Working Effectively with Your Design Professional


Working Effectively with Your Design Professional

Communication is Key

When starting out a new relationship with your design professional, it is important to set the ground rules and expectations. Every client is different. Every designer is different. We all bring different skills sets, different levels of experience with renovation and relocation projects, and different levels of desire regarding being hands-on or hands-off and level of involvement in the project. In the ideal situation, these rules and expectations would have been addressed before the design professional had finalized their proposal and contract, given that these variables do affect the amount of time and level of handholding required by the designer, which ultimately affect fees.

What Type of Client Are You?

There are always extremes in any situation as well as extremes in any working relationship. Some clients are very hands-on to the point of micro-managing the design professional. This extreme is not helpful in allowing the designer to effectively use their creativity in developing a unique design solution. The other extreme is the “laissez faire” client who is totally hands off. This client-type doesn’t give the designer enough information and feedback to define the project’s goals and objectives and design parameters. Frequently this type of client is unengaged in the process and not available when you need them. This extreme in client style is extremely frustrating to the designer who is left wondering if they are headed in the right direction and creating a design that the client will be happy with. An un-engaged client can also slow down the approval process and ultimately slow down the overall project schedule. The best type of client for a design professional is one who is engaged in the process and  trusts the design professional to use their experience, expertise, and best judgement in developing creative design solutions based on guidelines and directions identified in the visioning and programming interview processes.

What Type of Design Professional Should You Be Working With?

Design professionals, and their firms, have many different styles. Finding the right match for your organization is critical to a good working relationship and a successful end product. Here is a short test to determine which kind of design professional style and personality you should be looking for:

Which of the following is most important to your organization in the selection of a design professional for your future facility? (place a number from 1 to 5 next to each item based on the importance to you and your internal decision-makers, with a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being an important consideration.) This exercise can help you evaluate design firms if you are considering multiple firms.

  • Using a big-name firm. It’s the “safe” choice  ___

  • Using an experienced professional who listens to your needs and responds with appropriate design solutions ___

  • Selecting a cost-effective firm regardless of the qualifications or the actual personnel working on your project ___

  • Using a firm that was recommended by a peer or colleague ___

  • Using a firm that has a portfolio that has images that appeal to you ___

  • Just trusting your gut feeling when interviewing the actual team members that you will be working with ____


Selecting Furniture and Working with a Furniture Dealer


Selecting Furniture and Working with a Furniture Dealer

One of the biggest budget line items for renovation or relocation projects is for new furniture, especially if a company has not moved or renovated in ten or more years. Over a ten-year period, furniture becomes worn and broken, space and furniture standards evolve, ergonomic requirements and design trends change, all of which contribute to the need for new furniture.

Your architect or designer may have a good working relationship with a limited number of furniture dealerships that they can introduce you to. If you are looking to buy a specific brand of furniture, there may be specific furniture dealerships that can carry that manufacturer without having to buy that line through another dealer. For larger projects, or clients with multiple locations, you can typically negotiate an on-going corporate discount structure with the furniture manufacturer.

Some of the criteria and questions that will help you and your designer narrow down the selection of furniture and the furniture dealer could include the following:

  • Establishing a budget for new furniture for offices, workstations and support areas. Your designer can work early in the budgeting process with a furniture dealership, or multiple furniture dealers, in preparing a conceptual furniture budget with a range of possible costs prior to making specific recommendations. This is a good starting point before spending a lot of time selecting furniture options and visiting furniture showrooms.

  • Select the furniture dealer based on the products, their costs and dealer capabilities.

  • What should the level of quality be for the furniture, how many years do you need for the furniture to last before being repaired or replaced?

  • What level of flexibility do you need in establishing furniture standards? How often do you expect it to be reconfigured or moved?

  • What ergonomic features do you want in the furniture? (ie sit-stand adjustability, monitor arms, task specific lighting)

  • For systems furniture (workstations), what are the privacy concerns which would dictate panel heights?

