Mies van der Rohe’s aphorism “less is more,” is well known to architects for defining the minimalist, lean approach utilized in modern design. As in design, less can also be more in professional practice, and this column features two such examples.

Embracing Lean Design

In his recent Technology in Architecture Practice (TAP) conference presentation titled “Design Management: A Lean Approach,” Bruce Cousins, AIA bruce.cousins@studiovltd.com outlines lean project delivery concepts applicable to architectural practice. The lean approach seeks to eliminate waste in the design and construction process.

The Lean Construction Institute www.leanconstruction.org is an organization that aims to extend to the construction industry the lean production revolution that started in manufacturing. The Toyota Production System is one such lean manufacturing philosophy that is centered on preserving value with less work. Cousins notes how architects can add value to the traditionally inefficient and wasteful design process by employing integrated project delivery (IPD) and building information modeling (BIM), in combination with lean, value-driven thinking.

While the advanced systems thinking of IPD, BIM and Lean methods may not directly be applicable to small practitioners, all architects can benefit from looking to make their design and delivery processes more efficient. By eliminating waste from our practices more time can be focused on the craft of architecture that inspires us, and we also can improve the bottom line…making more with less.

Letting Go of Clients

In his latest newsletter piece titled “The Bottom 20 Percent,” Steve Whitehorn of Whitehorn Financial Group, Millburn, New Jersey, writes about the virtues of letting go of bad clients. Whitehorn says, “It doesn’t take long to understand which clients are your most difficult. These are the clients that do not pay well, always have a problem, and are most susceptible to creating tension. Any time you touch their file or answer their email, you lose money.”

In the current recession the notion of letting go of any clients may sound unimaginable; however, with some signs of an improving economy and realization about the negative impact bad clients can have on firms, such a strategy may be just what is needed to position your practice to improve in the coming cycle.

Whitehorn adds, “You would be amazed at the impact this has on your firm’s bottom line, and the burden that is lifted from your team’s shoulders. Hopefully you take a strategic approach in deciding which clients to work with, why not take a similarly strategic approach in declining to work with the clients that cost you the most money? Imagine the impact on your firm if you could focus your energy on your top 20 percent of clients, as opposed to the bottom 20 percent. Despite all the challenges of today’s economy, this could help you move forward, as opposed to holding on to the stubborn past.”

Parting ways with one fifth of your client base may be too extreme for most architects to consider, but embracing the idea on a smaller scale might entail dropping your single worst client. The point is to focus on making thoughtful choices on the quality of clients, and to focus more time and effort working with people who respect and reward your practice for the services and value provided.

Steve Whitehorn is a recognized leader in the architectural and engineering field for providing practice and risk management services. He is currently working with AIA NJ to develop a seminar program on “Success Factors for a Winning Practice,” which is planned for October 2012.

AIA NS Professional Practice Committee Chair: Ronald C. Weston, AIA, LEED AP BD+C Email: rweston@psands.com

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