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The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends.


New approaches: Reimagining the firm

By Carolyn Perricelli posted 05-26-2022 04:38 PM


An excerpt from Firm Management Strategies by the AIA Trust


"Great companies foster a productive tension between continuity and change."
- James C. "Jim" Collins


As Albert Einstein observed, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next
level.” Transforming what you do is not only forward-thinking, it can be inspiring—to your staff as well as to your clients. Some architecture firms have built new businesses in sync with what they already do (architecture) to diversify their offerings and capture a market ready to buy. Some firms have reexamined their current management practices and implemented strategic changes in marketing and financial management that make them more profitable and more efficient.

One firm's new approach

For example, a large firm implemented a new approach to its practice during the 2008 recession: increasing its focus on strategic planning and master planning. Their experience since then has made them much better in that arena now, by building a business development component into their work. In doing so, they have positioned their firm to help their clients with long-range and strategic business planning, keeping themselves connected to their clients so that they are “right there with them” when they’re ready for the next project.

Their business development enterprise indicates that more clients are looking to future renovations rather than new buildings when post-pandemic
lives and the economy return to a more normal state. Since the pandemic has altered lives and workstyles so dramatically, it makes sense to look at renovating the workplace of the future. They are striving to position their firm to be the go-to for transforming workplace interiors—and much of this was a result of their strategic planning with clients. They also plan to pursue behavioral and mental health-related facilities which are increasingly publicly funded.

This revised project approach will guide any necessary future staff cuts for the firm, based on needed skill sets. Ironically, they may need to
recruit these skillsets for next year’s competition in those arenas and are already seeing how much more competitive the marketplace has become with many more firms competing for the same jobs.

A variety of changes

Another large firm increased their master planning studio by about 20% during the Great Recession which was the genesis of their space analytics studio which successfully continues to this day.

A mid-sized firm is maintaining a diverse set of projects and clients while consistently limiting its debt. During the Great Recession, they started their facilities maintenance company to further diversify the firm along with adding real estate consulting services to help clients apply for tax credits and rebates. Both enterprises have helped to balance out their income over time and during the current pandemic.

A small firm proactively marketed during the Great Recession and got a tighter hold on the firm finances by figuring out how much they really needed and focusing on meeting that amount or figuring out what else to do. They continue to employ those strategies during the current pandemic situation as well.

A small Midwest firm finds that its strategic marketing approach and business development are what helped establish them as an award-winning
firm in their city, so they continue to refresh their marketing strategy. They plan to outsource a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) function to assess the marketplace, what their clients want, what their firm can offer, and how to strategically reposition it effectively.

As a pivot resulting from the Great Recession, a firm of 20 employees added a manufacturing component in 2009. This new separate company manufactures large prefabricated building components and has more than doubled the firm staff size to 50 employees over the last 10 years. Demand for their manufactured buildings that use nested parts to make better buildings faster has grown manifold as the building types include free-standing ER departments, regional hospitals, and patient rooms, offices, and churches. Their manufacturing plant now has international clients and 400 employees, and their biggest challenge is determining how to meet the growing demand.


Read more from this mid-pandemic resource >