London-based practice David Miller Architects (DMA) are well known for their innovative, forward-thinking approach to their craft.
Formed back in 2000, their unique approach has seen them grow into a 30 strong practice that rubs shoulders with some of the long-established players on the London architecture scene.
That exposure to success has given them something to aim for, while their bespoke approach to the industry has earned them a place in those circles in their own right.
Although initially, they saw CMAP as something that may have been beyond the reach of a firm such as theirs, they quickly realised that it was the perfect solution for a practice that had innovation and growth at the forefront of their thinking.
We spoke to Practice Director Fiona Clark to find out exactly why that was the case.
As with any successful firm, DMA's development meant they were outgrowing the systems and processes that had served them well when they first started out.
"It's quite typical of a small practice that had grown from four people back in 2008 to around 20 in 2017. We'd evolved over a series of spreadsheets to run virtually everything from a project management point of view.
But the problem with spreadsheets is they're open to human error. Also, the information wasn't live - you had to go in and hoover out the information you wanted before you could analyse it."
As those spreadsheets got more complicated, Fiona and her colleagues saw the need for a much more efficient system.
"CMAP fitted in with what we were trying to achieve. The minute that they talked to me and my colleague Jess - our Studio Manager - about CMAP, we were going ‘it sounds like the miracle cure!'"
Fiona Clark, Practice Director - DMA
It was an issue they'd solved on the financial side, implementing Xero a couple of years prior to great effect. They now needed something similar for their project management.
That search for a solid software solution to their problems was a result of the practice's overarching outlook.
"We very much see ourselves as a technology-led practice, and we're constantly looking to apply new technology to solve problems for our clients on our projects. That's how we've approached everything in terms of how we develop our architecture, and so CMAP fits very neatly into that mentality."
They'd implemented a more basic system previously that had integrated with Xero, but there was a need for something a little bit more sophisticated as the practice continued to grow.
"The system wasn't broken, but we could see that there were definitely opportunities to improve it, so we were kind of scratching our heads thinking 'hmm, how could we go about finding some better solutions?'"
There were a number of areas that DMA were looking to improve when it came to implementing a full project management system. Top of the list was resourcing. As the business had grown, the project values and scope had increased incrementally, making it more difficult to manage the team using their basic software.
"The system that we were using to manage time didn't have the ability to map out an overall resource requirement. So, the hours were in there against people's names, but there wasn't a link through to make that visible for us to manage resources longer term."
The other key area was reporting. It had become tougher and tougher to get meaningful insights into how their projects were performing as the business had evolved and become more complex.
"The final piece was something that would allow us to understand the financial performance of projects. Something live and accessible, with the information coming directly out of the system - rather than having to take it from one place, put it into a spreadsheet and then divide it by X and multiply it by Y and then probably not quite get the right number coming out of the end.
So, robust and live financial reporting on a project by project basis was a priority."
The answer, much like their Xero epiphany, came courtesy of colleagues at their accountants Whitemoor Davis. DMA had heard of CMAP, but were under the impression that we were better suited to much bigger practices.
"I'd heard the name because we're part of a forum which is a London-based group involving around 50 of the most established and well-respected architectural practices. Most of them are considerably bigger than us, but we got involved in that because we would be collaborating with a group of people we aspired to be like.
However, I assumed that as it was the larger firms using CMAP, that it would be super expensive and something that the likes of us couldn't even think of."
Solid business practice isn't just the purview of larger firms though, and after speaking to some more people, they realised CMAP was best placed to help them pursue further growth.
"Our accountants said although ours was a smaller practice, CMAP probably fitted in with what we were trying to achieve. The minute they talked to me and my colleague Jess - our Studio Manager - about CMAP, we both looked at each other and said 'all those things on our to-do list; improve this, streamline that - every time they mentioned anything else CMAP could do we were going 'it sounds like the miracle cure!'
So it was a no-brainer when they asked 'would you like to have a chat with the guys from CMAP and find out more?' It was 'res please! How quickly can we do it?!"
CMAP has resulted in DMA gaining much more powerful oversight of their projects, enabling quicker and better-informed business decisions.
"It's joined up and it connects everything together around our finances and where people are spending their time. As a result, we know where we stand and that can only be a good thing. The real-time analytics, the fact that the architects can see on their dashboard exactly where they stand against the resource they'd planned as a team informs how they look at the next phase of the job or taking it to completion. That's really important, we love that."
It's also meant those resourcing issues have been cleared up.
"We're more able to readily see the overview of where resource is being used and where we need to be trying to find new projects so that we've got continuity of work."
Fiona believes that CMAP is a great solution for firms who are looking to take the next step up in their practice and manage the pains that come with that all-important growth.
"When I saw that big practices were using CMAP, I made the assumption that it was going to be out of our reach in terms of cost and complexity. But by adopting CMAP it has actually saved us money because we've been able to proactively deal with issues and make better, more sustainable decisions."