Project Negotiations

  • 02 March, 2021

If you are like me, your college experience included little (if any) preparation for the wide range of communication types that are common in the practice of architecture. Among the most challenging types of communication are negotiations. As an architect, you are negotiating nearly every day with clients, contractors, consultants, and jurisdictions (to name just a few). Reaching a mutually agreeable position with someone through the course of an architectural project can be difficult, but below are some tips to help you navigate the process.

Know that negotiating is not for everybody:

· Reflect on your own communications style and preferences.
· Try to measure your confidence level.
· Do you find negotiating difficult?
It may be better to defer to another team member to negotiate certain things that may come-up on projects, and there is nothing wrong with that.
· Knowing your own strengths as well as being aware of your challenges will help you make the right decision to negotiate or to delegate the negotiation.

Do your research:

· How much do you know and understand about the issue to be negotiated?
· Is there a history of something similar previously occurring in your firm?
· Is there a known history with the other party (client, contractor, consultant, jurisdictional official, etc.)?
· Conduct a review of the issue against the industry standard of care as needed.
· Conduct web research on the issue if appropriate.

Get to know the people involved and what motivates them:

· Does your firm (or do you) have a history with the person on the other side of the issue being negotiated?
· What position does the person representing the opposite side of the negotiations with you have within their respective company?
· What authority do they have?
· Try to estimate their motivation to negotiate a certain outcome. Are they an owner just trying to get something “made right”? Are they trying save themselves money? Are they the owner, or owner’s rep?

Project Negotiations

Understand your leverage position:

Leverage in negotiations is the power that one side has to influence the other side to move closer to their negotiation position.

Examples of leverage: The client wants you to make a change in the design of a project that clearly falls outside the current scope of work, but they also have a serious deadline for completing the project (such as a critical move-in date). You could leverage the position that you won’t begin making the requested change until they process a modification to the contract. In this case, you may be leveraging them to process and approve additional fees associated with making the requested changes.

Understand the other party’s leverage position:

Here is an example working the other way, where the other party has (and is likely to use) leverage against you. The design team has proceeded with work on a project beyond the latest client approval at schematic design (i.e., you and the team are now well into the construction document phase of the project). The client hasn’t paid your invoices past the schematic design phase and has now put the project on hold. The client’s leverage is that the team has worked ahead of the schedule/approvals and the firm hasn’t been paid. The client may (and likely will) want to negotiate away some or all the design development fee earned/billed. Leverage advantage is clearly with the client in this case.

There certainly are more aspects to the negotiations process but starting by considering the above tips will help you develop (or refine) your own approach.

Posted by EduMind Inc - 10:10 AM

Why Smart People Fail the ARE?

  • 23 February, 2021

In my opinion, passing or failing the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) can happen to just about anybody. While the actual exam questions are intended to measure a candidate’s achievement through education and experience, how a “smart” a person performs on the exam is a completely different matter. To me, intelligence (being “smart”) is very broad and reflects more on a person’s ability to navigate the context of their environment through rational thoughts and actions.

The bottom line here is that yes, it is surely possible that smart people fail the ARE, and there could be several things tripping them up. In this blog, I will offer my perspective.

First, the ARE is part of a process that (when passed) leads to architectural licensure. Further, licensure itself has often been described as the demonstrating the minimum competency required to practice architecture. So, the content of the exam is concentrated on touching the aspects of the practice of architecture that are a sort of “baseline minimums”, or “core” aspects of the profession. This can be a little tricky to prepare for when you consider how broad the practice of architecture really is. To get a sense of what makes-up this baseline, I suggest reviewing AIA documents (contracts, instruments of service, etc.), reading through your State’s statutes regarding practice, and interviewing people who have recently took and passed the ARE. This might provide you with some idea of the boundary that makes up the core elements of practice and give you specific targets for concentrated study prior to taking the exam.

Why Smart People Fail the ARE?

Another thing to keep in mind is that the exam is timed. One might be very well prepared and very smart, but when you take the exam, you are working against the clock, and sometimes that can trip you up. As previously mentioned, with the idea that the ARE is focused on this minimum core baseline, you could give these areas most of your effort in terms of preparation. That may help you when the time is flying by during the exam. One tip I learned many years ago about timed exams is to first skim-read all the questions in the exam. Then note the ones that feel the most difficult and do them last. This will help you establish a pace and prevent you from investing too much time on a few questions and putting you far behind as you race through the remainder of the exam.

