These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

January 2012
Observing “Observations”

Arch MagnifiedNew year beginnings always seem to prompt retrospection. Why should I be any different? Looking back usually centers on the previous year’s events, but that seems utterly too predictable, so…

Many years ago (I won’t say how many), I wrote a primer for up-and-coming Architects: Observations on Architectural Project Management. Somehow, a professor in the ASU School of Architecture thought enough of the content that it was used as the reference for a few lectures I gave to his students.

Things happen in life. Relocation and job change caused it to find a home in an obscure corner of the library. A few weeks ago, during an historic house-cleaning, it once again found the light of day. I was intrigued and amused by its relevance (or lack thereof) to contemporary practice. In a way, it gave me the ability to see how things have changed. Maybe it showed how I’ve changed, but I’ll leave that for others to judge.

The Constants

The following are cherry-picked from the manual:

“Project Management is essentially a people and personality driven process.”

  • The effects of technological change, and use of the newest widgets of our business, have little to do with what characteristics make for an effective manager.

“The Project Manager is the person most responsible for the success of the Project.”

Number 1

    I still believe it, but my reasons for saying so have morphed over the years. Back then, I was working against the common assumption amongst young Architects that the firm principal ran the show for project development. While this is, of course, still true in many cases, the important role to be played by a manager was not fully appreciated. I was preaching, I suppose.

  • Nowadays, with managers pretty well entrenched, I’d be saying this differently, to reassure those who are often threatened by assertive managers. Others who take great pride in their work (like the lead designers) are sometimes leery of being upstaged. A good Project Manager works hard to ensure success for all.

“Don’t use complex CPM charts or flow diagrams.”

  • This advice was a consequence of the typical ineptitude Architects have with such things. Other disciplines in the building professions are more capable. (Or, maybe, it’s a reflection of my own limitations.) Regardless, I still prefer a tabular listing of milestone dates. However, see comments below.

“Coordinate with the reviewing agencies early and often.”

  • “Document all critical interpretations in writing.”
  • I challenge you to find any written confirmation of agreement that originates from a building official. They just don’t have it in their DNA. The need for this defensive protection has been enhanced by new litigious tendencies.

“Humility gets you everywhere. Egoism is a liability.”

  • I guess I still have trouble with Prima Donnas.

“Say “Please” and “Thank you”.”

  • Too bad this has to be prodded, huh?

“If you want your team to work hard, you must work hard yourself.”

  • Leadership by example – still honorable.

“How would I like to be treated …”?

  • Wikipedia informs us this refers to the ‘ethic of reciprocity’, AKA ‘The Golden Rule’. Who knew? Apparently, this has been the subject of numerous scholarly articles. I’m no scholar – It’s just common sense.

stopwatch“The best Project Managers are decisive.”

  • Just make up your mind, darn it. People are waiting.
“Uniform procedures reduce errors.”
  • Standards, Standards, Standards. The value of consistence is inherent.

Errors, Omissions and Clarifications

“Don’t worry about the fee portion (of the Contract).”

  • I see this as indicative of the times, when firm owners were reluctant to share financials. Largely this has relaxed (rightly so). Good managers still focus on Person-hour budgets, but do so with the target of total fee expenditure.

chalkboard gantt“Don’t use complex CPM charts or flow diagrams.”

  • While, for small to medium sized projects this may still be correct, this comment should have had some disclaimer for larger projects. In a way, this represents a professional bias. Architects, mostly, are lack-luster when it comes to Gantt charting, despite the fact that it adds great value when done properly. A good manager will rise to the occasion when warranted. My suggestion to reduce the schedule to a tabular listing of target dates remains.

“He”, “Him”, and “Man”

  • The absolute worst.
  • My old “Observations” were so sexist in their portrayal that it's now an embarrassment. The mindset and the profession at the time were so male-dominated that I have received no comments about my choice of words – not one! To our credit, we have become more diverse in many ways, not just sex.

What Have We Learned?


That would be for both the Royal and inclusive ‘we’.

My manual was written at a time when the discipline of “Project Management” was gaining traction in the curricula of Architectural Schools. Many educational programs and Design Firms have decided that our practice now sits on a three-legged stool of “Design”, “Production” (some say “Technology”), and “Management”. Noted authors on the subject, such as David Haviland, Weld Coxe and Frank Stasiowski became stalwarts of our profession.

Sadly, in my opinion, many firms have decided that the three topics are so specialized that cross-over is restricted. As much as I advocate management competence, I see this as a sadly limited view.

Technological advances seem to have limited influence upon the personal and personnel relationships inherent in good management. This phenomenon is downright fascinating. As current as we try to be with the tools of our trade, we find ourselves reverting to perennial issues for improving performance and attaining quality.

Stereotypes are challenging. A good manager respectfully acknowledges a team member’s identity. The factors are myriad: sexual, cultural, and ethnic. They may be collective or idiosyncratic – all forms are possible. This awareness is essential to a manager’s ability to provide direction sympathetic to the team member’s motivators. The trick is to avoid unproductive references. Yes – I’ve been chastised over my earlier sexism.


From years ago:

“To be good, you must be:

  • Dedicated
  • Responsible
  • Calm under pressure
  • Enthusiastic
  • Organized
  • Involved
  • Assertive
  • Forceful
  • Polite
  • Compassionate
  • Decisive
  • Knowledgeable
  • Hard-working
  • Responsive
  • Meticulous
  • Sensible
  • Instinctive

and, above all

  • Gifted with a sense of humor”

What do you think, has this changed?

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

October 2011  “I Want What I Want”
August 2011  “A Beach Read”
May 2011  “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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