  • What kind of storage do you need to accommodate in the closed and open office furniture? (ie files, binders, reference materials, coat or personal items, etc.)

  • What are the aesthetics and style of furniture that will reflect your desired branded image?

  • What furniture is needed for shared support areas and collaborative spaces?

  • Are there any critical installation dates that will determine lead-time constraints? (Many furniture manufacturers have quick-ship programs which will reduce the lead time but will limit the selection of items and their finish selections)

  • Ask your furniture dealer if they have any short-term furniture storage facilities in case your installation date for the furniture has to be delayed.

Ask your furniture dealer if their installation crews are experienced and factory trained on the products they are delivering and installing.

Make sure that your designer is effectively communicating with your furniture dealer early enough in the process to ensure that your budget and schedule issues are addressed early in the project schedule. If your designer, or architect, has developed a master schedule, make sure that the furniture dealer has had some input into the furniture portion of the schedule. Having the proper furniture lead times in the schedule will allow you to have some cushion in your schedule to make minor adjustments to the specifications, if necessary. A realistic schedule will also help in having leverage to arrange the best financial deal on your furniture and ensure its timely delivery and installation.

Contributors to this blog article:

Brian Alvarez with MOI. He can be reached at or 202-826-6334

Jud Buchanan with Washington Group Solutions. He can be reached at or 703-237-9596 ext. 109  


Identifying and Hiring Your Real Estate Professional

1 Comment

Identifying and Hiring Your Real Estate Professional

One relocation team member you need to identify and hire early in the process is your real estate broker. They will streamline the process of finding appropriate space options based on the criteria that you have identified, such as the following:

  • Geographic area, possibly based on management-identified criteria, client locations or staff commuting patterns or staff surveys

  • General size range of space requirements identified through working with your architect or designer, the impact of a remote-work program, future staff growth projections, etc. The right of first refusal for an adjacent suite might be an important consideration for potential, future growth.

  • Building exterior aesthetics and branding

  • Building shape and floor footprint compatibility with your programmed space requirements (ie the desired number of floors and useable square feet per floor)

  • Desired amenities in the area and in the future building, such as:

    • What amenities or building features do you currently have that are important to have in your next building?

    • Nearby locations to eat lunch

    • Shared tenant conference facility and fitness center in the building

    • Sustainability programs and features such as building LEED certification and Energy Star rating

    • Proximity to rail or other forms of public transportation

  • Project Schedule:

    • When must you be out of your current space or have your existing lease renewed by?

      • Plan to hire your real estate broker no later than a year prior to a small suite relocation, 18 months prior to a medium-size suite relocation and at least two years before a large suite relocation. If you are looking for a real estate broker to help you re-negotiate a new lease for a space that you currently occupy, you can reduce the above time frames by 20%.

      • One helpful exercise is to look at the relocation schedule from the date of the move-in and work backwards using realistic time frames along the critical path. This approach will dictate when you should begin the relocation project. (Be sure to get realistic time frames for each step from your project team members or industry professionals.)

  • Budget issues:

    • Do you have an annual budget dedicated to office space, which would also include pro-rated utilities, real estate taxes, building insurance and any other normal fees such as janitorial services if you have a triple-net lease? Do you anticipate that your budget for real estate will increase as your business grows?

  • Internal Decision-Making:

    • Understand how decisions for selecting your broker and other outsourced team members will be made. Is it you alone or will it be by an internal committee or even outsourced to a project management company? This decision-making process will need to be communicated to the real estate brokers that you interview as well as any other project team members that you hire.

    • To make the most effective use of everyone’s time, you need to keep moving forward in the process and not reversing course due to internal team politics or miscommunication.

Some tenants may ask the question… “Why do I need a real estate broker at all? I can find space and negotiate a lease.”

