Improving quality through independent reviews

Independent reviews (peer reviews) are important for projects as they provide an assessment and feedback from an expert who is impartial and not involved with the project to critically review and evaluate the content. The quality of a project can improve with successive reviews at various milestones (end of stages) to ensure that issues are identified and either eliminated, substituted or controlled and allowing for a better result.

Reviewers need to be impartial and provide critical feedback however, they also need to balance the project requirements to ensure that quality and function do not override design and innovation.

Over the last six years, I have acted as the independent reviewer for many projects in Australia and China. These reviews were either design reviews, technical reviews or both and were seen by teams as helpful in providing an independent expert review of the project design. As we often know that large or complex projects can allow for basic and simple elements to be missed or not communicated as the people undertaking the project become “too close” to the design and don’t see the issues and opportunities. This is why an independent reviewer is key in offering a critical eye but also often providing a different perspective or solution to a problem.

Reviews can take many forms they can be formal with written documentation providing extensive comments and markups of the documents. Or it can be an informal desktop review that allows the team to go through the documents and take notes during the course of the discussion. Both formats have their pros and cons including the time required, finding an expert who is available.

Overall, I encourage all design firms to develop a design process that involves an independent reviewer who can offer guidance, ideas and solutions that improves the design and technical quality of your project.

Service Procurement – finding the right people

As a landscape architect, one of the hardest things is to find great people to collaborate with. And we often have to look to procure services from other professionals including architects, engineers, horticulturalists, ecologists, irrigation designers, lighting designers, landscape contractors and many others. How we obtain these services is often based on past experience and word of mouth. Some landscape architects consistently use the same professionals because they know their work and enjoy working together. However, we often need to obtain new services due to unavailability, a new area of expertise, or you have a project in a new location. Often we seek the experience of others to find new people to provide a service but how can you reduce the risk of working with the wrong consultant?

Similar to when landscape architects are bidding for projects there are a set of criteria and it is best practice to do the same including:

  • Past experience – does the company have past experience in that area of expertise and location?
  • The right people – do they have the right people with the expertise you need? Also are those people available?
  • Willingness – are they willing to work with a new client? (i.e. you)  – some consultants have a large pipeline of work and aren’t seeking new clients.
  • Financially viable – do they have money/cashflow issues? (this is the hardest one to evaluate as most companies are private and don’t publically disclose financial information)
  • Qualifications and certifications – does the company have the right qualifications and certifications such as ISO9001 or ISO45001?
  • Insurances – do they have the right insurances and coverage?
  • Industry reputation – does the company have a good or bad reputation? Are there particular people in the company who are great to work with?

These are ways that you can minimise risk when looking for consultants to join your project team. It also comes down to relationships and working well together. If you can build a good relationship then it is a pleasure to work together and create projects as a team and you will also start to recommend each other to others. Word of mouth and networks are a great way to procure and win work.

Why are countries creating their own cryptocurrencies?

Over the last few months, we have seen countries creating or preparing to make cryptocurrencies including China, Ecuador, Senegal, Estonia, Russia. The reason that countries are looking at cryptocurrencies(Cryptocurrency) is they see it as a way to efficiently and cheaply move forward in many areas including

  • digital payments – if you have been in Asia especially China in the last two years you would have seen the vast number of people using digital payments to pay for nearly every transaction.
  • productivity – reducing the time and actions required for transactions
  • tracking illegal activity – there some people using Cryptocurrency for illegal activities, if countries start to limit the currency exchange to their countries Cryptocurrency then they can track transactions more easily
  • control – central banks like to control currency, they will most likely declare their Cryptocurrency to be legal tender (fiat) in their country.
  • reduce volatility – by being able to control the currency they will try to reduce volatility and rein in runaway markets and use levers to manipulate their market. This is most likely why some countries have shut down ICO and currency exchanges so they can start their own Cryptocurrency.
  • generate revenue from transaction fees
  • reduce fraud
  • ease of exchange – currently every time you go to another country you either have to used credit cards or exchange for cash. If you can exchange on your phone from one country’s Cryptocurrency to another you will be able to move more freely between countries.

There are still some issues with countries creating Cryptocurrency and that includes public acceptance, security, exchanges. The future will be interesting and how the world will change in the coming ten years around cryptocurrency. We will most likely see several countries with their own currency such as estcoin, DAD, and more.

 

Give people respect and time

Recently, I noticed in various situations that people are very busy, especially this time of year coming up to Christmas when the pressure is on to meet client deadlines (which fascinates me but that is another separate post), but often they brush people off or give them what they requested at the last minute expecting a miracle that they can finish the work on time. We are all busy but, we all hate being left on the edge waiting for someone else to come through, so be have empathy and honest with the person and say I don’t have time or if you can’t get it to them when they asked then say I will be able to get it to you by X time or date. The same when dealing with clients don’t tell it is going to be delayed the day before or off the deadline, call them when you find out and explain the situation and how you are taking steps to deal with it. That is respecting their time and their situation and having empathy for the people, most people have someone they are reporting up to so the stress is amplified up from the bottom if each person is missing a deadline and that’s why everyone’s bosses are stressed 😉 but also learn to manage down but teach people how to manage up.

