The joys of simply doing work

Jun 05, 2022

Where are you now in terms of billable work versus business stuff? Are you happy with the mix?

I have always felt there was something wrong about how so many architects, engineers, planners, surveyors, and others with a technical or design discipline background want to get out of doing what they do as quickly as possible so they can become managers. It just doesn’t seem right to me. It’s not that I don’t understand the value of being a good manager and the skills it takes to manage people and a business. I do. I have devoted my entire professional career to helping people develop those skills so they and their companies can be more successful.

But the problem – when I see firm principals who are only 10-20 percent working on “billable” projects – is multifaceted. Here are my thoughts:

  • It’s hard to know how long things take if you don’t do it yourself. This makes budgeting and setting fees more difficult.
  • It’s hard to know who in the business is really good at what they do if you don’t work with them and alongside of them. This makes deciding who gets paid how much or who to promote more difficult.
  • It’s hard to inspire the people who are doing the work if you don’t demonstrate both a competence in it yourself and a willingness to do whatever it is you will ask someone else to do. Leading by example is always the most powerful form of leadership.
  • It’s hard to stay current in your discipline and in knowledge of the tools for doing the work if you don’t do it yourself. That could lead to obsolescence.
  • Work could become less satisfying. Projects have a beginning and an end. That is very gratifying. Management of a firm, however, never has an end. It just goes on forever until the firm is no more. Not to mention engineering and design professionals went to school to do engineering and design because that is what they were interested in. If they wanted to be in business, they would probably have business degrees.

Obviously, some people do feel that management and business are more intellectually stimulating and more challenging. I certainly understand this myself. That is why so many owners and managers of firms in this business do go back to school for business education or self-educate themselves on the subject.

But the point is, there is an ideal time to make that switch if you are going to make it, and it doesn’t have to be a full-time job where you shut off project work and now work “on” the firm. It can be gradual and the amount of each varies widely.

Think about yourself. Where are you now in terms of billable work versus business stuff? Are you happy with the mix? If not, maybe you should do more of what makes you happy and look for other people to do the stuff you don’t want to do. There is a lot to be said for the simple joys of doing work!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.