  • The reality is that tenants don’t have the time, the experience and usually the inclination to take on the responsibility of finding the right office space, negotiating a lease, and coordinating all the tasks involved in moving to a new location – given their primary responsibility in their organization. Unless one is involved in negotiating leases on a regular basis – not once every five or ten years – you will not be up to date on market conditions for rental rates and concessions, which can change dramatically in a few months.

  • The broker is constantly negotiating lease transactions. He or she is cognizant of the deal structures being negotiated in the market, including concessions being offered. Some tenants erroneously believe using a broker, or a tenant representative, will cost them money. The fact is, the broker commission is a “sunk cost”.  A commission is still being paid to the Landlord’s representative (or salary and bonus) if the tenant negotiates directly with a Landlord’s agent. Moreover, the Landlord’s agent has a fiduciary responsibility to obtain the best lease terms for his client – the Landlord! A tenant should select a tenant representative who has the tenant’s best interests at stake, not the Landlord’s interests. There is a fee sharing arrangement between the Landlord’s agent and tenant representative which is why the commission is a “sunk cost” in a lease transaction. The most important questions a client should ask is the experience of the broker in negotiating leases in the submarkets that the tenant has interest and whether the broker has any conflicts of interest – like exclusive agencies with Landlords for spaces and building potentials of interest to the tenant in that market. A broker can’t have two masters!

You can find the best broker for you in a number of ways:

  • Referrals from other industry friends or partners.

  • Attending real estate industry events.

  • Personality compatibility with your team members and positive gut feelings

  • Evaluating the broker’s experience and creative approaches when interviewing the short-listed brokers.

  • Other resources that the broker can bring to the table such as project management services, original industry research/trends studies and similar project portfolio.

I want to thank John Lench, Managing Director with Newmark Knight Frank and Phillip Naithram, Senior Associate with Edge Commercial Real Estate for their input for this blog article. (did they approve being mentioned?)


1 Comment

Developing an RFP for Professional Services


Developing an RFP for Professional Services

Whether you are handling the procurement of necessary professional services for your upcoming renovation or relocation project using in-house resources to write the RFP (request for proposal) or if you are using the services of an outsourced project management consultant, thinking through the information that should be contained in an RFP is one of the first steps in developing your project plan.

Where can I find the right consultant for my project?

Pre-qualifying potential consultants for your project can be determined through:

  • Previous experience successfully using the consulting firm

  • Recommendations from your trusted professional network contacts or your professional association networking contacts

  • Published (print and web) examples of consulting firm work for similar projects

What Information Should be Included in an RFP?

Finding the right balance of information for an effective RFP should be through developing performance specifications rather than prescriptive specifications. In other words, it should tell the consultant what their deliverables should be and your expectations for their level of service, rather than how they should do their job (prescriptive specifications). It should provide enough information for the bidders to understand the nature of the project as well as the project goals and objectives. It should also address the project success criteria, the prioritized selection criteria as well as critical budget and schedule constraints. The RFP needs to allow some room for the consultant to outline their competitive advantages and creative problem-solving approaches.

Who Should Get an RFP?

At the early phase of the project, an RFP (request for proposal) for the following consultants may be required:

  • Project Management Consultant, especially for large, complex projects

  • Architect/Design Firms as well as a Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) Engineering Firms that could be sub-contracted through the architectural firm

  • Audio/Video (AV) Integration Consultant

  • Furniture Dealerships

  • Cabling Vendor

  • General Contractors

  • Mover or Relocation Consultant

The RFQ:

In healthy economic times you may need to issue an RFQ (request for qualifications) to determine the level of interest that the consulting firm has in responding to a future RFP for your project and to “weed-out” any unqualified consultant. This can be a short document that briefly covers the project scope and size and schedule.