On making time for people, I try when possible to meet or talk with people and give them time, I would rather give someone 5-10 minutes of time that is well spent either providing feedback on their problem or listening to their idea and brainstorming to get them to closer to where they want or could be rather than feigning interest for couple minutes.

 

What are the stages of a Landscape Architecture project?

Landscape architecture design projects differ in scale and complexity, however they are separated into various stages to allow for ease of management. Due to the variation in project types the staging of landscape architecture projects requires a flexible approach to project management. The project stages often follow a similar pattern however, they may be shortened or not undertaken due to various factors including scale, complexity, client requirements, budget and so on.

I hope to assist those interested in landscape architecture by providing general information about the stages of design projects. The stage names and terminology may differ from country to country and region to region but there is a common process of managing a project through stages.

Before, the landscape architect gets to the exciting part of designing the project there are few stages that often occur prior to putting pen to paper. The client has contacted you and agree to provide a fee or proposal for landscape architecture services.

Read the more of my post at World Landscape Architecture

Free yourself by hiring a manager

For landscape architecture business owners there is often a point when the that they realise that they are stretched too thin and not serving your clients as well as you could or you’re just not enjoying running the business and miss spending time on design or with the team or client. This is due to the fact that running a business requires a lot of overtime in administration of the business whether it is finances, insurances, hiring, labour laws, marketing.

Hiring a manager is the best thing you can do for your business whether it is full time or part time and a general manager or someone to do accounts and HR. It allows you as the owner to concentrate on working with clients and being creative which is why you most likely setup your business.

There are a few different types of manager or assistance you can hire.

  • General Manager (Office/Studio/Business Manager) helps run the business and takes care of the operation side of the business.
  • Bookkeeper/Accounts helps run the accounts, payroll and some HR functions.
  • Business Development/Marketing Manager – depending on the job description they assist in driving new business for you. It maybe getting a new type of customer or a new area but they will bring in the work. You will still have to do the operations side.

Who you hire as your manager is up to you, some will hire someone from inside the industry and others will hire a manager with no ties to the industry.
However, I have one piece of advice if you hire from a manager from the landscape industry, let them manage and don’t make them design or run projects.

Running a business is hard work requiring management skills to keep track of invoicing, payables, insurances, etc and hiring someone to do that and run projects creates a business that slowly grows or when a downturn comes is not ready because the manager was too busy on projects. I have seen some job ads for Landscape Architecture Business Managers that have a job description that is a wish list of business skills and design skills, the person who gets hired for this position end up being pulled in too many directions.

The best thing you can do for your business is to hire a manager to take over the tasks that you don’t enjoy or those that you have the weakest skills leaving you to enjoy creating and designing.

Too many landscape architects can’t see the value of non-billable staff, but often managers are the ones who free you to create and enjoy designing, which is worth far more than the salary you pay your manager.

 

Book Review: Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli

Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli is a new book from the Domino Project. A publishing project launched by Seth Godin “powered by Amazon”. The book is an interesting read and gives us a reminder of why we all hate meetings, especially the ones that drone on with no resolution in site.

Al gives us a way to categorise meetings and therefore who should attend and the outcome that should occur. Also Al talks about what is and isn’t a meeting and gives a good differentiation. The most important piece of knowledge that he passes on is something he calls the Modern Meeting.

The Modern Meeting is a special instrument, a sacred tool that exists for only one reason: to support decisions (1).

Before you make your preliminary decision, you aren’t allowed to call a meeting. If you invite me to a Modern Meeting for which a clear decision hasn’t been established, I’ll look at you, puzzled. I might even walk out. Modern Meetings can’t exist without a decision to support. Not a question to discuss—a decision. (2)

Pittampalli’s book is an interesting read and is available until August 9 for free on Kindle. After that its a $10-11USD. Worth reading to understand how to run a Modern Meeting and get the best out of meetings without wasting time on planning, preparing and avoid being in meetings that just don’t work.

(1) Pittampalli, Al (2011-08-03). Read This Before Our Next Meeting (Kindle Locations 226-227). The Domino Project. Kindle Edition.
(2) Pittampalli, Al (2011-08-03). Read This Before Our Next Meeting (Kindle Locations 268-270). The Domino Project. Kindle Edition.

Businesses are treating social media like a webpage in the mid-1990’s

Social media is currently in the same place webpages where in the mid-1990’s where businesses where putting up their business webpage and expecting people to come and start buying. It wasn’t until businesses realised they needed to promote their website and integrate it with their existing marketing that their webpages started generating emails, calls and sales. Social Media is at the same point with many companies starting to sign up because its the latest way to gain customers and generate sales, however they are treating like a webpage by waiting for the likes, followers, and contacts but they aren’t coming. Like all marketing and promotion of brands and products it takes time, planning and effort to engage with your customers and let them know that your there and create a company identity and message.

So like the businesses in the 1990’s that realised they could use their website to gain customers through news, deals and integrating e-commerce, its time businesses realised that engaging with customers through social media and using it as a tool can create an brand identity and generate interest and increase sales.

Many businesses spent tens of thousands of dollars creating webpages and e-commerce platforms back in the mid-1990’s, but this time there is a difference – social media is unbelievably cheap in comparison to other forms of marketing and advertising. Businesses can spend just few thousand dollars to get your brand or product out across the world. Of course, it depends on the size and number of products but when comparing social media with advertising in trade magazines or attending expos businesses could save thousands with a social media presence.