5 Tips to Streamline Internal Operations in Architecture & Engineering Firms
Unanet has put together this quick guide to streamlining project operations in AE. Read on to discover our top five tips.
by Sarah Lorek
For many, if not all, Architecture & Engineering firms, the only constant is that processes are always changing – whether to adapt to new regulations, meet a specific client need, or take advantage of new technologies. This puts operations teams in a nonstop state of flux – trying to add or remove pieces of the workflow puzzle without disrupting any of the other moving parts. Unfortunately, these modifications often lead a firm’s processes to become bloated and inefficient – a patchwork of various solutions rather than a complete, well-oiled machine.
As an operations leader in AE, it falls on you to address and resolve any potential inefficiencies, but it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why Unanet has put together this quick guide to streamlining project operations in AE. Read on to discover our top five tips.
Define your existing workflowsThe first step to streamlining your internal operations is to clearly outline the processes your firm currently has in place. What does it take, right now, to tackle a project from conception to completion? What are your system’s strengths and weaknesses? What training practices do you have – both in terms of onboarding as well as upskilling your existing workforce? It’s important to remember this exercise does not mean identifying how these processes are intended to work from a strategic perspective. It means obtaining an accurate picture of how your staff actually works on a daily basis.
The best way to get under the hood of your project workflows is to talk to your teams. Create an open environment where employees feel comfortable sharing honest feedback and ideas for improvement. As an operations executive, it can be difficult to divorce yourself from the processes you have created at your firm, but it’s crucial to keep an open mind and understand what might have worked at one time may no longer serve your organization.
You can also opt to bring in a third-party consultant to help you complete your process mapping. This facilitator can be a great way to see your processes objectively and obtain a fresh perspective on the tools you use every day.
Identify bottlenecksOnce you have mapped out your current project operations, you can begin to identify inefficiencies. One of the biggest challenges facing AE firms is maintaining a streamlined process across projects that are uniquely tailored to meet a specific client’s needs. This lack of a standardized workflow can create resource bottlenecks that ultimately result in project delays and increased costs.
The simplest path to discover these bottlenecks is leveraging data. Take a look at past project performance to find out where the process broke down. Often, productivity issues stem from manual, repetitive processes. For instance, if your firm is using a mishmash of spreadsheets, point solutions, or legacy ERP software, you introduce human error every step of the way.
In contrast, automated workflows that allow you to consolidate data and analytics in one place reduce the potential for error and promote efficiency across the entire project lifecycle.
Build a winning tech stackAccessing critical insights about your projects and workflows requires technology that can easily generate that data. Cloud-native solutions like Unanet AE ERP eliminate data silos by integrating all of your processes under one system. Even the best operations manager will be fighting an uphill battle trying to streamline a collection of disparate tools, whereas a unified, automated platform lets you focus on high-level strategy work to grow your business.
While traditional technology adoption takes months to plan and implement, integrated systems automate much of the data handoff and can take place in a matter of days if you are leveraging reliable, secure, enterprise-grade APIs. Secure is another key word here – when evaluating a tool, you must ensure it is capable of protecting sensitive data, particularly in a highly regulated discipline like AE.
Obtain staff buy-inAnyone in operations knows that staff buy-in is often what makes or breaks any initiative to change current business processes. Again, clear, open communication is key to a successful transition. Look for ways to help teams understand how their workdays will improve under the new system. Often this comes down to obtaining buy-in before leadership has committed to a new tool or workflow. When your staff feels that their voice is heard and they had a hand in choosing or signing off on the change, they will be more open to adapting to the upgraded system.
It's important to remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementation. You must realistically assess your firm’s capacity for change and build your plan around the results. Is the organization prepared to tackle full implementation of a new ERP solution or would a phased approach be more successful? If you are unsure how to begin this assessment, consult your ERP provider – they may be able to offer tools to help you complete the analysis and disseminate information to your staff.
The best way to minimize disruption and ensure a smooth transition is choosing a solution that integrates with your firm’s existing toolset. Unanet AE ERP integrates with over 100 best-in-class applications like Salesforce, ADP, and MailChimp to name a few.
Train, train, and train some moreEven if your teams completely embrace a new toolset, implementation can go awry if they are not properly educated on how to use it. Establish interactive, hands-on training programs for different types of learners to lay the foundation for the new process’s long-term success. Remember that training is not a “one and done” occurrence – it is an ongoing process to make your staff comfortable with new internal operations.
Again, lean on your ERP provider for guidance on how to create these training programs. A consultant like Unanet has gone through countless prior implementations and brings all of that insight to the table when approaching a new client.
ConclusionThe job of streamlining internal operations in AE will never be fully complete, as new technologies and best practices emerge every day. However, there is action you can take now that will significantly improve your firm’s efficiency and increase ROI. By adopting a cloud-native ERP solution, you can easily visualize workflows in one location and leverage project data to identify and resolve bottlenecks. Of course, technology is only one piece of the puzzle. Operations teams must communicate and collaborate with staff to keep them invested in your initiatives and arm them with the proper training to use the new software. When you balance technology, people, and process in your implementation plan using the above tips, you are all-but-guarantee a smooth transition and more productive project operations.
Unanet ERP for Architects and EngineersUnanet is a leading provider of ERP solutions. More than 3,200 project-driven organizations depend on Unanet to turn their information into actionable insights, drive better decision-making, and nurture business growth.
Unanet AE ERP is purpose-built for Architecture & Engineering firms and offers a powerful combination of Project Management, Business Intelligence, Time and Expense Tracking, Financials, and Integration tools in one single source to run your business more effectively. Powerful and customizable analytic dashboards allow organizations to gain greater visibility and control, analyze data and trends in real time, interact dynamically with their data, and drive their business forward.