Strategically, Do I Know You?

Recently, I spent a weekend doing important business for my state’s chapter of ASLA. Several of my fellow professionals and I banded together to draft a Strategic Plan for the Texas chapter.

What is your vision for the future?

At the end of the day, all was fine and dandy, everyone had a blast working through the process, and the moderator from National (ASLA) seemingly went back home with as much hair on her head as she had when she came into town--thanks again, Barbara, by the way!

Throughout the weekend, objectives were written, goals prioritized, and tasks assigned. We had in our ranks a diversely experienced group of landscape architects. The discussion at times was animated and robust. As you might expect, we didn't always agree, but it was done so constructively and without insult.

What an honorable challenge it was to compose a wide-ranging, comprehensive strategy for professional development, security, and fulfillment.

It is one thing to work out the kinks of such a defining plan in your head; it is a completely different thing to put those thoughts and ideas on paper. With or without a knowing intent, professional attitudes are placed on the table for your peers to interpret, critique, and, hopefully, endorse. Yay! (And yikes!)

I found that the strategic plan draft process is very similar to a landscape architect's project design. When designing, we are trained to identify and document the project objectives and goals in a program. We then communicate that program graphically by many different means.

It is when the plans are unrolled in front of the client (or some of the more technically savvy use a laptop of some sort) that we solicit reaction to the program and strategy to implement the design. Our design is presented for all to see.

With some apprehension, we await out client's feedback, knowing either the nail was hit on the head, we might need to stop swinging to straighten the nail a bit, or we just need to pull the thing out and start the pounding all over again. And sometimes that nail never does get completely set.

That is design, and it is also the way of strategic planning.

From another aspect, the weekend spent was very much alien to a landscape architect's normal, professional routine. With a client, we typically get design reactions based on an economic, functional, or practical perspective.

However, this weekend's efforts will be directly evaluated not by our client, but by our own kind...and with a livelihood and career possibly at stake. Oh my! Landscape architects can be a tough audience, I'm here to tell you.

When 10-12 landscape architects, often having only an acquaintance-type friendship, are put in the same room for an extended amount of can get mentally exhausted. "Alpha" personalities and drafting strategies from scratch certainly will try even the best of our patience.

The collective results however, were truly collaborative.

The writing of a statewide strategic plan for the profession also casts an interesting light on those who so generously dedicate their time and energy toward a society of landscape architects.

Friendships are nurtured, created, defined, and solidified. Now that, in itself, is cool...and it certainly helps the profession and our clients in immeasurable ways.

I suggest that all landscape architects should spend a profession-working weekend with your peers, friends, and competitors every once in awhile. You may surrender your typical weekend and postpone completing that to-do list, but I assure you it will be rewarding and enlightening when it’s all over, said, and done...kind of like the feeling had after doing that college-era, 48-hour studio binge in order to complete that school project.

You will sleep soundly that night, and tomorrow as well!

This weekend? Come up with a good (strategic) plan and have fun implementing it!

Tim May is a professional landscape architect and LEED AP for TNP in Fort Worth, Texas. He can be reached via email at or by Twitter at @TMay82.