RFP Guidelines:

A basic outline for an RFP might contain the following categories of information that should be customized for each project and for each type of consultant:

  1. An introduction that includes a brief overview of your organization and the reasons for the upcoming project

  2. An overview of the selection process (prioritized selection criteria) and schedule for the RFP response, review and award schedule

  3. Project Information including:

    a.  Project goals and objectives/project success criteria

    b.  The current status of the project (what has already been addressed)

    c.  Define any project budget and schedule constraints

  4. General project scope and services required (not too detailed)

    a. Provide a general description of the services needed.

    b. If the project requires any special certifications, ie LEED, be sure to include the expected level of certification

    c. Describe the deliverables needed from the consultant and any critical dates required for their delivery.

    d. Describe any exceptions or exclusions to their services where other consultants have already provided those services or services that you will handle in-house.

  5. Expectations on level of service and number of meetings required by project phase

  6. Information regarding the consultant’s:

    a. Firm history

    b. Proposed team members resumes, including recent, similar projects information that includes recent client contact information

    c.  An overview of the firm’s competitive advantages and resources

    d.  Address the consulting firm’s quality control processes

  7. Describe how you want their proposed fees and reimbursables broken down. Allow optional services that may not have been included in the RFP scope. If the consultant is fronting the costs for any services, ie permit expediter and permit filing fees, be sure to have them include that as a reimbursement expense.

  8. Include any negotiable and non-negotiable proposed  terms and conditions (consult your company’s legal adviser for guidance if you don’t already have a boiler-plate document)

  9. Insurance requirements, ie professional liability, umbrella, and auto insurance (make sure that the limits of coverage are appropriate for the type of services to be provided.)

  10. Note the date and time for any proposed pre-bid meeting and site walk-through.

Note: If you require your project to be kept confidential, issue a Non-Disclosure Agreement before issuing the RFP.

Note: If you would like a list of local project management professionals that can assist you in developing an RFP for professional services, please contact me at


Address Big-Picture Issues With Your Management Before Hiring Consultants and Starting the Project


Address Big-Picture Issues With Your Management Before Hiring Consultants and Starting the Project

Getting a sense of direction from your management by addressing big-picture issues, before you bring in expensive consultants and brokers, helps to make the project kick-off and orientation time with those consultants more efficient. This blog will address a number of those key, big picture issues.

 A major renovation or relocation project is a perfect time to re-think your short-term and long-term space needs. Of course, the short-term needs are easier to get your head around than the long-term space needs. If only we had that crystal ball.

Both short-term and long-term space needs are greatly affected by the following issues, which must be addressed, even prior to meeting with an architect or a real estate broker. Ask your top management the following questions:

Staff Counts: Where do you see staff growth and staff reduction in our organization over the next five years?

  • Look at past growth or reduction trends by department (HR can usually provide this information)

  • Look at the latest business plan and marketing plan for clues

  • Do we have updated organization charts for the entire organization and each department that would include future hires?

Telework: Do you see our organization embracing telework, hoteling or job sharing? If so, how will it be determined as to who gets a dedicated office or workstation?

  • Will it be determined by job function, grade level or seniority

  • What will be the ratio of dedicated to shared offices and workstations

  • If telework is being implemented, will there be a consultant who will work with us in helping us to vet candidates for teleworking as well as establishing standards and protocols?

Space and Furniture Standards: Do you anticipate changing our existing space and furniture standards in order to accomplish:

  • Simplifying and modularizing our space and furniture standards in order to improve flexibility in making faster and less disruptive modifications in the future

  • Better utilization of real estate through reducing closed office and open office space sizes and having a better use of vertical space using new furniture standards

  • Improved ergonomics and wellness

Productivity: How can we improve productivity and work flow in our new layout?

  • What critical adjacencies between departments or individuals can be improved?

  • Is there anything in our existing layout that impedes effective communication and collaboration between staff within and between departments?

