The Future of Practice Operations

by
Joann Lui
At Monograph, we believe that the next level of design lies in Practice Operations. Here is a look into what we envision the future of practice of operations look like.
The Future of Practice Operations

I love spending all weekend filling out hours on spreadsheets!

...said no one ever.

Yet, I can’t tell you how many architects we have talked to have done exactly that.

For decades, architects have adapted to use innovative technology to make their designs a reality.

BIM. Virtual Reality. Point Cloud. Clash Defection. Scripts. 3D printing.

Technology has the power to help us design buildings extremely efficiently. At the core, it layers all the data we need in one place and outputs different forms of visuals for you to make design decisions with your team, consultants, or clients in much less time.

Practice Operations

Where is this in our Practice Operations?

Your argument is probably: the operative side of architecture isn’t enjoyable. Design is what we do as architects. Operations are just what we have to do on the side to run a firm. Operations, intrinsically, aren’t worth re-thinking. It’s not mind-blowing. It’s not eye-catching to bring in work.

We completely disagree. Here at Monograph, we believe that operations should be enjoyable. We believe it so much that we even made up the term—Practice Operations.

Practice operations should be integrated into your design process. It should motivate your team to love their work. It should take the stress off your mind so you can do better design work.

Practice operations should be so easy, so intuitive, so optimized to fit your needs, that it should minimize the time you need to spend managing a project so you can get back to doing what you love.

And yet no one else thinks of architecture practice this way.

We accept the fact that the main tool we use to run our firms is piles of spreadsheets scattered across our folders. That’s your team spending their would-be-billable hours inputting data into empty cells.

If you’re lucky, it might be color-coded to your liking. There might even be a standard format for the design of this spreadsheet.

The Current Problem

Every firm in the architecture industry depends on a variation of spreadsheets.

Timesheets. Gantt charts. Invoices. Staffing Plans.

Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets. Spreadsheets.

Sometimes you might even get a post-it note on the wall.

In fact, 88% of spreadsheets contain errors.

88% of spreadsheets contain errors.
88% of spreadsheets contain errors.

That’s terrible.

Imagine if you use Revit to draft a drawing set, and 88% of that is always wrong. But we still send this 88% error to the contractor, which creates millions of dollars in change orders down the line.

We would all unanimously agree that it was a failure of a drawing set. Yet when it comes to practice operations, we say that it’s ok.

We’ve met many architects who struggle with keeping their projects profitable because:

  • They don’t know how much money is spent on each project.
  • They don’t have the data to plan the right team, schedule, and fee for new projects.
  • They’re spending too much time figuring all this out when they should be doing billable work.
  • They have no way of seeing where their practice would be 6 months from now.

Then why are we still using spreadsheets knowing that they can’t solve our problems?

Design vs Operations Technology

Over the past few years, design technology has evolved so much. BIM in 2021 looks nothing like CAD back in 1999. Now you can 3D print an entire city to scale without bending your back gluing models together.

It’s incredible how much has advanced: the amount of data it stores, speed, user interface, integration, visual graphics…

Design and visualizations have come so far. Our practice operations...hasn’t.

There’s been some software that attempts to create platforms for all professional service firms including architects, engineers, accountants, and lawyers.

But these platforms fail to understand how architecture firms operate so the core problem of practice operations remains unsolved.

We’re still using spreadsheets that they’re just making it look better and throwing it online as a platform.

Adapting Design Process into Operations

For architecture practices to truly scale and make money, we have to admit that the fanciest colors, the best-formulated cells, or the outdated generic platforms won’t bring our practice to the next level.

Great operations are the only way to empower our people with efficient processes to better their performance and drive your firm’s profits.

To create a great operational system, we need to apply the same innovation found in design technology to practice operations.

To take the best practices from our design process—the act that we collect layers of data to make design decisions—and apply it to practice operations.

In design, we create data-rich BIM models that overlap all the information we need like environmental info, site location, construction budget, program areas, material cost, and specs. These models supply those data for the contractor to manage their construction, and later for the clients to manage their facility.

In operations, we need data like our time spent on projects, project fee, timeline, team members. We can use these data to:

  • inform our managers how to plan for a project
  • let our team know what they should be working on
  • show our clients exactly what they’re paying us

We see the power of data in design and building operations—every step from design, construction, to facility operations.

But we have yet seen the power of data in our practice operations.

The Architecture Practice Operations Platform

The possibilities are endless when it comes to technology, and it’s a crime to our overworked team members that we’re not using it.

What most of us don’t realize is that when it comes to practice operations, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Making profits on projects doesn’t have to be a struggle.

Having a system in place can propel the most confused team member forward. There is no excuse for us to brush off our operational processes.

Don’t take our words for it. There are operational leaders out there trying to make our architecture practice better with technology.

They often have to hack together different tools to make it work. Asana. Harvest. Teams. Then sometimes still spreadsheets.

Or maybe they try some expensive software only to find out the learning curve is so steep that they spend more time learning the software than managing their project.

The problem is no one platform is designed for architects as a whole.

We need a tool that let us:

  • Manage projects by phase in all aspects
  • Track both billable and non-billable time
  • Clearly see how much budget has been spent on a project against our project Gantt chart
  • Plan our staffing with fee in mind so we never run out of fee again
  • Forecast our revenue so we know how to plan forward

More importantly, we need to adapt our design process—layering data on top of each other to make decisions—into practice operations.

That’s where Monograph comes in. We want to create an operational solution that helps you run better practice. At the core of Monograph, we layer your data such as time, schedule, fee, and team members and present you with information that’s not only visually appealing but also helps you make informed decisions on running your projects and practice.

We’re starting with you, the architect, because that’s where our expertise is. Once we grow, we’ll expand to other design professionals in the built environment—just like a design team would be in an architecture project.

A lot of architects have already joined us for the future of Practice Operations. We’re ready. Are you ready?

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.

Best Practice insights

Sign up for our newsletter to stay on top of the advice and stories from emerging leaders in design and practice operations.

Try Monograph Today

Track your projects and revenue with ease.
Don't leave money on the table.
Start a Free Trial
No Credit Card Required.