The Two Qualities You Need For Architecture Career Success

In a survey of 104 Chief Executive Officers reported in Success Magazine a few years ago, they were presented with 20 qualities of an ideal employee, and asked to select the most important.

86% of the senior executives selected two qualities as being more important for career success and advancement than any others:

1. The ability to set priorities, to separate the relevant from the irrelevant.

2. The ability to get the job done fast, to execute quickly.

There is nothing that will help you more in your career than to get the reputation for being the kind of person who gets the most important job done quickly and well.

Unfortunately I encounter many people in the architecture industry that seem to ignore both qualities above. Yet they wonder why their career has stagnated or they have been passed over for promotions or not got the job they want. 

Of course this isn't you since you are smart enough to be one of my readers. However, we can all improve on our current situation by breaking down this simple advice. 

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Here the qualities again, simplified and in my largest available font. 

1. Do what is important first.

2. Get the job done fast.

I discussed in a previous article, How To Write The Perfect Architecture Resume, the importance of focusing on the key elements of your job application. The same is true for your role within an architecture office: concentrate on what matters. The rest will automatically fall into place. 

Switch shoes

A helpful exercise is to imagine you are in the role of your current supervisor. You are in charge of completing a set of Schematic Design documents for a local library. You have a two person team to assist you on this phase of the project. They both have exactly the same experience, but they each have their own approach to the same problem. 

This is how things play out on Day 1:

Employee A notices a hatch pattern that could look way better. So he spends the morning making a custom version. Then he gets stuck using a new plugin in the design software so spends the rest of the day trying to figure out why it isn't working correctly. 

Employee B takes the initiative, assesses the current state of the drawings. Then establishes a plan to get the biggest issues completed first. Next, she thinks that by using a different design software the drawings can be finished in three weeks instead of a month. 

Who would you rather want on your team?

Obviously you would be having regular discussions with your team so it is unlikely that a large amount of time would be wasted by Employee A. However, this is meant to illustrate the two qualities mentioned above. The ability to identify, prioritize and complete "mini projects" is essential in architecture.

A "mini project" is simply what I call a task that takes less than a few hours and pushes the overall project ahead. It is crucial for you to be able to compartmentalize a large task to not become overwhelmed by the larger goals or distracted by the small details. 

Be a problem solver

Architecture is essentially a profession of solving problems. No two buildings are exactly the same, so becoming the go-to problem solver is a crucial skill to develop throughout your career.

I often hear other managers say something like, "I could get more done with two of him/her than five others." 

The reason is that these great people know how to solve problems and get the job done efficiently. Software expertise, material types and the thousands of other architecture elements come and go. However, the value of effectively solving problems will be ever-present. 

So how do you go about this?

Before diving into any new project take some time at the beginning to understand all the known constraints. This will help you to identify any possible workarounds or shortcuts.

Ask yourself (or the person who knows) these questions at the outset to help you target where you can best contribute.

Who else is on the team?

Figure out the group structure, in a larger office it is very important to understand who is doing what. This helps you to avoid duplicate work and focus on a particular exercise.

What are the team member's areas of expertise?

Learn what skills the team members have and are perhaps better suited for a particular job. You could potentially trade work that aligns with your stronger skill-set which saves time.

What has already been done?

Unless you are coming in at the very beginning there will already be work completed on a project. Find out exactly what has been done to date to avoid duplicating previous work and wasting time.

I saw this happen at a previous office.  A new project team built a physical site model that took three people a week to complete. Months later during an office clean up a [better] site model was found that had been done a year before.

What needs to be done and when?

Deadlines are very important. Put all the known dates in your calendar and keep it constantly updated. Work backwards from those dates to understand what tasks need to be completed to meet the cutoff on time.

What are the priorities?

Perhaps the most important question. Get to the bottom of what are the most to least important aspects of the project. Work through these in order, crossing them off your list as you go.

Be a list maker

The satisfaction of crossing off even minor accomplishments keeps you working toward the larger completion goals and focused on the big picture. The importance of writing down your goals can't be overstated. If they are not written down they don't exist.

Assignments floating around in your head often get overlooked for something in the moment or just completely forgotten.

It is very easy to get bogged down with details. There is an infinite level to which you can add detail to a drawing or project. It is your responsibility to decide when you are "done". This is a skill that gets better with practice and is essential for your success.

How to be good but fast

The problem with being quick is that you could reasonably imply that it means the quality of your work will suffer. The point of being quick is not to be so fast as to sacrifice any project quality.

I am a fan of the word "efficient" instead of "fast". Fast implies a lack of planning, while efficient shows your ability to create a plan and stick with it to accomplish a task. 

The main takeaway is to be able to identify what is a priority. As many of us are perfectionists in the architecture industry it can be hard to let something go, but it is necessary to meet budgets and deadlines. Be aware that imperfections are inevitable and your job is to mitigate the most important. 

As you are working your way through a project there will be hundreds of tiny decisions throughout your day. Whenever you run into a problem as yourself two questions. Is this important? If so then, how can I do this in the most efficient way possible? If you can make decisions around these two simple guidelines it will put you far ahead of your peers and coworkers.

I hope this has been helpful for your future architecture career success!

Now that your architecture career is on the right track, check out The Complete Package to help you land your dream job.

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

3 Tips to Get An Architecture Job With No Experience

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

The Two Page Architecture Portfolio

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Have a suggestion for a future blog post? Please let me know in the comments below.