Collaboration Space and Amenities: What types of collaborative spaces do we need and how many people should be accommodated in those spaces? (forming a working sub-committee to address this issue might be helpful)

  • Number of, sizes of, types of and locations of collaborative areas

  • Have we measured the use of our existing collaboration areas to determine typical meeting sizes and durations? (sensor technology is available for such an exercise)

  • What amenities and shared support areas (by department or shared by all departments) would we like to have that we currently don’t have? (a staff survey or town-hall meeting can help to identify the wish list)

  • For those shared support areas that we currently have, do we want to eliminate any of them or change the design of those support areas? ( a sub-committee can be formed to address support area design)

Aesthetics: What should our desired, branded image be for our new facility?  (be thinking and discussing these issues as you prepare to meet with the architect and designer for the first time)

  • What impression do we want to leave with visitors and clients who visit our new facility?

  • What should our general style be in our new facility (ie traditional vs contemporary vs high tech)

  • Are there any specific colors that should be incorporated into our future design and finish standards? (ie, using the colors in our logo?)

Budget: Are there any budget constraints for this project?

  • What can we anticipate as an allowance coming from the Landlord or from the sale of our existing, owned real estate?

  • What out of pocket expenses are we willing to contribute towards the costs of the project?

Schedule: Is there anything driving the completion date of the renovation or relocation project?

  • Lease expiration and desire not to pay a hold over penalty

  • Based on a contract requirement

  • If it’s a renovation in occupied space, do we have enough swing space to temporarily move staff to while we renovate their space or do we have to lease a short-term suite as swing space? (Note: Multiple project phases increase the time and costs of a renovation project)

  • Note: Allow 8 to 12 months from the completion of lease negotiations to move-in to allow enough time for final space planning, design development, architectural and engineering construction documents, construction bid time, permit processing, build-out, furniture installation and final inspections.

Sustainability & Wellness: Is it important for our up-coming project to be a LEED certified project?

  • Is it important to our staff (both current and future) to belong to a company that believes and practices sustainability?

  • Is it important to our clients to be working with a company that demonstrates and practices sustainable practices?

  • Do we want to launch a wellness program? If so, what features do we want to focus on, and do we want to pursue Well Certification? (Includes issues related to air quality, water quality, healthful nourishment, quality of light and lighting, fitness, comfort and mind)

  • Note: LEED or Well certification will require some additional soft and hard costs to implement and may extend the project schedule to some degree.


The Facility Project Relocation and Renovation Primer


The Facility Project Relocation and Renovation Primer


Over the course of 2019, I will be posting a series of articles which will assist those, who will oversee the management of a renovation or relocation requirement for their organization, to better plan and prepare for the upcoming project. Contributing to the articles will be leading consultants and service providers, whose years of experience, will provide structure and pre-planning advice for each of their areas of specialty, which will include architectural and engineering planning and design, audio-video integration, furniture planning and procurement, construction and move management.


This first blog will be an overview of the basic steps of a project. The following blogs will get into a higher level of detail.

Step One: Identify Short Term and Long Term Space Needs, Budget and Schedule Constraints

The architect/space planner will meet with you and your key executives and department heads to gather information regarding your current or future space standards, current and future personnel counts, support area requirements and critical adjacencies. A report will be prepared documenting your short-term and long-term space needs. A preliminary project budget and schedule with milestone dates will also be developed. 

Step TwoHire a Real Estate Broker

At the same time that you are working with the architect, you will need to enlist the services of a commercial real estate broker for your facility leasing services. They will take your programming information and find appropriate sites, in your price range and in your desired location for you to tour.  They will also interface with your architect on the preparation of space plan test fits. Your broker will negotiate your lease terms with the prospective landlord. If you are renegotiating your lease for a renewal, they will represent your interests in getting the most favorable and competitive renewal rates, terms and renovation allowances.


