Projects are the lifeblood of any design business. But practice management is the heart that pumps that lifeblood. If the heart isn’t well, the projects are starved for the nutrients they need.
All too often, we see design firms that, for various reasons (such as just too many projects) are failing their project teams, their design efforts and their clients. There can be many reasons why. In the seven topic areas below, we discuss some of the situations we see often, and some of the ways PSMJ can help to get the heart pumping again.
Strategic. Planning. One of those wonderful twin-star ideas that almost everybody thinks is a great idea, but few actually do, and even fewer do very well. In a slower-paced world, a generation or two ago, a strategic planning retreat once a year was seen as plenty. Maybe even a 2-year, or 5-year, Strategic Plan. No more. If it’s not part of your firm’s semi-annual, or quarterly, assessment/re-direction process, you are very likely to be disadvantaged.
PSMJ’s Executive Advisor Program is for small-to-medium size firms that feel they need a “second pair of eyes” from outside the firm, to help them tackle critical issues of any kind; a cold-eye review. Ideally the firm would appoint a non-executive Board member, but doesn’t have the resources to do it. This program is designed to fill that gap: an “only as-needed; but always available” extra senior staff presence to help the firm’s leaders make the right decisions.
Are your quality systems “up to scratch”? Or are you faking it to keep up your certification, while explaining away quality failures as being somebody else’s fault? Or have you been thinking that you really do need to do something about formalising your existing quality approach, but have been scared off by horror stories of “over-the-top” paperwork?
FACT: It takes 10 years to do succession planning right. It takes at least 5 years to do it, under pressure, with lessened chance of success. FACT: Most design firms leave it TOO LATE. FACT: With depressing regularity, PSMJ sees very good design firms with much to pass on, blow their chances of leaving a legacy because they either waited too long, got bad advice, or both.
At some point, all firm owners face a decision about the future of their business: Change, Sell, or Die. Organic growth is one way to change, and requires generational change and ownership succession to succeed. Some mergers are true mergers, where similar-sized firms agree to go forward together. Otherwise, the idea of a “merger” means that you are selling your firm into a larger firm, which is an “acquisition” for the larger firm. Semantics.
Treat your staff like your most trusted consultants. As Managers and CEOs, you depend on the productivity and quality of output of your staff, whose performance and motivation are paramount to successful project outcomes, client satisfaction and practice growth.
There’s an old saying: If you keep asking questions and don’t get satisfactory answers, maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. Perhaps the right answer here is “Stop trying to promote your services”. Promoting your services is all about you – what you can do for your clients – not about what they need from you. Most design professionals understand the idea of becoming a Trusted Advisor – a person or firm the client seeks out when they need or want help.
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