How to Create an Effective Staffing Plan in Architecture

by
Nicolle Hazard
Are you utilizing your best resource: your staff? Whether you are new or a veteran, this article will help you navigate Staffing Plans in order to plan for the present and future of your firm.
How to Create an Effective Staffing Plan in Architecture

Staffing plans might seem overwhelming to create, especially if you have yet to embark on your first one. This article will guide you through the process of creating an effective staffing plan according to your existing workforce availability and your company’s goals.

What is a Project Staffing Plan

A project staffing plan is an ongoing strategic plan usually made by leadership and project managers in an architectural office to understand and plan your employees' current and future state of work. It allows you to see what number and type of employees are needed to accomplish your office’s goal and workload.

What is the Purpose of a Staffing Plan?

The purpose of a staffing plan is to help you and your leadership team understand the resources that you have right now and plan for personnel needs to meet your business goals.

A strategic staffing plan can also allow you to:

  • Reduce friction between project teams
  • Maximize productivity across the firm
  • Increase employee retention rate
  • Utilize your project fees in the most efficient way
  • And more...

How Do You Calculate Staffing Needs

There are typically 3 methods for calculating staffing needs:

1. Trend Analysis

If you’re an established firm, you can apply historical data within your firm to forecast project trends and their necessary staffing requirements. This is typically what we use as architects since you can generally get a sense of how much time a task will take based on our previous experience.

2. Ratio Analysis

This consists of using 2 existing industry metrics, such as the number of residential projects that usually require a specific amount of staff, to estimate future needs of your staff by way of a rule of three or ratio.

Projects (number of a type of project)/Staff (amount of staff needed) = 2XProjects (twice amount of projects)/ 2XStaff (twice the amount of staff)

3. Competitor Analysis

Utilizes a competitor's metrics to estimate projects and your staff allocation. Used in cases when internal data is not available or the company wishes to emulate another firm's strategic goals. This is much rarer in architecture firms, but it’s a good strategy to talk to other leaders in the industry to learn about what they do if you just got started. 

5 Types of Staffing Methods

Every firm might do its architecture project staffing plan differently - from macro to micro. So let’s look at some different staffing methods and their pros and cons:

1. Project-based Staffing

In this type of staffing, you’re usually limited to a specific project. This is usually where most architects start with when they first started their own firm.

Pro: You can meet immediate needs for a few specific projects - especially if they’re urgent.

Con: You only have a narrow view of your staffing needs on a project by project basis with no planning. 

2. Short-term Staffing

Usually employed with a small number of ongoing projects for a limited period of time like a weekly or monthly basis.

Pro: You are able to get a small picture of your firm and rearrange employees amongst teams if necessary.

Con: Your view of your work is only limited to a few weeks or months, making it hard to plan for the future.

3. Long-term Staffing

Long-term staffing comes hand-in-hand with long-term planning. This involves the study of your current and upcoming projects as well as your company goals for at least 6 months or even to a year. At my previous company, we would sit down for long-term staffing for the next 90 days every quarter. This allows us to forecast what our needs are in the upcoming future and do our short-term staffing accordingly.

Pro: Provides you with the best overview of your staff, time, projects, and planning.

Con: It might take more resources and time if you do not have the appropriate data gathered.

4. Strategic or Skills Staffing

Tied to defining company goals and analyzing your employee's current skill set, strategic staffing allows you to make sure your goals can be met with the talent and skill level that your employees have.

If you find that there is a skill gap within your organization for your future needs, you might have to start hiring soon.

Pro: Having a scope limited to skills makes it easier to identify gaps and implement a strategy.

Con: Hiring based on skills alone for an immediate project need is typically not the best indicator. Looking at culture fit and skills that can be used for the long term can usually generate a longer employee retention rate.

Employees with high engagement and exhibit high-wellbeing are 59% less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months according to a Gallup Poll.

5. Succession Planning

Exercised proactively for any projected changes in management, this sort of planning is usually continuously updated as you search and train for possible candidates within or outside your own firm.

According to the AIA Firm Survey of 2020, only 23% of firms have ownership transition plans with larger firms owning the majority of that number. So while this will not happen all the time, transitioning firm ownership or just leadership alone takes a lot of planning so it’s a good idea to include it into your staffing plan as soon as possible.

Pro: Helps you plan for the full lifetime of your firm, even beyond your own leadership, and will make sure your employees and clients remain happy.

Con: It is probably the trickiest to apply since there is no single way to approach this and it’s highly dependent on your own office’s culture.


How to Develop a Staffing Plan in Architecture

The process of developing staffing plans follows these 5 steps:

  1. Identify your goals
  2. Determine your current staffing needs
  3. Estimate your future staffing needs
  4. Conduct a gap analysis
  5. Creating a staffing plan

Estimating your future needs is the only step that can be tackled with different methods, but we will explain what will work best for the size and experience of your office to make the process as smooth as possible.

1. Identify Your Firm’s Goals

The 1st step is identifying your overall business's goals. Your goals are a compendium of your project’s individual objectives plus the general direction of management for business growth.

Goals = Project specific goals + Business growth goals

Including each project’s goals is important because each one of them will have slightly different deliverables, even if you are working within the same building type. This will provide some short-term planning but you will also need to include new directives, such as acquiring work in a new building type or opening a new office, to fully understand future staffing requirements. This last part can be found in your business plan as well.