Step Three: Perform an Architectural and Engineering Test Fit of Your Short-Listed Sites

If you are looking to move your business, your architect will prepare a space plan test fit for each of your short-listed sites to illustrate how each building will lay out. The architect will do an analysis of space efficiency as well as building code and ADA compliance.  (note: the prospective Landlord usually pays for the architectural test fit)

An optional mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety engineering review of the short-listed sites should also be performed to identify any potential engineering issues that may not meet your programmed requirements or may cost you additional money to fix or mitigate. (note: this service is usually paid for by the tenant) A report will be prepared comparing the engineering systems in each of the short-listed buildings and any engineering issues that are of concern as well as the potential cost for correcting the problem(s). This information is vital in the lease negotiation process so that as much of the cost of addressing the engineering issues is covered by the prospective Landlord.

Step Four: Final Lease Negotiations

Your real estate broker will take the information identified in the architectural and engineering test fits and will negotiate the terms and allowances of the leases for each shortlisted site.

Step Five: Final Space Planning, Design and Permit Drawings

Once the lease has been negotiated and signed, the final architectural and engineering planning, design and permit drawings (architectural and engineering construction documents) can be prepared.  AV (audio/video) design and data cabling also need to be addressed at this time. Note: If time and money allows, it is recommended that preliminary architectural and engineering pricing drawings be prepared so that a general contractor can prepare preliminary budget pricing prior to completing architectural and engineering construction documents.  This is a pricing benchmark that will help to adjust the build-out scope and level of documentation so that the final construction documents will fall within the desired budget parameters.

Step Six: Bidding and Permits

Once the architectural and engineering construction documents are completed, the drawings are submitted for general contractor negotiated or competitive bids.  The architect and engineer can assist in the evaluation of the bids. At the same time as the construction bidding process, the construction permit submission and permit approval process takes place. Note: The time required for processing the building permit varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Methods of fast tracking the permit process are available in most jurisdictions.

Step Seven: Construction

Construction is one of the most time consuming and costly parts of the overall process.  A realistic amount of time needs to be allotted for demolition and construction. Schedules can vary for several reasons, such as the size of the space, material and equipment lead times, and jurisdictional permits and inspection processes.  Most General Contractors will offer you a free construction budget estimate based on the scope identified in the preliminary pricing drawings and discussions with you, the architect and the engineer. They will also identify long lead items and help with creating a detailed construction schedule. 

Step Eight: Line Up the Moving Company

Your moving company will help you plan for the final phase of the project by coming in to do an estimate that accounts for all the particulars of your move. Their proposal should offer guidance on everything from housekeeping prior to the move to packing and moving with minimal disruption to your company’s productivity.

Questionnaire: Are You Ready to Plan for a Move? (Answer the following questions)

  1. Is there a critical move date? How critical is that date? What would be the impact of extending that move-in date?

  2. What financial resources are available to pay for the renovation, or new space, that won’t be picked up by the future Landlord (if it’s a new lease or lease renewal)? Consider all potential non-construction costs, including such things as new furniture, new equipment, new cabling, moving costs, etc…..

  3. Is there an executive in your organization that will be the project sponsor, who will also be responsible for setting project goals and objectives as well as having major decision-making authority?

  4. Are other major initiatives in place that may affect the early planning of the project such as a telework/hoteling policy, wellness initiatives developed, space standards/furniture standards guidelines that will determine sizes of offices and workstations and how they are assigned, the level of desire to have the project LEED certified?


Time and Money Dilemmas in Expediting Facilities Projects


Time and Money Dilemmas in Expediting Facilities Projects

Organizations’ rules and regulations have a way of working against the best interests of getting facilities projects implemented quickly and efficiently, all the while, management is pushing to get the project done yesterday. Speed in project delivery requires flexibility on the part of any organization’s procurement process. This article outlines several best practices, by project phase, that work and ultimately, can save the organization money. All it takes is some flexibility in an organization’s rules and regulations.

Project Start-Up:

Have your qualified team members in place through term agreements. Billing rates, standard services rate schedules, negotiated terms and conditions, insurance certificates submitted, and dedicated project team members identified should all be in place before the need to implement a project. Identify how minor and major decisions will be made and the dollar value of authorizations for project managers.

