Architects have a vital part to play in delivering successful projects and providing value to clients and community. Architects tend to give most weightage to the creative design process often alienating the managerial aspects of the profession. In the architecture profession, management and creative design are often considered very separate disciplines that cannot be unified. However, in reality management should be organically linked to all design processes for longevity and efficacy. A good architecture practice always has management integrated with all other processes – practices such as Foster and Partners exemplify this way of working. It is good design management that empowers an architect with creative freedom by providing a stable and prosperous business and managerial structure that turn the creative design expression into income generators. Hence , architectural design management is essential to deliver a holistic project by maximising value to all stakeholders and creating a sustainable and efficient business. Architects have yet to fully embrace this notion.
Design management relates to interfaces such as people, places, processes and products. According to Boyle (2003) ‘Design management involves understanding, coordinating and synthesising a wide range of inputs while working alongside a diverse cross-section of multidisciplinary colleagues’. Hence, architectural management is the synergy between the management of the professional office (often referred to as office or practice management) and the management of individual projects (often referred to as project or job management) (Brunton et al, 1966).
The roots of design management in construction industry lie in evidence from the past. The first instances in the UK were the two Government reports, Latham (1994) and Egan (1998), that identified a need for change in the architecture and construction industry. These report established the demand for better value from the construction industry as a whole from the clients.
Consequently, the findings of all such researches and reports resulted in a reform in the Architecture Engineering and Construction sector. The contracting organisations proved to be more receptive to reform that their architectural counterparts. Besides the adoption of new forms of contract and shifting roles and responsibilities by both parties there was a significant development of the design manager role in contracting bodies (Gray & Hughes, 2001; Bibby, 2003). In the more recent years, Emmitt’s research paper , ARB annual report (2004 – 2005) and many other sources provide concrete evidence for embracing design management in architecture for a multitude of reasons.
The activity of Design Management, according to Eynon (2013), ‘includes the management of all project – related design activities , people, processes and resources : Enabling the effective flow and production of design information; Contributing to achieving the successful delivery of the completed project, on time, on budget and in fulfilment of the customer’s requirements on quality and function in a sustainable manner; Delivering value through integration, planning , co-ordination, reduction of risk and innovation; Achieved through collaborative and integrated working and value-management processes. Following this ethos of design management the role of a design manager in an architectural practice can be derived.
A design manager’s role encompasses a wide range of subjects which can primarily be categorised in management of people , technologies, information and resources by means of communication, co-ordination, delegation, problem solving and leadership. Consequently, a design manager’s role is largely about strategic (long-term decisions relating to a firm or project) and operational (day-to-day instructions) decision making. A design manager operates in all the RIBA Plan of Work stages – from strategic definition to handover and in use.
The entire process of design management is aimed at applying the above mentioned principles into an architectural practice. This process can have significant benefits , both tangible and intangible , relating to – the project, the organisation (including people), the business, the clients. For quantifying the merits of design management, it is important to perceive the project, organisation, the client and consequently the business as being linked to each other. They have a significant influence on each others’ performance. The impact of the process of design management when applied to these entities is analysed in the following.
Hallmarks of DM
Architectural practices are project-driven organisations. The three main entities involved in a project are the client, contractor and the architect where a project is the binding force between all three. Each of them have different perceptions and needs from a project –
– For a client the project is a commodity which is created by employing designers and contractors.
– An architect aims to create a design value and charge a fees on that basis.
– A contractor aims to deliver value to the client through the built project and charge a fee on the resources invested.
Time, cost, quality , additionally with safety and environment , are the fundamental measures of project performance. A design manager’s role is analysing the project and responding to the three project deliverables in context of all parties . This is the basis of all design management activities and process and all design management activities revolve around optimising the time, cost and quality to meet the needs of all parties involved.
The key benefits of design management in an architecture firm are illustrated below.
Establishing the System Architecture
For running a project design managers aim to establish a system that balances the needs of the project with those of their firm. This helps to realise the potential of the staff along with making the project ‘belong’ and resonate with the firm. Communication is vital to realise goals and objectives. Most practices lack communication with the office and with other organisations. A design manager helps to bridge this gap by sharing knowledge and managing information and maintaining consistency within the office and with other organisations.
