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Trends: A Small Firm Management Expert Introduces The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th Edition.

About Rena M. Klein, FAIA: Ms. Klein is the author of The Architect’s Guide to Small Firm Management (Wiley, 2010), and is the executive editor of the AIA’s The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th edition (Wiley, 2013). With 20 years of experience as the owner of a small architecture firm, and 10 years as a consultant and educator, Ms. Klein offers a variety of services to small design firms, including management coaching, business planning, and retreat facilitation.

Ms. Klein, the 15th edition of The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice will be released this year by Wiley publishing. Could you comment on how the handbook has affected architecture practice historically?

The AIA has published a handbook of professional practice since 1920, first called The AIA’s Manual of Professional Practice. According to our handbook author on the history of professional practice, this first handbook described, “how the architect must combine the skills of a professional, a businessman, and an artist.”

Over the years, the handbook has become the definitive source of information on architectural professional practice. The modern 15th edition continues and expands on this tradition.

As you are the executive editor of the handbook, what new practice trends will be presented in this edition?

The 15th edition will have more information relevant to small firm practice and to emerging practitioners, with more on career development to help demystify the process.

We have several chapters on topics that have never before appeared in the handbook. These include “Public Interest Design,” “Diversity and Demographics,” and “Research in Practice,” reflecting the increased attention being given to these topics by practitioners and the profession.

Along with a chapter on technology in practice, the handbook will have a number of articles addressing emerging project delivery methods, such as integrated project delivery and architect led design build, and a glimpse of what may be coming down the road.

How did you strategize content so that the handbook remains relevant to a broad audience over the next five years—between when the 15th edition is published and the 16th edition is published?

We convened and worked with a steering group chosen for their diversity in terms of geography, practice type, and firm size. We were careful to have a mix of academics, practitioners from various firm sizes, and practitioners who also teach.

After reading the 14th edition and noting the tremendous change that has taken place in the industry since 2008, we decided to try to include the most current information we could gather on the state of practice.

As part of this effort we have new authors for about 90% of the content in the handbook—people who are sharing knowledge gained from practice, and consultants with deep specialized knowledge.

While it is likely that some things will be out of date sooner than later, we are reflecting practice as it is done right now, in 2012, which we believe is likely to remain relevant for some time to come.

You wrote The Architect’s Guide to Small Firm Management: Making Chaos Work for Your Small Firm (Wiley, 2010), and you are considered a subject matter expert on small firm practice. Could you comment on the changes within the handbook that pertain to small firms?

We have included content for small firm practitioners in two ways. First, we have encouraged all of our authors to include discussions of how their topic relates to small firm practice. When it seemed necessary to augment this with more information, we have asked authors from small firms to write about their experience.

As a result we have a number of targeted essays such as, “Professional Developing and Mentoring in Small Firms,” “Design Build for Small Firms,” “The Multi-Office Small Firm,” and “Research in Small Firm Practice.”

We have included an article called “Small Firm Collaboration,” which explores ways that small firms align with other design firms to acquire and deliver work. And, in the realm of technology, there is an article about using building information modeling (BIM) titled, “Small Firms, Small Projects, and Building Information Modeling.”

Over the years you have presented multiple AIA convention sessions that focused on small firm management. What inspired you to present your research about small firm management to your colleagues? Could you offer examples of handbook authors presenting handbook content at the 2013 convention?

After my firm had been in business for about 10 years, I became frustrated with my inability to improve my profitability and with the amount of stress I was experiencing in running my practice. I decided to go back to school and study business management.

By the time I received my MS in Management, I understood that I had gained a considerable amount of knowledge that would benefit other entrepreneurial architects. Because there were few resources available for small firm owners, I decided to meet that need by creating original continuing education programs and, eventually, by writing my book.

In terms of the 2013 Convention, we will be presenting a pre-convention workshop that is targeted toward mid-sized firm leaders, another underserved group. It is called “Growing Up: Where to Go When You Get There.” The presenters will be four handbook authors each talking about a topic relevant to mature, established firms who are looking to move to the proverbial “next level.” The presenters and topics are:

    • Kirsten Murray, AIA: Maintaining a Culture of Creativity as a Firm Grows

    • Ronald Altoon, FAIA: Practicing in a Global Marketplace

    • Deborah DeBernard, AIA: Developing and Managing a Multi-Office Firm

    • Phil Bernstein, FAIA: Emerging Project Delivery Methods

Finally, if you are discussing small firm management with a non-member, what would you say is the reason for small firm owners to join the AIA?

Small firm and sole practitioners that do not participate in the AIA may have a tendency to become isolated from the mainstream of the profession. This isolation can have associated risks if architects do not stay current with changes in practice—everything from professional ethics to the changing standard of care.

In addition to mitigating risks, there are many other benefits from AIA membership. These include access to knowledge shared through the various AIA Knowledge Communities, and an increased sense of meaning in our work gained through the participation in a community of practice.

The Small Project Practitioners (SPP) and the Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) are two examples of AIA groups available to small firm practitioners that offer connection to colleagues from around the nation. In addition, the AIA Small Firm Roundtable has been established as a vehicle for identifying, gathering and disseminating knowledge critical to small firm practice.



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The Architect’s Handbook of
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Professional Practice, 14th

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Professional Practice, Student

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Practice Management

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Rena M. Klein, FAIA
RM Klein Consulting
978 E 11th Ave
Spokane, WA 99202

Phone: 206-898-9740

RM Klein Consulting is a
Seattle-based firm offering
business planning services,
retreat facilitation, and
management education to
owners of architecture and
design firms.

Photo credit: Rick Singer Photography


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