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9 Productivity Tips for Architects and Engineers

9 Productivity Tips for Architects and Engineers

May 12, 2020 | By Steven Burns, FAIA | 0 Comments

Topics: Productivity Tips, Engineering Firm, Architectural Firm

Productivity has never been more top-of-mind than now. Clearly, this is because nearly every business has been thrust into a distributed workforce caused by restrictions related to the coronavirus. However, I believe there is a silver lining to what is otherwise a global tragedy. That silver lining comes in the form of work productivity.

Before we dive in, I want to mention a benefit of this coronavirus shakeup. Not unlike the financial crisis of 2008, we are being forced to examine how we conduct business. We all understand that it’s easy to be profitable when the economy is strong. However, when the economy is in turmoil, those who can be profitable truly understand their business and have developed processes that are highly productive.

For those firms that intend to survive, you are now being forced to reevaluate your processes and technologies. Those firms that can turn this situation into a motivating force—to think smarter about their business—will reap the benefits that every downturn eventually yields.

In a recent article entitled 7 Best Practices for Managing a Remote Team, I highlighted certain tools and techniques your firm should implement to help you overcome the loss of working together with your colleagues in a traditional, co-located manner. Now that a month has passed and we’ve been able to get results from firms working under these new conditions, I am confident that productivity can not only be maintained but increased.

Lastly, professionals don’t realize this since they are so accustomed to working in physical teams, but solitude increases productivity. Studies show, being surrounded by people kills productivity. People perform better with a bit of privacy. Today, we’re having that privacy imposed on us.

9 Tips to Improve Productivity for Your AE Firm

Here are my nine tips to help you increase your productivity, grow your business into the future, and take advantage of our brave, new world.

  1. CHANGE YOUR EMAIL BEHAVIOR
  2. DAILY STAND-UP MEETINGS
  3. OVER COMMUNICATE FOR ENGAGEMENT
  4. SEND INVOICES ELECTRONICALLY ON SEPARATE CYCLES
  5. INVEST TIME TOWARDS PROJECT BUDGETING AND ALLOCATION
  6. MAKE YOUR FIRM A “MOBILE-FIRST” PRACTICE
  7. DOCUMENT & REEVALUATE
  8. AUTOMATE WORKFLOWS
  9. INVEST IN YOUR INDUSTRY’S SOFTWARE

1. CHANGE YOUR EMAIL BEHAVIOR

Many people live-and-breath through email, but this is detrimental to your productivity. Email is a tool that makes you lose control of your day. All the things you planned to accomplish will be waylaid the moment you look at your inbox.

I recommend you don’t open your email until you’ve completed at least two hours of work. I personally don't open email until 11 am and then close it until 3 pm. This gives me large enough chunks of time in the day to accomplish what is at the top of my priority list for the day. Let your team know, if something is urgent, to use text or phone to reach you immediately.

Create your own priority mailboxes. After scanning through your emails, place them in the mailbox that represents the priority. For example, create three mailboxes: “High Priority,” “Medium Priority,” and “Low Priority”. After reading an email (or simply the subject line and sender), move it into one of these mailboxes for later when you can give it more attention.

2. DAILY STAND-UP MEETINGS

Many email clients allow the sender to set the priority. This is very different from you, the recipient, deciding how important it is for you.

Gather your team (virtually), first thing each morning. Then, go around the room, and give everyone one to two minutes to discuss what is on their to-do list for the day and what is needed from any other team member to help them complete their tasks. For most teams, this meeting provides two benefits in today’s WFH environment.

First, it visually brings the team together, which is something we all took for granted when we worked in a co-located manner. This helps reinforce your team culture, which is at risk when your workers are temporarily or permanently distributed.

The second benefit is that it forces each employee to think about what they plan to accomplish each day and verbalize this to the team. This builds accountability, which was more easily overlooked when we worked in physical proximity. People could “look” busy but not really make progress. Having people state their objectives for the day and turning that into habit guarantees productivity. In addition, having a shared document that everyone can see keeps everyone accountable.

3. OVER COMMUNICATE FOR ENGAGEMENT

This tip is especially salient today while your workforce is distributed. Managers should be communicating throughout the day with their team members to ensure they know what is expected, when it is due, and to reinforce accountability.

When delegating work, provide enough information so that your team members don’t need to go hunting for materials that may be required to complete the task. If what is asked requires access to a document, make sure a link to that document is included in your instructions. If a picture is worth a thousand words, attach an image to explain the issue.

4. SEND INVOICES ELECTRONICALLY ON SEPARATE CYCLES

71 percent of the time businesses dedicate to administration are taken up by accounting and payment processing tasks. These include issuing invoices and chasing payments.

Manually creating, printing, and mailing invoices is a colossal waste of time and exposes you to input errors, forgotten invoices, and other costly mistakes. Stop wasting time on archaic invoicing processes and switch to digital processes.

While issuing invoices is unavoidable, manually issuing them is not. BQE CORE is one solution that assists businesses with digital invoicing (Related: Online Invoicing and Payment Software: Good for Cash Flow, Great for Customers).

Many firms invoice their clients monthly and do this process at the end of each month. The tradition probably began because invoicing used to be a very difficult procedure requiring many hours (or days) of time from various people in the firm. It was very disruptive to the normal responsibilities of project managers and principals. Their unavailability or lack of focus would make matters worse and often delay invoicing.