The last bit of advice I’ll share is about trying to avoid “over-thinking” things while taking the exam. As a personal example of this, I will share that I once was given a question in an oral exam to obtain reciprocity to practice architecture in another State. At that point in my career, I had a good decade of experience as a licensed architect, but I got tripped-up on a question by over-thinking it. The question was situational based and went something like: “You are an architect on a job site and you observe that the interior walls are being painted a color that the owner/client has told you he or she is wanting to change. What do you do?”. When I provided my response, it was very broad with statements made to accommodate many possible variables to the situation. I was over-thinking it. All the examiners were looking for was: “Inform the Owner/Client of my observation, but do not attempt to direct the contractor to stop work”. Again, this reflects consistency with the idea that the exams focus on issues that are core to the practice, and generally are not overly complex.

Hopefully my perspective will be of some use to you as you prepare for the ARE. Good luck!

Posted by EduMind Inc - 07:30 AM

What Architectural Firms Look For?

  • 16 February, 2021

Over the years, I have been asked what characteristics architectural firms look for in new hires. In my experience, the answer to this question centers around three specific areas:

1. Fit with the firm brand (or culture). This one is very important. Firms have a distinctive (or unique) culture and identity that reflects who they are and how they go about the practice of architecture. Many variables factor into this including the type of work they do, the clients they serve, where the firm is located, the way the firm is structured, and how the firm operates. As an example, if engagement and collaboration are important parts of a firm’s culture, the people that they look to hire will be evaluated through this lens. Firms want to find new hires that will fit their existing culture, and help it grow positively. Sometimes this may mean that individual talent may not always be the top new hire evaluation criterion. Instead, how a new hire candidate can demonstrate an alignment with a firm’s identity becomes a key differentiator.

What Architectural Firms Look For

2. Depth of potential is another important criterion that firms look at when considering a new hire. It might not always be about the most talented “right now”, but instead the potential for developing the most talent over time. This will depend on several factors. On the firm side of this, do they have a strong professional development focus? Do they have a strong culture of mentoring? How clear are the pathways to advancement? Does the firm consciously look to eliminate barriers to career development and eventual promotion? Do they do so in a way that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion?

On the candidate side, do they demonstrate ambition? Are they highly organized and focused on ongoing learning and growth? Is becoming a registered architect part of the vision they have established for their career? How wide are a candidate’s interests? Often, too narrow of a focus can seem limiting, and even come-off as setting a boundary for potential. Candidates that can demonstrate a willingness to embrace a wider range of career development options, and the needed flexibility that goes with it might have good chance of succeeding at convincing the interviewers that they are loaded with potential.

3. The other important characteristic that firms look for centers around energy (drive, passion, and commitment). It’s one thing to obtain a great education and be poised to begin the process of developing your career in architecture. But is that enough? Firms want to see energy. Why? Because the profession is a complex one, full of challenges and a wide range of opportunities. Careers develop at different paces for people, but when a firm is looking to hire, they want to see that the person they are interviewing has the energy, drive, and passion to see them through the many climbs ahead. There will be difficulties navigating internship and registration. There will be unhappy clients, consultants, contractors, and coworkers. There will be projects that you invest a lot of yourself into only to have it go on hold, or worse. There will be errors and omissions in construction documents, and costly mistakes on projects under construction. But all of these can be managed and navigated more easily with energy, drive, and passion. These also help accelerate advancement and development in a career. Years in practice is only a partial measure of experience. It has been my observation that those with the energy, drive and passion get much more out of each year in the profession, which helps shorten the time between promotions.

In the end, firms look for people to add to their team that not only bring talent, but that also fit their culture, have a large upside potential, and who have the energy to thrive in the profession.

Posted by EduMind Inc - 09:12 AM

Studying for the ARE

  • 09 February, 2021

Studying for the ARE can be a bit daunting to consider. With the practice of architecture being so broad, where do you begin? In this blog, I offer some advice that has helped me over the years. While I took the ARE back in 1982, many of the things I did back then, and continue to do today for annual license renewals (in multiple States) and continuing education have been effective.

My first bit of advice is to look over the entire ARE in a general way. Learn about the individual sections and what each is comprised of. From this, establish an outline “schedule” for yourself. Identify a month to target to set each section of the exam and create a study plan for each section. Give yourself enough time to assemble the appropriate study materials, time to study, and enough time to test yourself with some quizzes. Treat this like any living project schedule and update it as things happen but post it somewhere where you see it to remind you of your goals.

