August 2019

Dear Clients and Friends,

These are great times for most architecture and engineering firms! Our industry continues to benefit from the longest economic recovery since WWII. From my consultant’s anecdotal perspective, my clients are doing very well, with plenty of work to go around and very healthy financial performance. Current A/E industry surveys support this observation more statistically, with most firms earning and enjoying their highest level of profits since before the recession.

So, is your firm’s “busy-ness” standing in the way of having a current and meaningful strategic plan? If you suspect this might be the case, do any of the following rationales (or rationalizations) sound familiar to you?

“We’re too busy with ‘real’ work to take time to plan.” 

  • Yes, everyone is busy full-time, and then some. Your firm has more work than it can handle. How could you explain taking the otherwise billable and immediately profitable time of your key people away from your valued clients and their projects to develop a strategic plan? The justification is simple: You will find it nearly impossible to maintain the status quo for your firm—much less to grow in an intentional, thought-out manner over the long term—without a plan.

“The market is good, and we’re making money, so whatever we’re doing has been working for us so far.”

  • Sure, plenty of firms have done well for themselves in times like these when clients are flush and the economy can sustain a construction boom. But it’s risky to leave your firm’s future to the will of external market forces. Strategic planning is taking control of your firm’s destiny, not leaving its direction up to the whims of the marketplace.

“Nothing seems to be broken, so we don’t need to fix anything.”

  • The thought of making any changes (for the better, of course) can be daunting to anyone. But “no pain, no gain” applies to building muscle and also to improving a firm. The most successful firms don’t wait to develop or update their strategic plan until something goes obviously wrong.

If you still think you are too busy, take a lesson from Stephen Covey’s classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (definitely worth re-reading after all these years). His final habit, “sharpen the saw,” stems from the parable of someone walking in the woods who comes upon a man struggling to cut down a tree. When the suggestion is made that the cutting would be more effective and efficient if he would take some time to sharpen the saw, the tree-cutter replies, “I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy sawing!”

Abraham Lincoln made the same point even more concisely and eloquently, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

From my years of experience, I believe emphatically that having a current, relevant strategic plan as a roadmap to guide the future of your firm is a crucial component in a firm leader’s toolbox in both good times and bad.

If you have thoughts about this important topic, I’d love to hear from you at

Ray Kogan