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How do you define design success?

Jul 10, 2019
  • Article by Jos Maple

In a world that tells us the most important thing is to win at all costs and increase the bottom line, how do we define success and what it means to individual architectural practices?

With most architectural projects spanning at least 12 months, end outcomes can be an irrelevant concept in defining success on a day-to-day basis. And what about when a project falls through or the developer pumps the brakes and changes scope? The architecture didn’t fail… Never mind the months, or even years, of bureaucracy that can tie up large-scale developments – halting the architecture at the design development or DA stage.

So what is success? How should we measure it? And how should it translate to different members of the team? When done correctly, defining success (and actioning it!) can become a motivational tool, have a positive impact on workplace satisfaction and create an efficient pathway to achieving the goals of the business.

Here we provide three clear steps to define success and achieve it.

Step 1– defining the mission of the business

The first step involves the identification of the overarching values, mission and strategic goals of the business. Having a clear vision for not only the architecture but also the goals of the business is essential.

Anita Panov, one of the founding directors of Sydney-based architecture firm Panovscott, explains how this principle has helped to guide the firm to success.

“Andrew [Scott] and I began [our] practice having articulated for ourselves a particular path, or trajectory, that we have deliberately set out to follow. Having articulated this aspiration to ourselves, we were able to take steps to move towards those goals and, happily, through hard work and good fortune, we can feel pleased in their slow realisation.”

By clearly defining the path of the firm, they have successfully been able to build a reputation on consistently delivering superbly detailed and considered designs with a strong spatial and aesthetic language. This has been recognised by industry awards and the practice is sought after by clients.

Step 2– translating the mission into actionable goals

The next step to achieving success rests in cascading the mission and strategy down to all team members. This is done by setting clear and actionable goals that are aligned with the overall strategy.

“The foundation of any successfully run business is a strategy everyone understands coupled with a few key measures that are routinely tracked,” wrote Greg Brenneman in the September/October 1998 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Brenneman is a successful US businessman, who has worked at the executive level of companies including Continental Airlines, Burger King and PwC Consulting.

It is clear that success means different things to different parties and stakeholders. In the day-to-day operation of a business, however, it can be easy to forget that the goals or objectives set for individual members of a team must relate to the strategy of the business as a whole.

If not, you may fall into the trap of setting your staff up to focus on billable hours, as opposed to value driven work. Similarly, when translating higher level mission statements into smaller actionable goals, it is important to focus on things that are within the control or influence of team members.

For example, the value and service provided to the client is within the control of a business. Likewise, is the level of detail that is provided at initial design stage and the way in which a project is documented. Conversely, whether or not the project is ultimately built, or the time within which it is built, are things that are not ultimately within the control of the business. When setting actionable goals the framework of ‘SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound’ is a useful tool.

The setting of clear, aligned, objectives can reduce wasted or non-value adding hours and can help create a greater sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency, both of which can lead to more proactive team members and improved job satisfaction.

By using this framework and linking the individual goals to the overall strategy and mission of the business, success for team members will, in turn, create success for the business. This will ultimately lead to motivated employees, stronger businesses and better architectural outcomes.

Step 3– keeping on track and celebrating

The third step for success involves checking in regularly to assess how progress is going, adjusting to stay on track and celebrating when achieving it. Having a plan and setting goals means nothing if they are not tracked, adjusted and measured.

This can include a weekly review of goals and objectives, together with an assessment of how much time is spent ‘putting out fires’ as opposed to key strategic and high value activities. Importantly, celebrating the small wins at the end of a successful day or week, regardless of the presence of any external milestones, should also be prioritised. Success needs to feel good, be recognised and be motivating!

“Success can be measured in the long haul, in the building of a practice or the small moments – navigating challenging situations in relation to projects or practice from day to day,” concludes Panov.

This article originally appeared in AR160 – available online and digitally through Zinio.

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