Production for a design-build company can sometimes be a challenge. Why?
The company has a lot of work in design, arguably more than can be handled, so that designers are each working on too many projects at once. Consequently, design and proposal output has slowed to a crawl, making it so construction contracts can't get signed.
How can this situation be handled so that the company is focusing on results, not activities? How can it be resolved so that the company will make the planned-on-profit from the build side of the business, the side that creates virtually all of the profit for the company?
What Kind of Company Is Yours?
The term "design-build" means different things to different owners.
Some see their company as a design company that almost incidentally builds things. In a company like this the design process moves at a slow pace, with the plans being reworked over and over, and the selection process sometimes never getting completed.
Most successful design-build companies are build companies that do design—often good designs—to be able to make money when the company builds them. Companies like these set clear expectations about their design process, including the timeline and progress points, focusing on getting design done on time. This makes it possible to give a client a realistic start date and end date for construction, something most clients appreciate a lot, because they want to live in the completed project sooner rather than later.
Businesses make money providing built solutions to their clients. Design might bring in some profit, but never as much as the build side can. Everyone in the company needs to embrace getting things built and making a profit.
Right-Size the Design Workload
Agree upon the workload each designer can handle. Design and sales need to talk about this. Design will never get anything done if it is trying to do too much all the time.
Sales needs to talk to design before going out to visit potential clients to find out when the next opening in design's work schedule will be. Why? So sales can give a more realistic start date for design to begin working with the potential client if the client signs a design agreement.
Getting real is necessary for success in any kind of business. Lack of alignment in-company creates debilitating stress for most employees.
Reset Expectations With Current Design Clients
Sales needs to get from design deadlines for each of the projects in the design pipeline, with the realistic expectations regarding output being factored in.
When doing this, allow some grace time between projects so design will not be under crushing pressure.
Sales then needs to reset expectations with design clients regarding when design will start working on their respective projects. Doing this might lose the company some clients. That is a risk it must take because if things continue the way they have been going, some clients are going to leave anyway!
Sales should do this over the phone or in person, not in an email. Email works well for documenting the results for difficult decisions, but not for having them.
All successful businesses require all departments be on the same page and clients that feel they are being handled responsibly. Since sales sets the expectations, they need to do the reset, not someone from a different department.
Track the Time
Design should put the schedule for all the projects on a wall, using a whiteboard or the like. Keep it visible.
Deadlines are lifelines. They promote the likelihood of resources being used responsively. They make it so, when reviewed weekly, progress is likely to be greater, as long as the workload and deadlines are realistic and "owned" by all employees.
On the schedule, note when a project is supposed to start, when it started, when it is supposed to be done, and when it got done. Use the accumulated data to help the company become better at estimating how long different projects will take, so that forecasting can become more and more accurate.
Time is the one thing you can't make more of. Therefore, the culture of any company must use time wisely and realistically.
When something gets done, we humans have the tendency to jump right into the next project, the next task.
It is important to celebrate the completions. Taking a moment to acknowledge that this person(s) got this project DONE (Defined Objectives and Needs Exceeded) will help the entire company become more results-oriented.
Ring a bell, give a shout-out, pat people on the back—stop and take the time to let all involved know that everyone appreciates what they got done.
Remember—results produce profits. Nothing else does.