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Management tools help firms keep pace with growth

When Roy and Anne Marie Decker established a two-person office in Jackson, it was easy for the married architects to manage all of the company’s projects.

Even though their firm, Duvall Decker Architects, P.A., has grown to an office of 10, including three architects, two apprentices and two interns, the couple has continued to keep their hands on every project that moves from sign-on to sign-off.

“We’re not doing every little thing anymore with multiple projects,” said Roy Decker, AIA. “Anne Marie and I carefully divide responsibilities to play off our talents, strengths and weaknesses. She has a very intimate knowledge of running a smaller practice and I have a broader knowledge of running a larger practice. We’ve married those experiences pretty well.”

He leads the first phase of schematic and programming design. She leads design development and construction document phases. Then he takes over the construction and administration processes.

“Even though we’re working with project architects, we’ve set it up so that we’re intimately working on every project,” he said. “Anne and I trade phases back and forth. We’re not managers. We’re actually working on the projects. That’s been a real key to our success.”

Achieving greater success through sound management practices has long been a challenge for owners of small firms that lack the time and money to seek more effective and efficient solutions.

“In-house personnel can handle most of the day-to-day tasks,” said Girault W. Jones, AIA, a partner with Jones-Zander, Ltd., of Grenada. “However, we depend on outside engineering consultants for mechanical, electrical, civil, acoustical and other specialized engineering. When questions come up concerning legal, tax and investment issues, we consult professionals such as lawyers and CPAs.”

Smaller firms often experience cash flow problems because architectural fees “come in spurts,” said Jones. “You have to project your future fees against your payroll and expenses.

Another risk is getting overloaded with work and not being able to produce it.”

Because administrative tasks can take a chunk of productive time away from working on designs, owners of small architectural firms must learn to juggle numerous tasks at the same time. “I personally like to do my design work at night without the interference of telephone and business management interruptions,” said Jones.

Because small engineering firms comprise 75% of the membership of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the association provides its members with a diverse array of first-class professional educational programs at its conferences and stand-alone seminars offered annually throughout the country.

ACEC’s Institute for Business Management provides a comprehensive curriculum-based educational program with content in eight key business tracks: marketing, business management/quality, human resources, information technology, leadership, legal/risk management, finance and project management.

“The program is specifically designed for business management education for engineering company principals and their staff,” said ACEC spokesperson Alan Crockett. “Through these business tracks, small firms can improve themselves by pinpointing the continuing education aspect. Engineering firms are in an industry where they have to embrace the lifelong learning concept just because the business environment is constantly throwing new wrinkles at them. They have to think about continuously keeping updated on new wetlands regulations or hurricane wind standards, for example. The knowledge from these tracks allows small business owners to open up different marketing opportunities, expand services and become more competitive in the marketplace.”

Industry experts teach more than 100 ACEC programs every year, said Crockett. “They give tips and pointers so small firms can more effectively and more efficiently handle human resources or finance needs,” he said. “Instead of having to learn everything and be swamped by the things you have to nitpick your way through, these experts can help free up your time to do what affects your bottom line.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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