Studying for the ARE

Next, do a deep dive into each ARE section to explore more thoroughly what material is covered. Then, begin to search for study materials. I have found that using a variety of resources for study materials can help you get a more comprehensive understanding of the content. Specifically, I started with my textbooks from college, especially for the topics of structural engineering and environmental control systems (MEP). Next, I suggest looking online at resources available with concentrated study materials for purchase. I recommend using the materials that are specific to each ARE section as a baseline study guide but augment it with a look back at the college textbooks as appropriate. For example, the study guides might cover the basics of calculating bending moments in beams, but a look back at your textbooks from college might have a bit more detail to help refresh your memory of basic problem-solving techniques. Another example might be how to perform simple calculations for rainwater runoff from a roof to help size a gutter or drain, but your college textbooks will likely have more detail, which can help you build the depth you will need to succeed to pass the exam.

My last bit of advice is to take advantage of the quizzes and “mock exams” that are often part of the ARE study materials available for purchase. When I was studying, I would not move on to another subject until I was consistently hitting 90% or higher on the quizzes. I also used the quizzes to help me develop my own version of “Cliff Notes” for each exam section. After successfully completing all quizzes for a given ARE section, I went back over the quizzes and extracted a condensed summary that I could review in the days before sitting for the exam. This process worked well for me, and I have repeated it many times for other professional certifications.

In summary, my advice above is to get organized, pace yourself, and dive-in hard. I tried to tell myself that it was like exercise and that it would make me a better architect no matter how I performed on the exam. With that attitude, I discovered that I enjoyed the study process, which made it a lot easier to invest my time.

Posted by EduMind Inc - 08:52 AM

Who Is the Client?

  • 02 February, 2021

Knowing who your client might seem like an easy question to answer. However, a lot of the time, the “client” is a group of people with varying roles and differing amounts of input and authority. In my experience, often the problems encountered on a project (i.e., general communications conflicts, non-payment, and even termination) can be linked to mis-understanding the make-up of the client, and perhaps looking for too much from the wrong person on the client side related to approvals and decisions. As an example, you might think you have a design decision or budget approval from the client, but you later learn that someone else on the client side (with more authority) has weighed-in and reversed the decision or nullified the approval. Meanwhile, you may have progressed with the project and now find yourself in a spot where you have completed work that will need to be revised.

Spending the time to research and diagram the full organizational structure of the client team will help you determine the complexity involved and navigate obtaining decisions and approvals successfully. To help you get started, following are broad categories of client types (private and public) as well as some common characteristics:

who is the client?

Private Clients:

  1. Large to Very Large Clients: This type of client often commissions projects that will be owner developed and occupied. These clients often have very large organizational structures with the ultimate leaders (such as top executives and Board of Directors) being far removed from the day-to-day activities. For the most part, VPs lead these projects from the client side with the company leaders setting larger “big picture directives”. Most project decisions and approvals are made at the VP level, but the leadership will want to be informed.
  2. Medium-Large Clients: These clients operate similarly to the Large companies above, but the executive leadership level (i.e., President and Board of Directors) will likely want to be kept informed regarding the progress of the project and occasionally engage in key decisions and approvals. Smaller day-to-day decisions and approvals mostly occur at the VP’s and PM level.
  3. Small Clients: These clients may only have a single building/facility, and a very “hands-on” leadership team. Even though they often have a “facilities manager” assigned as the client lead, the company owners will likely be involved directly in decision making.

Public Clients:

  1. Large urban jurisdictions with a Mayor and City Council that can (and often do) get involved even though the day-to-day coordination with the architect has been assigned to a PM or Facilities Director. In general, elected officials may be highly inconsistent in their decision making and support for the project, which can add a layer of additional complication.
  2. Medium-sized jurisdiction: These are smaller cities and towns where the majority of the decisions are left to the heads of the primary user group (i.e., a Police Chief in the example of a new police station project), but politically charged decisions, especially related to funding will need a City Council (and/or City Manager) approval, which can make things a little complex to navigate.
  3. Small jurisdiction: These are perhaps the least complicated of the public clients with a small team and hands-on leadership that make obtaining approvals and decisions less cumbersome.

The above are just some of the structures you may encounter with a project. But what they illustrate is that there are many shapes and sizes of clients with sometimes multiple parts with multiple agendas. Getting to know your client, specifically who is involved in decision making and why will be critical for project success.

