As our firm has grown and matured, we’ve established a set of core principles; one of which is “We keep our own report cards.”
Clients and contractors provide us near-constant feedback, both celebratory and critical. In addition to welcome expressions of appreciation, they also share frustration and criticism, sometimes constructive, other times less so. The feedback helps us hone our craft and improves the quality of our professional services, and yet, open doors and heartfelt communication can also mislead. No matter the scale, the process of designing and building custom homes is intimate and emotionally charged, and universally expensive. Assessments are often biased by perspective, and whether we receive glowing reviews or heartfelt criticism, a more objective and less emotional evaluation system is needed to accurately evaluate our performance.
Endorsing the more usual report cards proffered by clients, consultants, and contractors can be dangerous, especially for our younger associates. Competing agendas abound, and architects are frequently pulled in different directions. Clients or contractors have differing viewpoints that are often times impossible to simultaneously satisfy. Helping us to enhance our neutrality and professionalism, we rigorously track and chart our own performance, making us better practitioners.
The Owner-Architect and Owner-Contractor agreement forms published by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) set forth that the Architect is to be the neutral arbiter between Owner and Contractor. This concept is a core building block of the architectural profession. To fulfil the Solomon-like mediation role our profession demands, we discount emotion and bias. We’ve learnt to listen and, also, to tune out, following our own standards and best practices while not overreacting to competing agendas. When clients or contractors encourage us to take a side, I often remind my colleagues that the firm has been hired, not any individual, and that our job is to respond in the best interest of the project.
With this neutrality as a basis, we have designed and implemented a project report card form that we fill out at the conclusion of each project. Utilizing the same abbreviated narrative style of our weekly design and construction updates, we meet as a team and answer a handful of questions about the performance of the job. These questions include the big picture – how did the project turn out and was the client pleased? We also ask more nuanced ones – how did contractors, consultants and our team perform?; how was the budget managed, both during design and during construction?; what particular obstacles were overcome?; did the project incur delays and could they have been avoided?
This firm-wide debriefing process of keeping our own report cards establishes and reinforces our culture of self-assessment and objectivity. What have we done well, how have we struggled, and how can we do better?