When Good Enough isn't Good Enough!

The drawings were bloody.  They were practically redrawn over entirely in red pencil.  It's what I do.  Details exploded in all the margins and elevations were extended off the page with sketch paper held on with sticky dots.  My firms name and reputation was based on the quality of my documents.  I am the Architect.   I expect it, my clients expect it, my consultants expect it and my general contractors expect it.  For many, it's about getting the drawings out, meeting the deadline.  Not for me.  I have a penchant for accuracy and zero tolerance for ambivalence.

Over time, the nature of my obsession with clarity and correctness extended to marketing materials, writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar - and emails.  We, and I'm speaking of the greater WE, meaning professionals selling to professionals, should draw the line at our level of acceptance.  As a group, we are only as good as the simplest error.  Of course the content should be terrific and compelling, but the delivery should be flawless.  

One of the founding partners of a firm that I was privileged to join, required that all correspondence be copied to him to keep him in the loop.  Letters, transmittals, meeting notes not only provided him a steady update on the 300 man firm's activities with the client base, but did so without attending endless meetings.  He read each piece of paper once.  Then one of two actions took place.  It went in the trash, not a file, or it received a spelling, grammar and punctuation mark up and was returned to the author with a strong hand written note.  Two such returned notes required a personal meeting with this man and it was a meeting that one wanted to avoid at all costs.

"Given time, under this mentoring and process, our documents began to improve to such a degree that our clients had minimal exposure, our consultants documents were better coordinated and our GCs had better coverage from their subs."

My own employees failed often to understand the gist of this idea.  They failed to differentiate between complete and correct.  Not just in timing and writing skills, but in architectural content, connected details, thinking around corners, clarity of use of materials, constructability and countless other attributes.  This was the cause of endless bleeding.  It also led to the establishment of very high-level master set.  After all, if a detail was ever drawn correctly and thoroughly, why re-invent the wheel?  Given time, under this mentoring and process, our documents began to improve to such a degree that our clients had minimal exposure, our consultants documents were better coordinated and our GCs had better coverage from their subs.  And my employees learned, grew and have developed into incredible professionals.

All because good enough was not good enough.  As professionals we need to elevate our standards, mentor our staff and not accept mediocrity or complacency.  Most important is to teach why this is important.  Whether staff stays with you or eventually leaves for broader horizons, the lessons you teach them will stay with them for a lifetime.  

If another set of eyes can bring clarity to your process, give me a call.  I'd enjoy a visit over coffee to learn more.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began Burwell Consulting a Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm, to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.  Bill writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas:  Marketing, Design, Project Management and Practice Management.  He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence. Check him out at www.burwell-consulting.com