Diversifying a portfolio with complex projects is a smart move for architectural firms seeking a safer harbor from recession and competitive challenges.

The ability to take on large healthcare, institutional, science, and mission-critical/data center work is an effective hedge against inevitable downturns in office, retail, residential, and other asset classes. Predictable cash flow, stability, project diversification, and more high-value bidding opportunities are just a few factors to consider.

What defines a complex building project? They’re usually characterized by a multitude of stakeholders, strict owner requirements, compressed timelines, technology innovation, and/or a difficult location. “These types of projects have very tight timelines. They’re all about speed to market along with complexity,” explains Enoch Chow, the West Coast director of digital engineering for Suffolk Construction, who has had experience in design and construction projects ranging from aviation and healthcare to mission-critical and government projects. “Owners can’t afford to have hiccups that impact schedule or budget.”

Objectivity through Data

Projects in this space seldom go to the lowest design bidder: They are awarded to the most qualified bidder. The owner may want to know how the architect, engineer, consultant, and general contractor plan to minimize conflict and coordination issues, RFIs, and costly change orders. How will the team ensure project clarity, eliminate finger-pointing, and keep all stakeholders on the same page?

“Being able to show objectivity via data in how the design progresses and how decisions made by various stakeholders impacts the job,” Chow says. “This creates a whole new level of transparency and accountability among the stakeholders.” No interpretation or conjecture. A common data platform serves as a single version of the truth that facilitates better collaboration and risk mitigation, demonstrating how seamlessly the partners can work together. Owners increasingly expect a data-driven environment as a bidding prerequisite.

A New Framework for Collaboration

In this environment, architects must think even more holistically about the project and their relationship to it.

A cloud-based data platform supports this exchange (project coordination). Costly RFIs and misunderstandings are mitigated. “Data is the project’s connective tissue, supporting engagement, accountability, and cohesion among the partners,” Chow says.

With increased data comes a need for a framework to manage it — whether that is a heftier project management role or offering the owner continual guidance. The earlier the project scope is defined, the better.

While this can seem like a lot of change, there are many ways to methodically step in this direction, with minimal workflow disruption.

Next Steps

Project management know-how and discipline don’t happen overnight. For architectural firms aspiring to win complex project work, it means forging alliances now and becoming familiar with the processes and tools required for next-level collaboration.

What do you need to up your game on complex projects? What questions should you ask potential partners and vendors? What can you do to win complex project bids and add more high-value assignments to your portfolio?

Consider utilizing an industry consultant like U.S. CAD, an ARKANCE company, as a trusted advisor. For more than 20 years, hundreds of architectural and engineering firms have relied on the company’s consulting and technology services to advance project excellence and practice growth. This includes helping benchmark your team’s digital maturity, helping create implementation plans where U.S. CAD stages the rollout of new technology and processes, and providing training and change management guidance.

Learn more about how you can build an even more resilient and profitable practice.