Project Playbook | 5 Things to consider before starting a project
Updated: Feb 24
As a client, embarking on a renovation/new construction project can be overwhelming for first timers and the seasoned alike no matter the project type and scale. Following these five steps will help you establish a solid starting point.
1. Throw unrealistic expectations out the window: Setting unrealistic expectations from the onset is a recipe for disappointment. You may have watched too many HGTV shows, but the reality is that all those shows are fictional and are meant to distort what actually happens. In their truncated, overly simplistic version of reality a renovation is achieved with few hiccups over the course of half an hour without acknowlodging most of the team behind the cameras at an incredibly affordable price. This distortion is completely deliberate and is meant to lure consumers into the sponsors’ stores. It’s important to commit to the project with a level head and understand that with a knowledgeable team and work plan most of the risks along way can be mitigated and challenges can be confronted.
2. Don’t show up empty handed, clarify your goals: To start a new project, you need to clearly establish and rank in order of importance these three ingredients- consider them your project trio:
o 1) Scope: Define your wants and needs
o 2) Budget: Define the overall project budget
o 3) Timeline: Define your desired timeline
Only you, as the client, can establish and give sign-off on this trio. Other parties will provide you feedback for you to adjust these but you need to establish the initial parameters. Design professionals gather this info in different ways, through casual conversations or interest forms- you don't have to wait for them to ask you for this info, be proactive and have these ready from the beginning. This trio is usually baked into project proposals and contracts so any change on your part as the project continues will require amending the original documents. Too many changes along the way will result in increased costs and a lengthened project duration therefore it’s best to determine these at the beginning and avoid changing these continuously along the way.
3. Curate your inspiration: The deluge of “inspiration” appears to be never-ending and digital platforms just keep multiplying content exponentially. It is important for a client to know what they “like”, but showing up with too much will overwhelm everyone. Particularly if you can’t distill why you like a certain image and whether it is relevant to the project. Our advice is to limit yourself to a handful of reference images- they don’t even have to be architectural, they could be an art piece, a heirloom, a plant, your favorite t-shirt. What is important is that you need to be specific about what quality or trait you like about them. Is it the texture? play in light? color? smell? This will provide a better directive for all and it will also create a benchmark to work towards.
4. Identify the key players, their roles, and when they should be engaged: It is important to have a general idea of the role and skillset different players bring to the table in an endeavor as involved as design and construction. Sometimes, clients rely on what is the minimum dictated by a jurisdiction to obtain permits, but it’s important to consider that permitting agencies and the building code establish a minimum baseline to keep people safe and health. If design is important, as it often is, an architect and/or interior designer, will be needed even if it is a small project that doesn’t require a professional's stamp. Owners may think that they can shoulder the design decisions and oversight during construction, but the truth is that it takes time and a knowledgeable professional to get it right and think about the project wholistically. It is valuable to note that the General Contractor’s role is to execute on time, in scope and on budget, design and spatial sensibility are not part of their expertise nor a priority, so the architect and contractor in many ways complement and keep each other in check.
5. Date respectfully: You don’t have to hire the first design professional or contractor you meet up with, but you should be respectful of their time. If you don’t feel they are a good fit for whatever reason let them know so that they can move on to other project leads. If you are on the fence between two choices, negotiation should be tactful and fair- pitting design studios or GCs against each other to lower their proposal is often counterproductive. This will result in artificially lowering a bid to obtain client signoff which will most likely result in extra charges in the later phases to complete the project and make up for their losses. Additionally, asking for free work in the beginning is not a healthy way to establish a sustainable rapport even if the other party is willing to do so. Our advice is that if you are not ready to get hitched and sign a proposal, a service model that has been gaining traction for design professionals is to offer low commitment consultancy. These initial fee based services allow for a client 1) to get a better idea of how studio works and if they seem like a good match for you and the project, 2) allow for the the project to kick off and start gathering essential due diligence information which can be used by this firm or transferred to any other firm of your choice.
The bottom line is you need a good start and these are some of the key ways to ensure the project will carry on smoothly. Sure, there will be surprises along the way, but if the ground rules are established it will help build a solid foundation for you and the team.