feeling motivation? Are they asking you to do work that you don’t believe is in the best interest of the long-term goals for your firm? It’s very hard to take a client that pays their invoices on time and refuse more work from them, but you must stop and reappraise if they meet your objectives. Conversely. while you might love the work, you may have a client that constantly complains about your fees. They just don’t respect the work you do for them and are taking advantage. Both of these client types are doing you a disservice. Every hour you spend working for them is an hour you can’t put towards the clients and projects that deserve you.
For cryin’-out-loud. Your staff is working ridiculous hours for peanuts. Get them the best damn coffee and tea and don’t skimp on quantity.
There are so many obstacles to making our profession the fun-fest we always thought it would be. Regardless of what you think, we are in a “service” business and that often requires you to pull your hair out (if you still have any).
The trick here is to think not about the fact that you’re an architect. Think about the fact that you are human. Decide what’s important in your life and where the practice of architecture fits in the grand scheme. Remove the things that make you unhappy. Say it and do it.
Early in my career I was given wonderful advice from a mentor. He said that before I opened my own firm, I should create a Life Plan. Not a Business Plan but a Life Plan. He wanted me to be very careful not to fall into the pit that so many others in our profession do. They live, eat, and breathe architecture. They don’t put their skills as an architect to service of their life - they put their life to the service of architecture.
Write down the things that make you personally happy. Make sure as you move through the day, week, month and year that the overwhelming movement is towards those items and that you’re not drifting away into a life that neglects the things that satisfy your own, personal needs.
#7 APPortion (APPoint)
Stop being a control-freak. If you want more time to achieve #6 - then you have to learn how to delegate. You can’t do it all, and even if you can, it’s not healthy for you or the firm. It’s better to give than to receive. So start giving to others on the team parts of the projects that will challenge them, help them grow in the profession and bring them job satisfaction. If there’s something in particular you just want to do yourself, it’s okay to keep it, but remember the successful practice of architecture is teamwork. Share the work, share the credit, and share the profits.
Great word; right? Giving gifts is wonderful. The most common example of lagniappe is “a baker’s dozen”. It’s when the baker throws in the 13th doughnut when you buy 12.
We all know that architects are always throwing in free extras to their clients mostly because they are either too afraid to ask for the additional service fee or they can’t stop designing the project and feel to invested in it to stop. While it’s fine to give some things away to your client, it’s not really a gift if they aren’t aware of it. Start showing on your invoices work that you do at “no-charge”. If they don’t see it, they don’t know about it and they can’t be grateful.
Architects are notorious for burning the midnight oil. How many all-nighters have you done? But we forget that our brains just don’t function as efficiently when we lack sleep. You might think you’re firing on all cylinders, but scientists have proven that we’re not. So do yourself and your client a favor, but taking breaks from your work. Even if you have the big deadline coming up tomorrow morning, stop and take a powernap or a micro-nap. Einstein and Aristotle and other great minds understood the extreme power of these short naps of no more than 20 minutes. You don’t want to go beyond this time or you run the risk of entering sleep inertia and have to rouse yourself from grogginess. All you need to do is get to the point where you fall to sleep, If you wake up right after reaching that point you’ll be refreshed and creative. I set my iphone alarm for 20 minutes when I realize I’m just not performing as highly as I should.
Communication is one of the most important skills of any successful architect. Keep your clients and consultants apprised of what is happening and be proactive. Each week you should send out a brief notice of what was accomplished last week and what is to be achieved this week. If you disappear for three to four weeks and suddenly the next thing your client gets from you is an invoice, don’t expect to be paid promptly. Also, your consultants will have a very different approach to your project if you keep them apprised of your work schedule and milestones. They’ll feel inspired or pressured to keep pace.
Bonus App: #11 APPease
You’re in a service business. You know that old saying “the client is always right”? Well, we know that’s not right. But one of the things every successful architect can do is guide their clients to be “right”. However, there are occasions where you client is just, plain stubborn about something. Don’t forget that they pay the bills and you are working in their service. So, make your objection known (if that is important), but make sure that your client gets what they want. In the end, you’ll walk away from the project but they don’t. It’s theirs. Not yours. Sometimes you just have to make the best of a bad situation. Do it gracefully and graciously.
Comment below to let me know what you think of these great apps. Would you recommend them? Are there any others? Please share your popular "apps" for architects!