Keys to improving project strategies

The job of the architect has changed significantly through the years. Marina Bos-de Vos has examined the role of architectural firms in the chain and how they create and capture value on the basis of different professional roles. She concludes in her doctoral dissertation that awareness of different values is necessary for better project strategies at architectural firms.

There is quite a large body of knowledge on how organisations co-create value, but little is known about how creative professionals retain something from that value creation process themselves. This is not only about financial value but also about building a reputation, the further development of the business philosophy and the pleasure which people take in their work. That often goes wrong at architectural firms. When working with others, opinions often differ about what the professional expertise of the architect is worth. Firms are therefore often inclined to make both financial and practical concessions. There is not enough awareness that creating and capturing value is part of the daily work in projects. Being aware of the different kinds of value and their interrelations can aid in working out better project strategies.

Developing better project strategies requires a well-defined business model. Where do the tensions lie, and how do people cope with negotiation anxiety? How are long-term interests connected to short-term decisions? Bos-de Vos: “I spoke with people at forty different architectural firms and analysed the process for existing or current projects. How had these different firms tackled their projects at strategic level? Where did it go wrong? The analysis reveals that firms pursue their objectives on the basis of four professional role types. Firms negotiate as initiator, specialist, integrator or product developer. By becoming aware of these roles, they can find smarter ways to tackle mismatches within their overall strategy. This would better equip them, for example, to decide which projects to accept or reject, and how to go about completing the former more intelligently.”

Bos-de Vos has developed the futurA game as a tool and part of her research, which creative professionals can use to take and keep control of the complex web of relationships between values. With its playing board, cards and questions, the futurA game gives them the room to focus on and discuss these issues with each other, the client and with co-creation partners. Bos-de Vos: “The game helps to see and clarify relationships. The four different roles provide a basis for exploring the specific challenges and possible solutions per role. The game was tested in practice in 17 strategy sessions at different architectural firms, leading to its further development during a period of two years. These three-hour sessions consistently showed that the game helps to create clarity. The game also shows how important it is to take the time to enter into dialogue with each other.”

The futurA game not only aims to get architectural firms thinking; it can also make students better prepared for the professional field. “Architects often lack management awareness; good business skills are essential for a successful architectural firm,” says Bos-de Vos. “The futurA game will therefore be offered on an open-source basis. The game also offers a method to think about your own business strategy in a design way – just like a large, interesting design project.”

Marina Bos-de Vos was awarded her PhD, with distinction, on Tuesday 19 June for her doctoral dissertation Open for business: Project-specific value capture strategies of architectural firms. The futurA game is the translation of the insights from her research into a tool for the professional practice. The Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (Branchevereniging Nederlandse Architectenbureaus) offers a course on business management for architectural firms, where the futurA game is used as the basis.