Programming & Space Planning:

Pin down your space standards, furniture standards, and finish standards prior to starting a new project. Have up-to-date organizational charts generated for each department to include future hire slots. Make sure that there is an approved method of identifying which staff get what space and furniture standard. Of course, there will always be exceptions based on special circumstances.

Incremental Project Budgeting:

Get authorization from your procurement department to allow project budget pricing based on schematic A&E drawings from 1 to 3 pre-authorized general contractors. Let procurement know that all the general contractors providing budget pricing should be allowed to bid on the final set of construction documents. This way, the general contractors providing the budget pricing do not have an unfair advantage.

Fast-Tracking the Project:

Make sure your project team members have a track record of working well together. The architect and MEP engineers should be able to fast-track their design and drawings by overlapping their design and production schedules. Frequent communication is key for successful fast-tracking between the architect, engineers and general contractor.

Have your procurement department allow a pre-qualified general contractor to be hired early in the project schedule through a negotiated bid. This way, as the architects and engineers are developing their specifications, the general contractor can be checking on product/equipment costs and lead time as well as aiding the A&E team regarding construct-ability issues. Pre-negotiate the general contractor’s overhead and profit percentages, terms and conditions, insurance requirements, and unit prices for any items that might be part of a future change order.

Pre-constructed components that are fabricated off-site and installed quickly on site can save time in the overall construction schedule. One example would be demountable partitions which are fabricated off-site and installed after the ceiling system and finished floor are installed. This reduces the construction schedule by eliminating the time required by the stud and drywall and eliminates painting most walls. This option makes the most sense for those organizations that have a high staff change and churn rate since demountable partitions are more expensive than stick-built partitions. The ability to modify the configuration of demountable walls in a dynamic environment avoids the disruption of messy demolition and new wall construction. Ultimately, this option pays for itself after several re-configurations. For-profit companies may also benefit from accelerated depreciation for purchasing demountable wall products, similar to furniture depreciation schedules.

The Permit Process:

Most jurisdictions have a method of fast-tracking the permit process. It may depend on the size of the project, such as small projects allowed as a “walk-thru” permit, or Peer Review, where, for a hefty fee, you can have your A&E team meet with a peer review team to review and comment on the A&E drawings, make the drawing revisions, and get a speedy approval from the jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have an “Overtime Permit” approval process. Have your architect check with a permit expediter that specializes in your jurisdiction to get their suggestions, as well as budget costs for their service and the formula for determining permit costs.

In Conclusion:

Fast-tracking a project schedule requires that the procurement process remain flexible and that the benefit of initial costs be viewed for their long-term cost benefits through controlling costs, shortening the project duration and future flexibility for making quick modifications as change is required.

Take the Fast-Track Test:

1.       What is most important to your management when it comes to facilities projects?

a.       _____Saving Time (then consider the above suggestions)

b.       _____Saving Money (then stay with your existing procurement methods if they are saving you money in the initial contract phase-though long-term savings may not be realized)

2.       Are costs for your organization’s projects considered for their initial costs or long-term cost impact?

a.       _____ Initial costs are more important than long-term cost savings (then stay with your existing procurement methods if they are saving you money in the initial contract phase- though long-term savings may not be realized)

b. _____ Long term cost savings and future flexibility are legitimate reasons to argue for changing the rules of procurement and purchasing (then consider the above suggestions)


Is There a Need to Create a Consistent Culture in a Diverse Organization?


Is There a Need to Create a Consistent Culture in a Diverse Organization?

Many years ago, I had two meetings with one organization over the course of one day. The first meeting was in their downtown office. I knew that it would be appropriate for me to wear a suit and tie to that meeting. Later that day, I had a meeting in the same company’s secondary office. They mocked me for being too dressed up for that meeting. Same company, but was it a different culture?

What Makes up Organizational Culture?

