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Refine Your Architecture Practice Routine

Architects and design professionals would be well served to periodically take time to observe, assess, and refine their Practice Routine. By practice routine I mean your regular habits and processes used to effectively deliver creative solutions and client services.

Creativity evangelist Scott Belsky has said, “Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than reactively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.”

One obstacle to adopting structured routines, however, is that many architects and design professionals want to approach every project as a unique problem to be solved using their own judgment and fresh creativity. Practice routines are not designed to replace judgment - they support and enhance it. 

Most architects and designers tend to get absorbed in their projects right from the start. However, from my years in the profession I have come to recognize that having well designed routines and processes is more important to sustained practice success than a series of individually brilliant projects. By mastering and refining routines and methods, and treating the process as a design problem to be solved, creative professionals become better at their craft. Each client and project engagement is unique, yet common methods and workflow can be leveraged to deliver consistent high quality results.

Unproductive work patterns can result from undisciplined, free-spirited approaches that treat each project like a new adventure, rather than a continuum of practice. Re-inventing details that were created on previous projects; redoing work that was incorrect because of lack of basic standards; correcting details in the field because of missed steps during design phase all undermine best practices. If basic mistakes recur over-and-over it results in inefficiencies that steals time and energy away from design + technical quality, and eventually undermine your reputation. In this post I am advocating that two types of practice routine be focused on for improvement; basic and tacit.

Basic Routines are at the bottom of the practice hierarchy and they involve repetitive processes that are similar from project-to-project. Examples of such basic task routines include:

•     Proposals and CRM (e.g. leads tracking & proposal templates)

•     Project set-up routines (e.g. work plans & fee budget tracking)

•     Project administration routines (e.g. file structures & standard forms)

•     Technical standards (e.g. drawing & specification templates; QA/QC checklists)

Your basic routines are best codified as formal procedures, checklists, and templates that you, or any staff member, can efficiently reference and use to reduce the chance of errors and more efficiently utilize your hours. 

Tacit Routines are at the top of the hierarchy. They involve more complex and less routine tasks. They derive from experience and creative craft practiced over and over again. Such professional experience and knowledge that is consistently practiced and applied over thousands of hours becomes tacit. Examples of such tacit task routines include:

•     Marketing strategy (e.g. branding & storytelling)

•     Personal business development (e.g. verbal communication & selling)

•     Sketching and drawing (e.g. visual communication & ideation)

•     Creative problem solving (e.g. design & technical innovation)

A good tacit routine will allow you flexibility to work with varying levels of creative freedom. You should be able to modify your approach as needed to suit a given client, and to function across a wide range of media and style to achieve design excellence. By focusing on one aspect or another of your process you can guide your own thinking toward your creative goals without having to significantly modify your overall routine.

Author Seth Godin said of practice, “The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.” When well-polished routines become engrained in all aspects of your work, the culture of the firm should thrive and elevate the practice to new heights. What practice routines have you found most helpful?

Author: Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP :: Professional Practice Chair, AIANS

Email: rweston@westonarchitecture.com

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