It is normal for different businesses to have different objectives. For example, a firm that works in healthcare architecture and wishes to engage in museum competitions will have different staffing goals and needs than a business looking to scale up its ongoing projects with existing clients.

2. Determine Your Current Staffing Needs

To develop a future staffing plan, addressing your current needs is critical. 

Medium to large-sized firms tend to have Human Resources departments with up-to-date databases of personnel. These usually include more general information like updated staffing and timesheets. But your project managers probably have the most comprehensive view of your staffing levels.

Meet with leadership and all the relevant parties from different departments to gather the information necessary to create an overall view of your employees including:

  • Projects they are working on, the project Gantt Charts, and any corresponding organization charts
  • What skills do they have? What previous experience do they have? What do they excel at, and what is their specific role in the project as part of the Work Breakdown Structure?
  • Who are the top performers and bottom performers? What challenges are they facing within their projects?
  • Any employees entering or exiting your department due to internships or retirement, etc.
Work Breakdown Structures allow you to see the work that needs to be delivered for a project.
Work Breakdown Structures allow you to see the work that needs to be delivered for a project.
(Source: Work Breakdown Structure)

Ideally, some of the charts mentioned above like the Work Breakdown Structure and Organization chart should be created at the beginning of every project. This will help you speed up the office-wide staffing plan in the future.

Organization charts can be used for specific projects or office-wide to give you a clearer view of your workforce.
Organization charts or Org Chart can be used for specific projects or office-wide to give you a clearer view of your workforce. (Source: Lucidchart)

3. Estimate Your Future Staffing Needs

Understanding your future staffing needs requires projecting some assumptions of your current projects. The idea is to forecast how much and what types of business you will have in the future. Some of these forecasts might involve guesswork but most of them can be based on existing projects and patterns. 

Some factors you can take into account are:

  • What are the timelines of my current projects? What design phase is the project currently in and which phases will I be involved in after this one? 
  • Will I have any repeating clients soon? What is usually their cadence and the type of work they require?
  • What new projects are we going to have in the near future?
  • What projects am I actively chasing within my regular building type or in a new field?

All of these are best when coupled with historical data within your company. It doesn't need to be complicated. Try to go back 2-5 years and gather information specifically about how long did each project and phase take, how many employees did you need to deliver it as well as which skills were utilized by whom.

This is why having all your data inside software like Monograph is so important. It helps you make the right strategic decision based on accurate data.

This is called a Trend Analysis, and the more information and projections your make, the more detailed and informative it can be for you.

Different organizations will use different methods. For example, a small office that focuses on residential remodels might have data that shows that their projects usually last 6 months with a 5 people team. This office is looking to expand into ground-up construction and can foresee at least two remodel referrals coming in next year. All this information will be critical for them to assess their current team, estimate their future needs, and embark on a gap analysis.

4. Conduct a Gap Analysis

Once you have gathered your existing staff information and have created a projection for future needs, you can begin to compare the two and identify spaces that need to be filled, this is called a gap analysis. 

  • Are there any roles that need to be filled immediately for a current project?
  • Can your current staff deliver the repeat client work? Do they need any additional staff? Is the current time commitment manageable by the staff?
  • How many people do you need for the new projects coming in? Are there any skills shortages? Utilize your historical data to answer this question.
  • If you are seeking new projects in new building types, what roles do you need to hire for? Are there any skill gaps that you need to fill?

This step is critical for your staffing plan. You can find areas of opportunity within the experience level of your current staff for current and future projects or you might need to hire to fill that gap. 

5. Create a Staffing Plan for Your Architecture Firm

At this point, you should be armed with the data you need to take action! 

Creating a staffing action plan for your architecture firm should feel intuitive with the information gathered. The initiatives may vary from changing internal allocations of staff or embarking on a long search for external candidates for future positions. Prioritize your initiatives according to time and importance. Work your way from current project skill gaps, to incoming project role allocations, to future projects with specific business objectives. 

A great resource to embark on this journey is our architecture project staffing plan template. This staffing plan template is just a quick excel version you can use with your employees as you grow your company. It can help you streamline this process and identify high-priority initiatives.

Then gather your different departments and help them understand the overall approach and strategy for your initiatives so they can help you implement these changes.

Employees that understand the strategic goals of a company feel a better sense of belonging to the company.

Employees identified “Management’s communication of organization’s goals and strategies” with a 52% importance in the overall employee engagement strategy of a company.

- an SHRH Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Survey

Your people are your best assets in your firm - keep them in the know in your strategy towards success to create a transparent culture.

Create Your Staffing Plan with Monograph

Still overwhelmed with creating a staffing plan for your firm? It’s normal and we get it, especially if it’s your first time around and you feel like there are several decisions to make. The lack of centralized information might be a hurdle, but staffing will become a breeze once you start to gather your information and glean data from it.

"Previously, I would sift through emails and use project staffing sheets to plan out the week for teams––that would take me nearly 4-5 hours to complete, but now it only takes me an hour, if that."

- Jessica Hester, CEO & Principal Architect of Verdant Studio

Resource is our response to this issue and will help you manage your most valuable resources: your team and your time in real time. Let us help you by signing up for our weekly demo or a free 10-day trial.

About the Author
Nicolle Hazard Photo

Nicolle Hazard is currently a Design Strategist and UX Researcher at Dr. Wein with 5 years of previous experience as an Architectural Designer and Project Leader at Fr-ee where she led and participated in a number of architectural competitions ranging from public parks in California to Hyperloop stations in Mexico to Scientific Innovation Centers in China.

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