Posted by EduMind Inc - 08:30 AM

Tell My Story

  • 12 January, 2021

Everyone has their own timeline for taking the AREs and, let me tell you, mine was LONG! When I started logging hours, NCARB’s program was IDP (Intern Development Program) - the precursor to the current AXP (Architectural Experience Program). With AXP, you can start earning hours quickly but that was not the case for IDP. For the later rendition of IDP, one had to be well into their accredited program to start counting hours towards sitting for the exams.

As an eager, budding architecture professional, I started working for a large, international firm right after my first year of architecture school. I had that lined up before I even started architecture school! I worked for this firm throughout my undergraduate years during summer and winter breaks. In my final year of architecture school, disaster struck the nation - 9/11. I attended school in central New York with family in New York City, so it hit particularly close to home. It also hit the building industry and finding employment as a new graduate was difficult. I moved home to Minneapolis where the economy was not as resilient and worked for a financial firm in order to make ends meet. I knew I wanted to go back to architecture and back East, so I applied to graduate programs. About a year after earning my B.Arch degree, I was back in New York to earn my M.Arch. During this time, I found employment and worked during school, accumulating more hours for my IDP.

Tell my story

The next fifteen years included academic positions right out of graduate school while concurrently working for firms across New York City, designing projects of all types and complexities both domestically and internationally. There were also a series of recessions, financial, and personal hardships. I had more than enough hours to sit for the exams but what I lacked was time and, oftentimes, funding.

I attempted the process and took my first exam in 2009. Fail. I was frustrated. I did not have the dedication and I was lost on content. In the meantime, though, I saw my friends get licensed and start their own firms. I felt that, even though I had the experience, I did not have that credential. I wanted that.

I moved an hour outside of NYC, but I still taught and worked in the city which killed my time even more. It was not until 2017 that I tried again in earnest - when I moved to California for a teaching position which afforded me more time. Although I continued to work on projects in New York, I had a minimal commute and the time pressure was less. I was still anxious, though, as I felt I did not have a good grasp on exam content - there was just so much! I took two exams and failed.

This is when I turned to online coaching. Having a schedule, a track, and defined content helped immensely. Although it still took a couple years, I passed all exams and can proudly call myself an Architect - after over a decade of the exam process.

Take it from me - persistence is key and licensure is attainable. It’s not out of reach. It just may take a while!

Posted by EduMind Inc - 07:44 AM

Preferred Exam Division Order

  • 05 January, 2021

There are six exam divisions in the current format of the ARE (Architect Registration Exam): Practice Management, Project Management, Programming and Analysis, Project Planning and Design, Project Development and Documentation, and Construction and Evaluation.

There is a logical sequence in this order as it follows the path from getting licensed to developing a professional practice to planning and developing a building commission for construction and then, subsequently, completing and closing out the building project.

The exam divisions are always presented in this specific order in NCARB’s material and timeline tracking progress for completion. However, when taking the ARE, it is not necessary to take the division exams in the order in which they are listed. In fact, the division exams can be taken in any order. This sparks the question: what is the best order for taking all divisions of the ARE exam?

This is a major topic that garners a lot of opinion and attention from exam candidates on discussion boards and the like. The discussion boards serve as a great tool for exam candidates to share information and there are many testing strategies being passed around.

One common suggestion is to take the division exams with the highest pass rate first. Another is to take the ‘big ones’- Project Planning and Design and Project Development and Documentation - early and get them out of the way. Everyone has their process and success stories which vary from one individual to the next. Of course, I have my own opinion as well.

Preferred Exam Division Order

Personally, I think it is important not to forget the division sequence. Even though the division exams can be taken in any order, in my experience, I recognized why the divisions were developed in the order listed. Each division builds upon the last and content from one division exam may show up in subsequent division exams. In my opinion, the order does, for the most part, matter.

For this, I have two recommendations for the best order to take the division exams. The first recommendation is to take the division exams in the order that they are listed per NCARB - with one exception. I took Construction and Evaluation before Project Planning and Design and Project Development and Documentation. Construction and Evaluation has the highest pass rate and a close association with other divisions. Plus, there was the added bonus of not having to take another exam after I had completed the two hardest and longest division exams. Mentally, that was huge!

Many people fail a division exam on the first attempt. There is a waiting period before that division exam can be retaken but keep going! My second recommendation is not to wait to retake the failed division exam before moving on but to move on and go back to it later - do not lose progress or lose time (especially with a rolling clock!). Keep taking the division exams and reschedule failed exams as soon as you are able to take them again.

Again, this is what worked best for me. I started the process with some bumps but, once I followed this plan, I became comfortable with the process and earned my license.

Posted by EduMind Inc - 09:14 AM