Spark Project Management Part 2: Ingredients


In Part 1 we shared why we believe that good project management is so important to good design and architecture. On to what we have come to consider Key Ingredients of Architectural Project Management. We are far from perfect, but  use every project to get better. The biggest “aha” moment for me was that, rather than just happening concurrently, they do require setting aside real resources. As a result we’ve dialed in our processes to reserve adequate time for these, and consider it preventative medicine, even when things get very busy.

  1. Communication Skills. I admit that in my first thirty years I thought I had great communication skills, and everybody else had to work on theirs. A sure sign of the opposite.. In the last ten years I finally came to terms with how hard it is to actually communicate well, largely thanks to my husband, kids, and business.  I discovered that successful communication requires the discipline to tune into everybody regularly; the ability to communicate clearly, and create a respectful place where robust debate can take place.  As a recovering conflict avoider, I personally had to work hard on my ability to flag problems, hold people accountable, and confront issues positively, but head-on; Call it a work in progress.
  2. Empathy. Beyond being “touchy-feely”, effective empathy takes a sustained effort to understand and respond to all stakeholders, including their individual wants, needs, values, opinions and perspectives.
  3. An extra dose of leadership. This one sounds glorious, but what it really means a lot of extra patience and and effort. Being pro-active, helping others overcome obstacles, facilitating, coaching, enabling, saying thank you, and perhaps the hardest of all, being an example of the habits and behaviours we want to see in others.
  4. Focus. I regularly put on my blinders, block out calendar time, and mute all communications – sometimes I even hide.
  5. Clear and aligned Roles and Responsibilities. This is another “active growth zone” for me. Develop clarity on wich roles, tasks, job descriptions, and expertise are needed for the job. Build the team considering individual strengths, experience, learning opportunities, availability, and opportunities to bring some new expertise into the team. While I truly believe that there is a person out there that will love and exceed expectations for any task, sometimes we don’t have access to the perfect match. Pay special attention to make sure somebody takes ownership of these “less desirable tasks”,  and offer extra support to those team members.
  6. Trees,  Forests, Goals and Milestones. To make steady progress towards the finish line, we need to keep that end goal in mind, but also strategically break it up into smaller, ordered pieces, and intermediate milestones. OK, we’ve all heard that before. What’s a lot harder is to actually do it, especially when faced with urgent requests, or fascinating “new things” that easily capture our attention. We use customizable task-bundles, which help us to project all the time and activity types needed in different phases of a project.
  7. Minimizers, Maximizers, and other superhero tools.  Obstacles in the form of surprises, challenges, and constraints occur even in the best managed projects. When they do, effectively navigating through the rougher terrain and towards the finish line requires our full attention. Remember to use your super hero toolbox to see if that mountain of an obstacle can be shrunk into a pebble, or evaluate whether your team is better off with the trail around it, or seeing the view from the top..
  8. Creativity. You are likely blessed with creativity, remember to use it even in non-traditional creative activities.
  9. Enthusiasm: Especially after the initial honeymoon period. The momentum of making steady progress paired with deepening team relationships will boost everybody’s enthusiasm.

While it may be counterintuitive, if in doubt, set aside extra time for project management, or at least appreciate and support the efforts of project managers around you, to make great design happen.



Sophia Sparklin

Growing up in a family with generations in medical practice, Sophia discovered her passion for architecture during an internship 1996. Since then Sophia received formal and informal education in Germany and the US. At Arizona State University she was honored by the Henry Adams Certificate for graduating on top of her (Master of Architecture) class in 2005.