Office structure

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    James Hartley

    Hi all,

    We are a small 5 person office of landscape designers currently experiencing sustained growth. As a result we are being forced to review our previously “flat” office structure with rather poorly defined responsibilities to one where the roles of each person are more clearly defined. This is obviously necessary before we employ further staff and a healthy step to be taking in any case.

    That said – we collectively have little experience in structuring an office of this kind so I would be very interested to hear from anyone who works or has worked in a slightly larger structure.


    – What basic structure did you work with/under? We are thinking of assigning one person as office manager but whose responsibility will be restricted to the organisation, prioritisation, productivity of the office. This Under this will be Project managers who will manage client projects end to end, who can lean on support staff (a graphics role, administrative assistant etc.). They will be answerable to the office manager with regard the aforementioned administrative responsibilities and to the client and principal with regard the quality of the project and client experience.

    – What level of workflow control have you worked under? As principal I intend to move to giving full autonomy to the project managers with regard the project (as opposed to being involved in the projects to a greater or lesser degree all the way along which is no longer viable). We have defined 3 touch points during production where I will provide feedback and validation to ensure the project is to the correct standard / aligned with goals / etc. 

    In developing a facilitative office structure of this kind, are there any specific pitfalls anyone would be willing to share from experience?

    Any insights, on any or all of these, would be deeply appreciated.


    Tosh K

    Partners: gets work into the office, ensures the practice is legally and financially sound (reviews revenue/expenditure, contracts, insurance etc).  For projects they do both design review and technical review – design, heavy at beginning and before CDs are done, technical as needed.

    Senior staff: manages day-to-day project development (clients/subconsultants), ensures projects are progressing on time, on budget and to the firm’s standard for quality.  Check in with partners as needed but at minimum before conclusion of major phases (concept, schematic, dd, cd), usually also before any presentation to clients.

    Pitfalls: clarity of responsibilities is a big one – there are always seams in the process, minimizing them is critical for morale and quality control.  This starts at the top but resides mostly in senior staff.  Additionally it takes time for non-design staff to learn and understand the peculiarities of a design office and designers – allow for that while it they learn to smooth out operational irregularities.

    James Hartley

    Tosh – a two year late word of thanks – I didn’t see an update that you had replied to this!

    Bridger DeMars

    So… give us an update on how the restructuring went.

    James Hartley

    Obviously some degree of lag between my check-in’s here.. but better late than never.
    Restructuring is a work in progress… slow change needed on this sort of thing to avoid completely disrupting the workflow. We’ve just opened a new office though… Things going well.
    We are however moving to a better position where the project managers handle clients completely (instead of the hybrid we had before) and take full responsibility for projects only checking in at key points.
    I’m avoiding my micro management tendencies :)) giving them room for that autonomy
    Things are going in the right direction!

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