CEO, Principal Architect
Thomas B. Merritt
COO, Director of Design, Architect
Verdant Studio is a full-service architecture and design firm that was founded in 2015 by Jessica Hester in Rogers, Arkansas. Specializing in commercial and residential architecture, art in public spaces, curatorial services, feasibility studies, and urban planning, Verdant Studio “plays on a lot of playgrounds” so-to-speak. The firm, which is licensed in every state except Alaska, is known locally for its diversity, as it’s made up of 12 employees with unique personal and professional backgrounds from art and graphic design to sculptures and more.
Having gone to graduate school with Monograph Co-founder and CEO Robert Yuen, Jessica was no stranger to the practice operations platform or what it sought to do for firms, and she recalled Robert’s dedication to building great things. In 2019, she reached out to him and the team as the studio had experienced immense growth in just a few years, and with a large diversification and quantity of project types, her team needed a more holistic and user-friendly platform to complement the firm’s progress.
To discover how Monograph allows them to be more transparent both internally and externally, we spoke with Jessica and Verdant Studio’s Director of Design Thomas B. Merritt on December 18th, 2020. Here is their story!
During that quick period of growth for Verdant Studio, our team witnessed an increase in projects, project types, and staffing. To stay organized through this transition to a larger firmwide workload, we wanted to find a new way to track our time for projects, which is where Monograph first came in. At the beginning of using the platform, we focused on understanding its functionality and over time we began to recognize its robust nature. This discovery later led us to really set up our jobs properly by using it more as a management tool and not just for time tracking.
During one of the first major projects, I, Thomas, was undertaking when I joined the Verdant Studio team, I recognized how empowered we were in having Monograph for budgeting and being able to plug in the hours and staffing. From start to finish, we could show the client these numbers and graphics to communicate project progress, fees, and scheduling more clearly. We weren’t just picking numbers out of thin air, but we were showing the client real-time fees, schedules, reports, and charts so that they could understand the bigger picture with a clear, solid analysis on our end.
Being transparent with clients is key and Monograph gave us a better means to do so. I was impressed the very first time I utilized the tool, when the numbers came within $800 of my own original estimate and it only took me 5-10 minutes to compile. Typically, this process could take up to an hour, and it wouldn’t have been rooted in technology. There are time-tested standards for how to plan a project, and while my previous method wasn’t necessarily a bad way of doing it, many clients need more in order to fully understand the process and scope of work. In fact, in some instances, it can be hard for them to understand your fee without it. Monograph made the process faster and more efficient. The platform doesn’t just give us what we need to be successful, but it also provides our clients with the tools they need in order to get a project across the finish line.
As far as budgeting goes, Monograph has also helped us immensely on this front with real-time ability and benefits. Instead of providing ballpark estimates, we can give clients factually-based data and insight as to how and why expenses come out the way they do. Clients really appreciate this because everyone can be on the same page and it ensures that a project is and/or can be made possible. For example, if a client has invoicing questions, we can drill down to the notes section and show them whether we’re over or under budget––who wouldn’t appreciate this type of transparency in business? Financial conversations are so important and having a platform that supports these discussions to be simple and transparent is huge for our client relationships and firm success.
Beyond the extensive list of external benefits, Monograph has also continued to improve the team structure internally––particularly through the latest feature, Resource. 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. We can add people to projects instantly and it all lives in the platform so everyone can be aware of what’s going on at all times––no one asks me what to work on for the week anymore, because they’re already all in the loop on Monograph.
Our project managers can also grab last week’s timesheet or other documentation and get a clearer view of what needs to be accomplished in the week ahead. Project managers can then populate what they need on their end, and what else they’re thinking in terms of project next steps, scheduling, fees, and so forth, and then Jessica and I can make adjustments accordingly.
Since it’s relatively new, I think we’re barely scratching the surface of what this feature has to offer, but it has instantly made a big difference as our architects and designers always know what to work on. The project managers are also more empowered than ever to really take control of a project, even down to the invoicing––and invoice meetings themselves have been cut in half time-wise. It allows all of our team members to be involved in the financial part without actually being in the books. They learn how billing works and it holds everyone more accountable for any time spent on a project, which can only help our business run more smoothly in the long run. It has been a great communication tool and even helped us streamline things we were doing without a tool––we’re excited to see where Monograph continues to take our firm in the future.