DEQA Design Collaborative (formerly DDC Architectural Studio) is known for its innovative approach to design and architecture. Founded more than 10 years ago, DEQA has been crafting impactful experiences through ideas, objects, places, buildings, and communities. By integrating planning, architecture, and branding they design at all scales in close collaboration with clients across the world.
Denise Castro, the Principal Architect and Owner of DEQA Design Collaborative is a skilled design professional based in Manila, Philippines. She has combined several years of hands-on experience from IDEO, CBT Architects, and other award-winning and world-known companies, to build her own design studio. We've been speaking with Denise about her way of taking DEQA to the next level and establishing a profitable and healthy business even during times like the covid pandemic.
Breaking down the problem
DEQA is operating in a market with historically many restrictions. In the Philippines, the way architecture and interior design companies typically quote fees is based on the number of square meters multiplied by a flat fee each company charges. Sadly, the flat fee rarely takes into consideration the complexity or duration of the project.
That was also how DEQA used to price projects and give quotes. Yet it was clear to Denise that it wasn't a sustainable way of running the business. Eventually, the team would spend too much time on a single project without realizing if they were making money. With her problem solving mindset and well-established ability to spot problems and find solutions, she realized that there had to be a better way to approach project finances than chasing money and taking on new projects. Instead, she wanted to create a smarter future for her company by securing steadier margins.
With her design background, Denise is trained in breaking down a problem and figuring out how to solve it in the best possible way. As a true design professional Denise approached the project by dividing it into the four phases: Discover, Define, Explore and Create.
Keen to learn how to do strategic planning, Denise did a mini MBA to educate herself, while talking to finance experts about ways to get DEAQ’s pricing model and fees correct to keep track of profitability.
Getting the data right
Beginning to record historical project data to analyze the time spent on projects was the first part of the process aiming to get insights. “Starting from registering time on paper in old school ways all the way through to tabulating it to Excel helped us understand how much time we needed for each project and when they were no longer profitable”, pointed out Denise.
However, as the team was struggling to understand why prompt time registrations were important, she soon came to the conclusion that the Excel system wasn’t efficient enough. This made them switch to a basic project management tool called Freecamp. While Freecamp was good enough to track the progress on projects, they soon faced a problem with visibility into what the team members were working on, meaning they were missing a resource management system too.
We knew how much people were working every week. But we didn't really understand who was over- or underbooked, or if we needed more or fewer team members.
Denise started using Resource Guru but realized that the missing connectivity to the project work in Freecamp just added more friction to their days.