Smart, time and billing software solutions like BQE CORE make the entire process of invoicing a breeze while also giving you the opportunity to automate your invoicing cycle. For example, taking half of your projects and billing them in the middle of the month allows you to spread out your cash flow rather than waiting for all your A/R to come in during one week.

Afterall, we don’t eat all the calories necessary to keep us running for a month in a single sitting. Nor do we eat a single meal each day. We consume calories closer to the period needed to match our exertion. This is much more efficient and healthy. Same for your billing and expenses.

5. INVEST TIME TOWARDS PROJECT BUDGETING AND ALLOCATION

This tip is really a call for planning your projects out thoughtfully. Most of you understand what tasks are to be accomplished during each stage of a project. In addition, many of you are so experienced that you simply do this without a checklist. However, just like a pilot who has flown for decades never takes off or lands without reviewing a written checklist, neither should you. This is a proven tactic for success and risk reduction.

Solutions like BQE CORE are able to give you data that will help you understand how much time is required (based on past performance) to accomplish tasks for similar projects. Use this information to build your budgets and ensure that your fees can accommodate your needs.

Having properly planned and budgeted your project means solutions like BQE CORE will enable you to schedule your tasks with appropriate personnel and monitor their progress.

Project planning and budgeting gives you the ability to see real-time information about how you are performing against your plan and make adjustments on-the-fly. BQE CORE will let you instantly understand your productivity on a project as well as your financial health—all through the simple fact that you did budget planning up-front.

(Related: How to Fix the 3 Most Common Causes of Budget Overruns).

6. MAKE YOUR FIRM A “MOBILE-FIRST” PRACTICE

Expecting team members to sit down in front of a computer to accomplish a task shouldn’t always be necessary. Make sure you have selected the right business tools that give your team mobile access. This doesn’t mean using a mobile device to access a browser. It means making sure your business applications also provide truly native mobile apps.

Each of us has a mobile device that is often in-hand. At worst, it’s a few inches away. Having access to critical business data on your mobile device means no time wasted having to get to a computer.

Solutions like BQE CORE are not only native-cloud platforms, but use native mobile apps that allow your team to do anything from the palm of their hand. It will notify them of important matters rather than expecting them to have to go to a computer or go to the mobile device’s browser to figure out what’s important.

7. DOCUMENT & REEVALUATE

There’s a famous Latin proverb: “Verba volant, scripta manent.” This translates to “Spoken words fly away, written words remain.” Way back in 1988, I learned this the hard way (don’t ask). Ever since that horrible day, I’ve been keen to document anything that might be meaningful.

Anything from conversations with clients, consultants, and team members to tracking every hour and expense, should be written down. The benefits of time and expense tracking are clearly important from a financial budgeting, reporting, and billing perspective. But your productivity will also increase when you document much, much more.

Some of you may pride yourself on your memory, but there will be a time when it conflicts with the memory of the other party. Having contemporaneous notes can save you countless hours, headaches, and attorney fees.

Every time you document something, use it as an opportunity to reevaluate your project plan. For example, it may also result in a change-order to your client, which could obviate the need to write-off valuable time you spent, which may bring value to the client but not your firm.

8. AUTOMATE WORKFLOWS

So much of what we do in business is perfunctory but requires time. Too often, firms shy away from doing these things since they require effort, but yield little glory.

For example, firms commonly use spreadsheets to manage data. This is not only inefficient, but it has a high potential for inaccuracy.

Business solutions designed for the AE industry like BQE CORE provide many automation features that are highly valuable and increase productivity for everyone in the firm. For example, having important reports automatically prepared and sent to appropriate recipients on a pre-defined schedule means no one in the firm has to stop, gather data, collate it, and make it presentable. Instead, the software is taught which reports people need, when they could use it, and takes care of sending it to them via email without any human involvement.

Other workflows that firms often overlook are the ability to submit and approve vendor bills, project budgets and estimates, purchase orders, invoices, requests for time-off, timecards, and expenses. BQE CORE gives you the ability to take all of these and have them reviewed by the appropriate people to ensure they are acceptable. By automating these workflows, you will become much more productive.

For example, BQE CORE will know that a vendor bill has been approved and should appear as a billable expense (with markup) on the next invoice. Later, when the client pays the invoice, the system notifies you about the associated vendor bill and gives you the ability to pay it instantly.

9. INVEST IN YOUR INDUSTRY’S SOFTWARE

Do the research to find which applications and mobile apps are built around the unique needs of your industry. For example, many architects and engineers use products like Bluebeam Revu, Autodesk BIM 360 , BQE CORE, Procore, Miro Whiteboard, and ArchiSnapper.

Find solutions that are cloud-native with native mobile apps so your firm has comfort in knowing they use the most advanced technologies that will not require you to change your systems in the coming decade. Adopting new applications and business platforms is a major task, so don’t do it without careful consideration or you will find your future productivity in the toilet.

CLOSING REMARKS

Think of productivity like an architect or an engineer. Clearly, we recognize the importance in planning. Before a shovel hits the dirt, months or years of planning have gone into the project to ensure that the construction phase goes as smoothly as possible.

We live in a fractal universe: the same attributes must be applied at every level. Plan every aspect of your firm. Plan every detail of your project and plan how you utilize your resources (employees). Once you do this, your firm (like your projects) will be sustainable, resilient, and beautiful.

Power of Core
The Author

Steven Burns, FAIA

Steven Burns, FAIA, spent 14 years managing his firm Burns + Beyerl Architects. After creating ArchiOffice®, the smart office and project management solution for architectural firms, Steve brought his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is perfecting the business strategy and product development.

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