Managing from Behind: Part 1 – Helping Our Prime Consultants Help Us

Part 1 – Helping Our Prime Consultants Help Us

We’re an independent landscape architecture firm. That means we work with a wide variety of architects, engineers and other consultants. We get to see (and experience) a whole range of project management styles and capabilities. This allows us to not only learn by example (from good and bad), it allows us to learn how to “manage from behind”. During the best of times this means that we get to function at a higher level on the consultant teams that are managed well, during the not as best times… it means we can try to save our teams from potential self-inflicted issues… or at the worst, try to shield ourselves by adapting to make sure we’re doing our work properly within the surrounding mess.

What surprises me is that ten years into Corvus Design, I can say that none of the firms that we work with have ever asked us how they might do better (and I have prodded them). We find that odd since we put effort into trying to do our work better, and reaching out for input. I believe that the reasons for this are a combination of not knowing better, not having the time, being unaware that there are issues and/or being blinded by ego (luckily a rarity). We’ve experienced all of those, and other versions.

We think about these things though! So, we asked ourselves the question: How could our prime consultants make better use of us and their teams?

  • Clarity in deadlines
  • Efficient meetings
  • Timely delivery of what we need (and brokering such delivery from others)
  • Clear project strategy based on reality (i.e. procurement methods)
  • Have humor
  • Manage THEIR time to avoid passing pressure to us
  • Stay calm and carry on
  • Check in using the phone
  • Balance communications: face to face, email, phone
  • Be strict
  • Have processes and strategies
  • Know your contract/fee… and ours too.
  • Set measurable expectations

We value the above, and do our best to “manage from behind” by being proactive about ensuring our relationship with our prime takes the above list into account. We just wish we could eventually stop doing this from behind… and do it together. Then when one of us forgets, the other has our back and remembers.

As a designer turned business person, I also really like the idea that our Primes might be concerned that we make our profit and stay in business. At the beginning of each project, there should be a profit meeting where we all discuss what we need from each other to achieve our scope within or ahead of budget. Do any primes do things like this?

This aspect merited another post on creating a team profit strategy that anticipates project and client complexities… and can adapt successfully to the unknown! A Team Profit Strategy