Design sectors like contractors or developers have been

Design management within
architecture has been around since the 1960s, however, only now are we starting
to see a rise in firms employing or promoting design management within
practice. The reason for this being competition. In our current neoliberal
society architects no longer have control, they are no longer just competing
with other architectural firms they are in fact competing with the whole
construction industry. Other sectors like contractors or developers have been
able to deliver fast, efficient and profitable services to clients, which in
our society take priority over design ability.

 

Architects have a tendency to focus
on design rather than management because this is what they have been taught to
do. This would have been very useful if architects were appointed on design
alone but now there are so many other factors that clients are looking for. Architects
have somewhat gained a bad reputation in terms of their poor management skills.

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Complaints of delays, lack of communication, expectations not being met,
clients being responsible for the architects’ mistakes during design and post
occupancy, bad advice and work being undertaken by juniors, just to name a few.

Also architecture firms often see management as a way of coping, this lack of
business acumen further isolates the profession.

 

Firms who demonstrate poor
management often believe that the right client will come along eventually; it
is this ignorance that further brings them problems. Most creatives don’t want
to be controlled and would view having a design manager as an unnecessary
expense within the firm. However, the problem with this mentality is not the
fact that they would dislike an outsider coming and managing them, it is the
fact that they have no concept of management or that it is very low down on
their list of priorities. If these firms were only making their money from
competitions for example, then they might be right in saying that having
someone to manage them is a waste of time and money. But competitions are
usually more theoretical and don’t require a full planning application or
construction details and unfortunately for them reality is where money is made.

 

Perhaps this is unfair, many
disorganised firms are just stretched too thinly and it is often hard to be
objective when you are working in a practice. But often the cause of this
stretch is due to poor allocation of resources. One of my peers had a placement
in a very poorly managed firm. On each project there were a few people in
charge who wanted to do everything but didn’t have the time. This meant they
then passed on chunks to the interns who completed them and then jumped on to a
different project. There was no clear team for each project and this is when
mistakes are made and deadlines are missed or people are overworked. Another
mistake poorly managed firms make is how long they allocate to the different
stages within a project. The most exciting bit to architects is the initial
design phase but with poor management it is very easy to get caught up and then
fail to give consultants necessary drawings and information. It can also mean
that they end up designing for themselves rather than the client. In one of my
placements everything felt a lot less professional and managed, there was no
telephone system, I didn’t sign a formal contract until a few weeks after
starting and there was no clear way of recording what I had worked on. This
meant that when it came to billing clients I had to remember roughly how many
hours I had worked on a particular project, the danger here is that if the
client were to contest the fee then the office would have no evidence to
suggest otherwise.

 

In my other placement I worked in a
much larger firm with a better system in place, this was partly due to the fact
that they had been practicing for over 20 years but also because the three
partners were business minded. I was placed in a team of 3 architects, one
being the assigned design manager. He checked through everything I did and took
responsibility for the mistakes I made. He was very good at allocating the
tasks to each designer’s strength and was very good at keeping up with clients.

However, he was overworked. This being a consequence of not having a paid
managerial role, he would work late so as to keep on top of it all but he
managed well enough. Also the firm had an appointed IT technician and graphic
designer who ensured all of our reports and things published were consistent
with the company. As well as this there were general managers and receptionists
who aided the partners and senior architects and kept the morale high. They had
a clear strategy in terms of finance and would hold monthly meetings to check progress.

All in all a much better managed firm, this meant they had good client
relationships, a continual flow of jobs and that partners could look at
expanding the business in other ways, like opening up a new office in a nearby
city.

 

Both examples show unmanaged and
managed architecture offices. I believe that unmanaged practices, although
coping, are going to become too expensive to run in our current socio-economic
climate. Clients to them are not the priority; the focus is on producing
beautiful architecture. This attitude and lack of management mean client
expectations are rarely met and the planning and execution of projects can
easily go awry. Well-organised firms have a much better grasp on the business
they’re trying to run and so understand how important having good client
relationships are. They are much better at providing a service because they
have frameworks in place and this in turn allows designers to produce excellent
projects. However, they need to keep up with business and management trends
because if they lose control of projects it is typically the contractors who
pick up the slack, giving them more responsibility and reducing the importance
of the architect. So how can architects ensure this control and compete with
these other industries? The answer is a design manager.

 

A design manager has an overarching
role within the construction industry, they bring together the various
consultants and their main aim is to produce a coordinated and successful
project. The client can either employ them directly or what is becoming more
and more common is employing architecture firms with good design management or
a manager integrated within their team.

 

“At
a strategic level, design managers are responsible for all aspects of
design. Although the role encompasses many project management skills, a
passion for design quality makes the role unique… To be effective in the role
design managers need to understand how designers, engineers and contractors
work.”

 

A
design manager either makes strategic or operational decisions. Strategic
decisions will affect long-term goals like profits made in a year, which
involves working closely with the business owners. Operational decisions are
those made on a daily basis like resourcing, task completion and speaking with
consultants.

 

Within an architectural practice
their main roles are:

 

–      
Managing
designers in a team

–      
Managing
projects and design process

–      
Being
a point of contact for the client and other consultants

–      
Encouraging
individuals to produce their best work, using their experience and talent in a
cost effective way

–      
Ensuring
quality of work and keeping a handle on the timescale of projects

–      
Selecting
the correct software for the future of the business

–      
Coordinating
a huge amount of information and ensuring quality

–      
Resourcing

 

Design
managers need to be passionate about delivering great design and service.

Although they are expensive and the value of their work isn’t so easily
quantifiable they have a positive impact on team dynamics and employee
wellbeing. This allows business partners to focus on other ways of expanding
the business. Within projects they provide a consistent approach by providing
designers with a framework, they know the way contractors and consultants
operate and how to best interact with them to further the project. This means
that everyone is working toward a common goal under his or her leadership. They
build a strong client relationship by keeping them up to date and notifying
them of any mistakes, proactivity is a key skill to possess as a design
manager.  

 

There
are several different styles of management and upon appointing a new design
manager; business owners should ensure that their style will align with that of
the firm. They also need to be extremely diligent in not designing, their role
requires focus on management primarily and it is their knowledge of design that
makes them suitable to the role. Design managers must understand that improving
the functions of a firm isn’t a quick fix operation; it is organic and will
take months before any real change is seen. They should first take an observing
role, watching the interactions in the work place and locate inefficiencies.

Building trust with designers is key; they need to look at each individual for
their strengths and weaknesses. Always be open and allow for discussion, bring
forward some of the things you have noticed and then allow them to point out
what they feel isn’t working. Finally making a change and allow for feedback,
keeps everyone up to date and makes everyone feel like a key part in the
business.

 

It
could be argued that when a design manager is introduced they become the main
port of call and that other designers do as they’re told, as it were. For
assistant architects they perhaps don’t get exposed to as much if there is a
design manager in place, thus jeopardising their possibility of passing final
exams. Also it is well known that architects are not taught to manage and just
focus on design but by introducing design managers we could be encouraging this
ignorance even more. Then architects could just be reduced to nothing more than
component parts that churn out designs whilst being managed by others in the
office. Over management in larger high profit can often be seen as far less
fulfilling for prospective architects because they have less control over
projects.

 

However,
on the whole

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