Architectural Associates, Inc

Architectural Associates, Inc. (AAI) specializes in large, industrial, retail, and public projects, including shopping malls, manufacturing complexes, convention centres, and the like. The firm is considered to be lone of the region’s most effective and creative design studios. Their design facility is located in a large, midwestern city and is housed on the second floor of an old building, originally used for light manufacturing.

The offices are at one end of the floor, and about two-thirds of the floor space is occupied by the design staff and technicians. The entire space devoted to design is a single, open area and workstations are laid out in such a way as to encourage communication between individuals working on common project.

Architectural Projects

Architectural Projects

A senior executive of AAI noticed that for the past year or two, the chance of bringing design projects in on time and on budget had decreased to the point where the only uncertainty was how late and how much over budget a project would be. Architectural projects, like computer programming and a few other creative processes, seem to be typified by the need to crash projects at the last minute, but even within the usual crash, AAI was still late and, consequently, over budget.

An examination of the workplace disclosed a large, green felt display board mounted on the wall where it was visible to the entire design staff. The board listed the names of individual designers and technicians vertically, and design contract numbers across the horizontal axis.

The times allocated for work on each project by appropriate staff members were shown at the intersections of the rows and columns. The time estimates were made by senior managers, themselves architects, based on their experience. The individuals with direct responsibility for design work generally felt that the time estimates were reasonable.

The work process was studied and the following problem was revealed. If the design of the electrical systems involved in a plan was estimated to take five days, for example, the individual(s) responsible for the work planned it in such a way that it used the five days allowed. If a problem occurred on the first day, the worker(s) simply stayed late or speeded up work the next day in order to get back on schedule.

Problems on the second day, and even on the third and fourth days were handled in the same way, by crashing the work. Problems occurring on the fifth day, however, could not be handled so easily and this part of the project would be late.

Because most of the different systems (the mechanicals, landscape, etc.) were designed simultaneously and staffed to require about the same number of days (rather than being sequential), and because problems were very likely to arise late in the design process of at least one of the systems, the overall design project, which required an tasks to be complete on time, was almost invariably late.

In an attempt to solve the problem, a simple checkmark to show job assignments was substituted for time allocations on the green board. Additionally, senior management made normal, optimistic, and pessimistic time estimates for each task and calculated “TE,” also used to help estimate project cost. These estimates were not given to the design staff who were simply told to do the work involved as efficiently and effectively as they could.

The result was that the range of task times increased slightly, but the average time required for the various tasks fell somewhat since they were now designed for efficiency rather than X days. Roughly the same number of tasks were accomplished in less than the expected time as tasks that took more than the expected time.

Source: S. J. Mantel, Jr. Consulting project.

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