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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Craftmanship or Systems: Which is best?

The Mountain Equipment Co-Op building in Ottawa, one of the award-winning projects of Christopher Simmonds Architect.

Yesterday, I met with Chris Simmonds, an Ottawa architect who won the Peoples' Choice Award in the recent Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association housing design awards competition for a luxurious home in Mississagua, near Toronto. (He entered the home in the "open" category as it is obviously far away from the Ottawa market area.) His practice -- he has a team of about 10 -- has built luxury residences, community facilities, and environmentally sensitive institutional buildings. "Underneath the hood" is an incredibly brilliant designer with a great sense of style and function. He conceptualizes big things with the little details -- and his staff, with various capacities and specialities, execute the vision.

Meanwhile, I'm watching the work of Stephen Sellers, whose "Professional Contracting Association" I discovered by monitoring his Adwords ads. In my conversation with him a few weeks ago, he described a small, part-time business, based on systems. Cautious to give him an unconditional endorsement -- after all, he has a new business, and his market credentials haven't yet been established -- I've been watching as various pieces of his marketing material arrive in my in-box, all building the base for his vision of a stream of increasing income from contractors looking for practical marketing solutions.

As far as I can tell, Sellers built his system in a box; a really comprehensive system with well written and strategized materials. There is a lot of skill in doing this right, but once he's done, his business should virtually "run itself" and generate money, consistently.

Which approach is better? You can't replace the quality and individual attention from Chris Simmonds and he gets to do the type of work he loves. Sure, Simmonds has systems within his practice to allow him to handle the volume of work -- and he certainly appreciates the basis of publicity and communications: Entering competitions where he can win recognition, and then find new business.

Sellers, meanwhile, described systems gone wrong. He had purchased a franchise which simply wouldn't work -- he paid for processes which hadn't been validated in the market. A systems person, he decided to learn everything, and get it right. I think he has.

I think both the systems and craftsmanship models have place within the industry. If you want to grow a really large business, you will probably need to move more in the systems direction, but if you are really good at what you do, you can indeed "have it your way."

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