3 Staffing Models for Architecture Firms

by
Joann Lui
Learn how to apply these 3 staffing models based on your business models in your architecture firms—Efficiency, Experience and Expertise.
3 Staffing Models for Architecture Firms
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How architecture firms like yours become profitable depends on their business model.

You want to find the right staffing model that can support your business goals in the long run.

Having the right staffing model for your firm can help you:

  • Hire the right people
  • Create a productive workplace
  • Be profitable on every project

In this article, we look at 3 staffing models for architecture firms—created by Rena Klein of Charrette Venture Group at Section Cut 2021.

What is a Staffing Model?

Staffing model is a system designed to guide the right staff to meet business objectives without wasting resources.

It’s built around key components that include:

  1. Productivity statistics
  2. Worker efficiency
  3. Number of employees required for the business to function
  4. Training times to understand systems and workflows
  5. How many employees are needed to reach staff capacity

These components help you strategically build a staffing plan in architecture and your business needs. 

It serves as the framework for the overall operations of your company, ensuring planned expansion and organic growth within your business model. 

Why are Staffing Models Important?

In your firm, you have staff that operate on different levels. 

From designers to project managers to partners, all their time and project assignments need to be managed to create a balanced and productive workplace—whether you work remotely or not.

Your profitability depends on well-managed projects and the skillful use of staff resources. 

This means the right person needs to do the right project in the right amount of time.

If you try to push too much work to the wrong person, the easy answer is you lose money.

The most important aspect to understand with a staffing plan is incorporating your business model.

Staffing Models that Reflect Your Business Model

All firms and the projects they take on are different, and so will be your approach and how you communicate it to your clients.

Rena suggested that you build your staffing model based on your business model, so you can ensure that your teams are operating efficiently.

Here are the 3 types of business models for architecture firms:

  • Efficiency
  • Experience
  • Expertise

But before we take a close look into each one, let's first understand the staffing triangle.

What is the Staffing Triangle?

The staffing triangle is divided into 3 sections: 

  • At the first level, you will find your junior team members. 
  • In the middle section, you have your project architects and project managers. 
  • And right at the top, you have your partner and principals.

Filename: Staffing Triangle for Architecture & Engineering Firms

Alt-text: Staffing Triangle for Architecture & Engineering Firms

By using this staffing triangle, you can quickly develop different staffing models by adjusting the proportions of each section.

3 Staffing Models Explained

How professional firms become profitable depends on their business models, which highly influence the way they manage their staff.

1 - Efficiency Model

These firms are the pushers, and they usually take on repetitive work that other big design firms don’t seem worthwhile according to their scope.

Firms with this model specialize in routine projects with many repeatable elements.

This means that the project brief and execution usually follow the same strategy. They have their production processes streamlined to do it better, faster, and cheaper. 

When you’re running an efficiency business model, your staffing triangle becomes bottom heavy.

You’d have a large tier of junior staff that's well-trained to do most of the work with a smaller upper management to oversee the work.

Efficiency Model with a Bottom-Heavy Staffing Triangle
Efficiency Model with a Bottom-Heavy Staffing Triangle

It might not be ground-breaking custom work, but the efficiency model is highly profitable with proper planning.

In short, if you are considering an efficiency-based firm, you need to:

  1. Deliver projects faster or for less money.
  2. Be able to take on plenty of repetitive work.
  3. Have a streamlined and constantly revisited design and production process.
  4. Take on projects that are simple to execute and redundant in the process.
  5. Train your junior teams to be well versed in all the details as they will handle the bulk of the work.

But all the pressure doesn’t need to be on your team.

There are technologies on the market that can also speed up the processes. Consider incorporating better workflows in practice operations with project management software.

Although it seems redundant, this model is not to be overlooked. It can be highly profitable in the market. 

For example, and as Rena mentions, a well-known firm in Seattle that specializes in tilt-up warehouses has successfully operated around the world with junior staff who are well-trained and has fewer people in the upper parts.

2 - Experience Model

It is all in the name.

These firms know what they're doing based on the experience that they have accrued from past projects.

Most architecture firms are experience-based, even in a more generalist or diverse practice. 

Here you'll need a more balanced staffing triangle.

Experience Model with a Balanced Staffing Triangle
Experience Model with a Balanced Staffing Triangle

 

You need the same number of staff across the staffing triangle as it asks the team to rely on past experiences and expertise.

The Experience Model's details are as follows:

  1. The 3 tiers in the staffing triangle are entirely balanced.
  2. You must have a strong reputation for successfully delivering a specific type of projects.
  3. Your portfolio must be top-notch and feature your past relationships and significant projects.
  4. Your staff must be capable and have design expertise.

The experience model is also the hardest model to make money in, because you’ll need to manage your projects really well to be profitable.

Here, the right person is of high priority.

If your Principal is doing what your Project Manager could be doing, it’s losing money in your project.

It’s important to staff the right people for the right project in all business models, but here it’s especially true if you’re an experience model based firm.

3 - Expertise Model

On the other end of the business model scale, you will find the Expertise Model. 

These agencies are generally top-heavy, meaning that they have many principal/partners in the firm.

Expertise Model with a top-heavy staffing structure
Expertise Model with a top-heavy staffing structure

They are the top designers within the industry and have the price tags to match.

These firms offer special knowledge to their clients, and the partners and principals who have experience in this specialty do most of the work. 

The project teams are typically compiled of top award-winning designers that provide a depth of knowledge in each category.

This naturally means that you can ask for more money as the projects you take on are incredibly specialized.

To incorporate a staffing plan for an Expert Model means:

  1. Your firm boasts reputable, award-winning designers.
  2. Your principals and partners are heavily involved in all the projects.
  3. You’ll have fewer junior staff to do the production work.
  4. Your design awards, publications, research, and portfolio attract clients to your services.

The Expertise Model asks the entire team to be hands-on from the top down. Here you will rely on reputation and innovation to drive business growth. 

Choosing the Right Staffing Triangle

How do you know which staffing triangle applies to your firm?

Here’s a side by side comparison of each business model to help you figure out which staffing structure works best for you:

3 Staffing Models for Architecture Firm Comparison
3 Staffing Models for Architecture Firm Comparison

Choosing the right staffing structure for your firm can help you ensure you’re hiring the right team that can support your business goals.

If you’re looking for ways to manage your staff more efficiently, oday and see how our practice operations software can help you put your staffing model into practice today.

About the Author
Joann Lui

Joann Lui is a Senior Content Strategist as part of the Growth team at Monograph with 10 years of experience as a Registered Architect. She's also the founder of Women Architects Collective - a community of women building careers they love in architecture. She helps architects be heard, be seen, and be known in their work journey through community and personal branding.

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