Before the Game

Premise:  Good teams prepare to play the game.

Significant amounts of money, time and effort are expended in preparation to play the game of football - and most any other sport.  Drafts are held and trades made to assemble the best players available and build the team's capabilities.  The coaching staff employs strategic analysis to understand their teams, as well as the competitions, strengths and how to exploit any weakness.  Plays are devised, modified and practiced extensively to hone execution and leverage each players contribution to moving the ball downfield and then preventing the other team from doing so when they have the ball.

All of this is done prior to playing the game.

“It’s not the will to win that matters - everyone has that, it’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” -

How many design firms invest thought and effort in devising strategies and "plays" for the game of project delivery?  Do we pay attention to a team's makeup and capability to execute?  Have we really learned how to effectively move the ball forward?

As noted last month, design professionals only get paid by moving the ball forward, that is, by progressing work.  This effort is usually divided into phases such as Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents and Construction Administration.  Progression through a phase is reflected monthly by invoicing and then (presumably) receipt of payment.


Like the game of football, much of what we do is the same, job to job.  It is important to discern what is unique and atypical about a particular project or client.  Understanding the challenges and constraints we are likely to face is one essential for better navigating project complexity.  For the routine tasks and efforts every job has, firms can develop methods for performing the work rapidly and with consistency.  A benefit of this is the enabling of team members to shift more easily between projects.  Another is that fewer mistakes tend to be made when tasks and workflows become the same or similar.

"Their's (is) not to reason why, Their's (is) but to do and die: - excerpt from the poem "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (text inserted for clarity)

The efforts of modeling and drawing are essential to understanding the building and solving the puzzle of the project.  I do find it interesting that team's often focus immediately on producing deliverables with little or no thought on how to best approach the project as a problem, or seeking to identify and understand the challenges they will face and how they will prevail.

Many architectural firms continue to employ a "craft" approach to their practice where the preferences of individuals, usually senior, determine how work is done, how much is done, and what it looks like.  While less of an issue with small firms, it is especially harmful at large ones and those with multiple offices which often have multiple standards or ways of doing work.  This is fine for dealing with design aesthetics and managing client nuances but it creates discontinuities in document development and team practices.  Technological advances along with unrelenting pressure to produce work for less fee suggests that we adopt an approach that allows diverse teams, sometimes geographically separated, to work together more seamlessly.  That doesn't mean we cannot learn from the past or incorporate new ideas; it does mean that having one primary, streamlined approach to delivering work offers benefits to all.



It came as a revelation one day that buildings could be viewed as a collection of building systems - exterior skin systems, roofs, partitions, interior finishes, structural, mechanical, and electrical, etc..  They are purposefully thought of, merged together and coordinated.  This systems approach provided a real benefit as it helped us to better think through, communicate, teach, and document them.


A team is ultimately only as good as its coaching staff and the players on the field.  Many firms today are again experiencing resource stress resulting from an insufficient and / or inexperienced workforce.  Recruiting, training and retaining personnel remains an important concern.  We face continuing technological change along with thin ranks in the 8 to 10-year experience level as many potential architects never entered the profession due to the Great Recession.  This gap makes it difficult for the more experienced architects today who are no longer proficient with the tools of the practice and must depend upon younger staff to do essential work.

"The experience quotient is turned upside down" - Grant A. Simpson, FAIA

What can firms do?

Leverage the experience of senior staff to actively mentor and train interns.  Pay attention to each teams complement to ensure that issues of management, design, constructability and documentation will all be addressed.

A question to ask at any firm - is it acceptable to poorly execute an excellent design?  Assuming the answer is “no”, elevate the stature of production work and recruit individuals skilled in putting buildings together.

What about consultants?  Structural, MEP, Civil and other team members should be viewed at times like a client.  The architect should set all parameters affecting their work and see that the information they need, along with that which they provide - flows to all parties concerned in a timely manner.


Having a work (or game) plan is not enough – you still must do the right thing at the right time, and do it well.  Success in the design of a building and the construction documents that describe it entails much more than modeling or drawing.

Approach project development with a methodology that identifies what needs to happen at the appropriate time, building in coordination efforts between disciplines.  Look ahead to identify and eliminate potential roadblocks.  It is always more productive to prevent problems from happening as opposed to expending effort later to detect and correct.

If a project includes 1005 issues, tasks, and problems (pick a number) - to complete design of the building and finalize a coordinated set of documents for bidding and construction, all 1005 need to be ultimately resolved or rendered inconsequential.  It is to the design team's advantage to conclude as many as possible before construction begins.  After that, we are in Overtime but not receiving additional pay as we continue to play.


Next time we will take an in-depth look at a specific documenting system with its associated workflow and how Lean Thinking influenced its development.