“Practice Operations is a New Way of Thinking”: Monograph’s Robert Yuen on Design and Technology

The AEC industry has seen technology transform its operations. Robert Yuen is the CEO and Co-Founder at Monograph. He’s created a cloud-based project-management application specifically designed to address these changes. Robert Yuen, who is an architect by trade and an entrepreneur by trade, uses his experience to imagine the future for managing design and construction.

Robert Yuen. Image Courtesy of Monograph

After more traditional experience in architecture and design, Yuen found his passion for software solutions. After working for firms such as BluHomes, Holabird & Root and SOM, Yuen realized the need to create a cloud-based, simple project management software. Monograph was established in 2019 by Robert Yuen and Alex Dixon, who are both architects. Robert talks with ArchDaily about his inspirations as a young architect and how it is possible to run a business today.

Casting Unpredictability. Image Courtesy of Robert Yuen

Why did architecture interest you?

Why would you not want to become an architect? It allowed me to fully immerse in the profession of building things around me, including schools, libraries, homes, and offices. Since I was a child, I loved building things with LEGO bricks. I was fortunate to attend one of Chicago’s few high schools with an architecture program. I received my architecture degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Later, I earned a dual master’s in Architecture and Digital Technologies at Michigan.

Robert Yuen, Alex Dixon, and Moe Amaya. Image Courtesy of Monograph

Tell us more about Monograph and its history.

During my time as an architect in Chicago I used to meet up with friends from the field of architecture during happy hour and discuss the same issues, including the lack in tools necessary for running a successful business. After hearing others talk about the same problems, Alex Dixon and Moe Amaya created Monograph in 2019. They are both architects by trade, but can also build software. Our goal was to build a platform for practice operations that is tailored to the construction, architecture, engineering and design industries. AEC professionals can use the cloud-based system to manage their projects, forecasts, timesheets and schedules from one interface that is easy to use to make informed decisions about their business or projects.

Octavia Parcel T. Image Courtesy of Robert Yuen

The biggest challenge for me was meeting the many deadlines an architect had. I often worked extra hours to compensate. It dawned on my that overtime shouldn’t be a normal part of our industry. I set out to find an answer. Monograph empowers professionals with a solution that synchronizes their time, project budgets and schedules in one seamless workflow. In the end, firms have been able to deliver greater efficiencies and provide better customer service.

Your experiences in architecture, technology, and entrepreneurship define your background. Could you tell us about the evolution of your work over time?

Monograph was my first business venture. I had never managed a business before. I was an architect trying to solve problems in the industry. I was designing high-rise skyscrapers in Chicago, and then moved to the Bay Area to work mostly on residential projects. It’s been an incredible transformation for me personally to run a startup.

Great White Plastic Folded Structure. Image Courtesy of Robert Yuen

Monograph is a company that has grown over the years by listening to its customers. They are the industry and solve the daily problems. Firms are reaching out to us to discuss how they can improve their practice operations. The industry and our customers are adopting a new way to think about practice operations. They want to know what is important and how to run a better company for everyone.

Rossmann Architecture Inc. is an excellent example. Rossmann Architecture Inc. has been experiencing significant growth and they needed to streamline their workflow to allow them to scale efficiently, effectively, and profitably. The team had to rethink their business model before the pandemic. They needed a project management tool that could support their current team growth of at least one person per month. Rossmann’s reorganization included the creation of a Managing Director who has sole responsibility for creating an environment of operations, managing the office, as well as providing back-office support for architects and project managers. This has allowed the firm scale up much quicker than it ever could before. This is a rare occurrence in architecture, but it is becoming more common for firms to take their practice operations seriously.

Courtesy of Monograph

What have you been working on lately?

Monograph is gearing up for Section Cut on Thursday, August 12th 2021. This one-day event will feature fast-paced workshops and insightful keynotes as well as success stories. It will also focus on how architects of all sizes can increase their practice operations.

Section Cut will enable the architecture community to have new conversations about their practice operations. It will also provide industry professionals with content and connections that encourage them to invent. This conference will offer an opportunity to share your experiences with success, failures and pivots within design firms. The conference is important as it brings people together in the industry to discuss improving flow and operation. It will hopefully lead to deeper conversations.

Courtesy of Monograph

How do you think architects will adapt to changing climates, technology and construction?

These changes are easier to manage today than they were in the past. The increased use of technology means architects will be better equipped to adapt and change over time. The pandemic showed how quickly change can happen and how lasting it can be. It is crucial to have the tools and resources necessary to quickly adapt. We were able to operate remotely as an industry in a reasonable amount of time. A firm can handle any changes by having good practices in place.

Firms can become more agile by focusing on practice operations. The pandemic would not have allowed our workforces to shift to Zoom. Monograph works remotely with team members located in the U.S., Canada and Europe. The pace at which technology was adopted by the workforce was accelerated by current events. It also impacts culture which affects how a company functions.

Which design firms inspire you?

Mies van den Rohe has been an inspiration to me for many years. Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn are my favorite architects. These two classic architects are highly regarded by me.

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is a great example of how to run a business. I’m particularly impressed by their ability to grow quickly and finish impressive projects at a high level. They are able to understand what it takes for larger organizations within architecture. Sheela Maini, their CEO, deserves a lot of credit.

It amazes me how quickly our customers are able adapt to our workflow and understand our ethos. Small to large firms can adapt quickly and at an amazing rate. Trahan Architects is my favorite firm for project work. They were ranked the top design firm by Architect Magazine in 2018. Colloqate Design is another client. They are a non-profit that works to bridge the gap between design justice and design.

Courtesy of Monograph

Your team is growing and Monograph has already challenged the workplace culture. What lessons do you think others can learn from the remote-work pandemic?

Courtesy of Monograph

Monograph has learned one thing over the past year: building a business depends on people. People build your business. As CEO, my focus is on building a team and people. Our conversations revolve around building an incredible culture. The pandemic has brought attention to the importance of health and wellness. Monograph used to operate on a 4-day work week before the pandemic. We are now seeing other companies both locally and internationally explore this idea. My employees have the option of taking a “midweekend,” as we call it, to allow them to recover and rest. This allows them to not only power through their work but also keeps their mental strength up when they are in deep-focus mode. It is a great idea to give employees an extra day each week to care for their families and themselves. Remember that your team is real people who live real lives. Employers should encourage employees to take care of themselves and look out for one another.

Relaxed Vault: Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Meets Kuka Robotic Arm. Image Courtesy of Robert Yuen