Why Your Architecture or Engineering Firm Needs A Strategic Plan

Accountancy Resources

Why Your Architecture or Engineering Firm Needs A Strategic Plan

Uncategorised Author: Admin


Architecture firms are good at thinking strategically about how to tackle a project; that’s how you earn your fees.

Think about how you take on a design assignment for a client: you listen to the client’s needs, address those needs in a way that meets the schedule and budget for the project, and then design a solution that will help to achieve the client’s vision.

Strategic planning leverages those same analytical, organizational, and problem-solving skills that you already possess as an architect to envision, promote, and implement an exciting and successful future for your own firm.

Motivations For Strategic Planning

Some of the more common scenarios that inspire a firm’s interest in strategic planning include the following.

  • Revenue, competition, and market share–in any economy, and especially in a prolonged downturn.
  • Waning profits.
  • Sensing opportunities to grow, but not being able to attain them.
  • Ownership transition.
  • Leadership succession.

The Benefits Of Strategic Planning

The best firms to work for (from the employee’s perspective) are usually also the best firms to work with (from the client’s perspective). Their people look forward to coming to work, they feel rewarded for their creative innovation and performance, and they see their career path at the firm. They are proud to be part of their company, and that is part of what makes their company so competitive. Firms that use strategic planning are more likely to be able to foster that kind of environment. The strategic plan:

  • Paints a vivid picture of a firm’s future.
  • Let everyone understand the firm’s direction and priorities.
  • Is tangible, so it feels “real,” and sharing it throughout the firm engenders trust and support.
  • Incorporates ideas and input from a broad base of the firm’s employees, but is developed by top management, which inspires confidence, displays leadership qualities, and instils a sense of direction that is so important to the staff.
  • Provides a backdrop against which a firm makes decisions and to which employees can hold each other accountable.
  • Help a troubled firm get back on track, and helps a good firm to become stronger than ever.

Preparing For Planning

A firm’s staff members crave communication from upper management. Preparing for strategic planning is a perfect opportunity for a firm’s leadership to get more personal with the rest of the employees. Meet with the management and staff and travel to branch offices, if you have them, to explain that your firm is about to undertake an important process that will define an exciting future for the company, and show your own enthusiasm for it. Explain the process and reinforce that everyone in the firm will participate on some level—and benefit at all levels. The objective is to connect everyone to the process and the results.

Developing The Plan

The strategic planning team. The strategic planning team should include members of the firm’s top management, and may also include some up-and-comers in your firm who demonstrate visionary and strategic thinking. Keep the team small enough to be able to work effectively, but large enough to represent the breadth of your firm and the best thinking that it has to offer.

Components of the plan. Your strategic plan should include the following key components:

  • The mission expresses the ongoing, permanent essence or purpose of a design firm. The mission statement gives people inside and outside the firm a common understanding of the firm’s reason for being.
  • The vision is a big-picture, long-term description of what a firm aspires to become at a defined point in the future.
  • Key initiatives and issues refer to the major unfulfilled opportunities and looming obstacles that affect a firm’s ability to achieve its vision.
  • A firm’s goals are the near-term (shorter than the long-term vision) quantitative, measurable targets that the firm sets and toward which it will gauge its progress and for which its people will be accountable.
  • Strategies are the good ideas the firm develops to address its key initiatives and issues and reach its goals.
  • Action plans are the short-term, “tactical” tasks that the firm will implement in order to put its strategies into motion.

Planning retreat. Firms are most effective in developing their strategic plan when they bring the team offsite for a retreat, during which they can be free of the many priorities of their day-to-day responsibilities and focus exclusively on the plan itself. Many firms find that engaging a consultant aids them throughout the strategic planning process, and especially in facilitating the retreat, which tends to carry an ambitious agenda.

Implementing The Strategic Plan

Some firms find it difficult to follow through on their strategic plans and become frustrated that their good ideas to move their firm forward are left “sitting on the shelf.” It’s vital that your firm’s leadership models from the outset that strategic planning is a priority, and that the strategic planning team members get others in the firm involved in carrying out the action plans assigned to them.

If the strategic planning team stays together after the plan is developed, meets regularly to report progress and make any necessary course corrections, and holds one another accountable for the performance of the plan, your chances of successful implementation increase dramatically.

Above all, it’s important to document where your strategic plan has effected positive change at your firm. Connecting planning actions to positive changes will help build a strategic planning culture at your firm.

You have a choice when it comes to both the near- and the long-term future of your firm: you can try to shape it, or you can just let it happen to you. The strategic planning process is an opportunity for you to take control of the destiny of your architecture or engineering firm. You can decide what you want your firm to be, visualize its potential, understand the circumstances in place today that could stand in the way of your getting there, and devise and then take the steps necessary to achieve the future you desire.