A design team (including engineers, contractors etc) is primarily responsible for the outcome of a project. There are often delays in decision making, lack of communication, over-budget and over-time projects due to poor management of the design team. With design management in the early stages one can address such problems and take measures to avoid or reduce the impact. Early intervention and integration of the design team members creates better value and creates a successful environment for the project. The design managers help in co-ordinating these meetings and collaborating with various members which promotes problem solving and decision making. This early integration has a great impact on the later stages of the project and results in better value for time, cost and quality. Moreover, having a good design management helps to avoid and rectify misunderstandings and conflict.
Managing Creative People
DM is very much concerned with management of staff in relation to design projects and the office itself. Good and able-bodied individuals are an architecture firm’s principal asset and costliest resource. To ensure efficient delivery of architectural work it is extremely important to cultivate intangible aspects that result in efficiency. An integral outcome of good design management is the happiness and well-being of the staff.
The firm’s office culture is informed by the values of the firm and staff. The interaction of these two creates the firm’s culture and effectiveness. Design managers, through interaction and communication, maintain good office culture. This positivity can help to promote the firm’s growth and create a conducive workplace for staff.
Architecture is a high pressure environment, but a good managerial systems can help to ease the pressure and contribute to the physical and psychological wellbeing of all employees, regardless of their position and job function. A design manager is responsible for getting the balance correct through realistic allocation of individual work programmes and skills development. When staff wellbeing is ensured it boosts their level of commitment and results in efficiency and productivity. It also results in staff retention.
An architecture firm is primarily a creative space that may not respond well to administrative and managerial responsibilities. Therefore a design manager relieves creative people of unnecessary administrative loads allowing them to be efficient in their creative space.
The Business of Architecture & Financial Management
Many architects see management of the business as a secondary activity. However, a stable business structure is vital for sustaining any profession. Successful service firms are defined by their ability to combine design vision, business skills and leadership in a fluid and fruitful manner. Good design management involves strategic decision making and creative thinking which ensures survival and sustained profitability in a competitive marketplace.
Architects are famous for poor management of their business, wasting profits and missing growth opportunities, resulting in lesser profits and financial instability of the firm. A design manager helps to manage the finances of a firm by strategically maximising financial opportunities and minimising risk by financial monitoring and evaluation. A design manager overlooks basic accounting activities and reviews fees charged, ensures cash flow and monitors expenditure to avoid crisis situations.
It is important to create and realise design value by programming and coordinating design work in accordance with the client’s needs and values. The ability to understand clients is important to develop designs and ensure that the business is providing appropriate services to its clients. Managing client expectations is key. Design managers facilitate this relationship with the client through communication and interpersonal skills. Client empathy is integral for a clear understanding and communications between the two parties, this in turn ensures efficient development and delivery of design. Designs must be created keeping in mind the needs, budget, regulations and vision of a client.
Attracting and Retaining Clients
Design ability of an architectural practice alone is not sufficient to attract clients. When a client invests in a design service they expect a holistic package of services – consistency, efficiency and above all value for their money. Therefore, they become an integral part of the practice’s organisation culture.
The architect–client relationship needs to be both nurtured and managed in order for both parties to benefit from it. Building client trust and satisfaction is key. Communication between client and architect is critical and design managers play a key role in this process. This is essential for not only success of a project but also for longevity of client relationships. The main goals of a design manager in this regard is to meet client expectations, programme , budget and produce a quality design. Through the process of design management a steady brand image of a firm can be created. Happy clients are the most important source of finding work, either through further commissions or through the word of mouth.
One cannot overlook the fact that it is expensive to hire a design manager. However, the benefits outweigh the financial resources needed – spending money on design management should be seen as an investment. Following the examples illustrated above, design management brings an overall value to the profession and the services offered. Management is a necessity for any kind of business therefore, it is a must for architecture as a profession to invest more into and incorporate design management in their businesses. The visible results of good design management may be seen as stable or increasing finances, happy clients resulting in more job opportunities, happy and efficient employees etc. However, there are many more invisible benefits of design management which are indirect measures of good design management that directly affect the business of a firm. The well-being, confidence and management of staff members affects the performance of the firm. Design management, in relation to running projects, accounts for all sorts of factors – time, cost, quality, sustainability, environment, safety, logistics , build-ability etc. providing a holistic product. Successful design management results from a holistic approach , harmony between all factors and a blend of different business management models, tailored to suit a specific practice.
Due to the importance of design management in the architectural profession, it is extremely important to increase awareness about the same. Aspiring architects must be exposed to this managerial aspect of the profession during their period of study.