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November 20, 2003

UW builds on design leadership training

  • Program offers management tools to mid-career professionals
  • By JULIAN PROSSOR
    University of Washington

    Seattle has the enviable position of a strong architecture and design community that includes a top 20 architectural program at the University of Washington, one of the most active AIA chapters in the country, home of three of the largest pure architecture firms in the country and most recently, the AIA firm of the year.

    Now Seattle is home to the only post-professional design management program in the country, the Design Firm Leadership and Management Certificate Program.

    Currently in its second year, the DFLM program resulted from a series of discussions between the professional design community and the UW Department of Architecture, under the guidance of the department's Professionals Advisory Council (PAC).

    The PAC consists of about 20-25 voluntary representatives from leading design practices in Seattle. It has met every quarter with the leadership of the Department of Architecture to forge a more collaborative relationship between the department and the professional community.

    Management training

    Feedback from the professional community was that architects and design professionals, who may be excellent designers and project managers, often were unprepared to take on management and leadership roles. Their lack of formal training becomes acute as they transition from management roles and the complexity of the professions keeps increasing.

    Once working in their careers, the only training options are one-day seminars or an evening MBA program. The feedback was that the neither of these options worked for the mid-career professional looking to take the next step into firm management. The format of the one-day seminars limits their depth and evening MBA programs did not address the specifics concerns of the design profession. What was needed was a program specifically tailored to architects and designers.

    The resultant DFLM program was crafted as an interlocking three quarter sequence covering “management,” “leadership” and “marketing and strategy.” The goal was to blend management fundamentals with leading-edge thinking about leadership, marketing and strategy.

    The program was conceived to be truly interdisciplinary and relevant to practitioners from architecture, graphics, landscape, environmental and engineering. The thinking was that most of the management challenges specific to design firms were shared by all disciplines. In addition, the idea was that it would be helpful for students to exchange ideas and experiences with people who have a different, but related perspective.

    The instructors

    The success of the program is due in large part to the quality of the instructors. To present a variety of points-of-view, there is a different instructor for each quarter. Continuity is achieved by dialog between the instructors throughout the program and recaps at the end of each quarter.

    Fall quarter's instructor for the management module is Anne Haerle.

    Haerle has a graphics background with an MBA in design management. She is the former director of business development at Girvin and is currently the director of marketing for Mithun.

    Winter quarter is taught by Hugh Hochberg, whom has the additional responsibility as overall program coordinator.

    Hochberg is a principal in the Coxe Group and a nationally recognized consultant to the A/E industry. He has lectured nationwide and is the author and co-author of many books and articles.

    Richard Hobbs teaches the marketing and strategy component in the spring.

    Hobbs is an AIA Fellow and most recently held the position of Resident Fellow at the National AIA. He brings a fresh perspective about the future of the profession and integrating strategy with practice. Last year's program featured regular guest speakers — including practitioners, authors and experts — covering a range of topics.

    The three quarter program starts by building a shared vocabulary of terms and concepts from finance, people management and organizational structure. Winter quarter is an in-depth exploration of leadership using case studies and personal analysis of individual leadership styles. Spring quarter focuses on strategy, marketing and the development of a sustainable organization structure.

    Each class is typically a mix of presentations by the instructors and large group discussion. This format encourages students to learn and inspire each other through a participatory, hands-on format.

    The program meets every Monday from 6-9 p.m. at the UW Extension Building in downtown Seattle. The students of the first class (2003) came from diverse backgrounds and included architects, graphic designers, landscape architects and an environmental scientist. The firms they came from also reflected this diversity and included large, small, start-ups, sole practitioners and in-house corporate departments.

    Results

    After the completion of the course, students are awarded a certificate authorized by the UW Department of Architecture. The UW maintains a rigorous evaluation procedure for certificate programs and feedback from first-year students has been overwhelmingly positive. Most participants reported being able to directly apply specific case studies and management techniques to their firms. Some students have also used the program as a spring board to move into principal roles within their firms or start their own practices.

    Besides the quality of the instructors, the students noted that it was the intense discussions and exchange between the students themselves that contributed most to their learning. They felt that the experience also gave them a unique peer group.

    We are lucky to live and work in an area with such a strong learning and practice community. The success of the Design Firm Leadership and Management program is evidence of the region's strength and one more contributor to our long-term success.


    Julian Prossor was the 2002-2003 chairman of the UW Professionals Advisory Council and a leader in the creation of the DFLM program.



     


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