As an architectural design firm we have been trained to create spaces that are a reflection of an organization’s culture, but what does that really mean?  There are such things as organizational sub-cultures. The basic foundation of organizational culture is based on the organization’s lived values, which drives their beliefs, behaviors and attitudes.  According to Jennifer Olson, Principal at the Washington, DC-based consulting firm KGO, beliefs drive behaviors.


In a recent joint presentation that Jennifer and I gave at IFMA’s World Workplace conference, Jennifer stated that, “beliefs are nothing more than thoughts that have been repeated over and over until they become ingrained. What is powerful about this fact is knowing that beliefs can be changed. Why? Because thoughts that no longer serve the greater purpose can be substituted with new, more powerful thoughts. Identify the thoughts that support the desired goals. Create a mantra. Start a new movement. Provide people with an opportunity to “buy in”.”


How do people act? How does leadership act? Which behaviors need to change to help us get from where we are to where we want to be?

How do we want to see people act? Start at the top. Which current behaviors are working well and support the new focus and direction? Which ones don’t and need to be substituted? Behaviors can change through training, repetition/practice and reinforcement. Be intentional about the behaviors needed to succeed such as openly communicating, sharing information, following through, generating ideas, stepping up, forging relationships, etc.

Attitudes & Culture

How we feel about things…positive or negative…this influences culture, motivation, overall mood/tone/vibe of the people.

Culture and motivation influence the overall mood and energy of a group, team or organization. Cultivating positive experiences to allow team members to engage and interact can be a game changer. Setting rules of engagement and leading by example can be a great place to start. When teams operate in harmony, you can accomplish more than those fraught with resistance. Amenities and space can attract people to your organization, but culture is the glue that can retain them.

On the flip-side, bad beliefs, behaviors and attitudes can comprise the culture of any organization.

Culture is the glue that holds it all together. It’s a differentiator for any organization.

When beliefs, behaviors and attitudes are in harmony, you can accomplish so much in any organization.

A great workspace, building location, amenities and perks can all attract employees, but it can’t retain them. A great culture can help attract, retain and advance people.

Variations on One Organizational Culture

Given the previous information on what makes up the foundation of an organization’s culture, it is possible to have sub-cultures that may affect the way people dress, from one location to another, and possibly support variations to their space and furniture standards, based on functional needs. Common elements from one location to another usually will be the physical branded image of the organization, to include such things as the logo, application of color and finishes, and overall style of their facility design.  Some organizations  display their vision, mission and values statements, along with corresponding graphic and photographic images, in their public areas, which can be repeated from facility to facility to help re-inforce their organizational culture.

Organizational Culture Test

On a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the best), please rate your organization in the following areas:

  1. _____ Does your organization have stated values that you feel accurately reflect the way your organization is actually managed?

  2. _____Are your organization’s beliefs, encouraged behaviors and attitudes a reflection of its values?

  3. _____Is your organization’s ability to attract and retain the best talent in your organization’s industry a reflection of how well it lives their stated values?

  4. _____ Does your organization do a good job of allowing different sub-cultures while maintaining a core culture?

Test Results:

  • A total score of 4-8 most likely means that your organization has a high turn-over rate and you should keep the dust off your resume

  • A total score of 9-12 means that there is room for improvement and that your management is open to suggestions on how to improve and reinforce its desired culture

  • A score of 13-20 means that you are working with a great organization where each individual is valued for their unique contribution and that the entire organization is working together to achieve the organization’s mission and goals

If you would like to learn more about this subject, please contact me for an e-copy of our booklet on Change Management at


Contradictions in Design 6


Contradictions in Design 6

Democratic vs Autocratic Design Process Pros & Cons


Controlling the needs analysis and design process in any facilities renovation or relocation process is usually a challenge. Many organizations feel that they will lose control of the process if they receive too much input from numerous stakeholders. Feeling this way, they short-cut the process of gaining valuable information from those people who will be living in the new space for a good chunk of their waking hours.  They make assumptions of what the end-user’s needs will be. Many times those assumptions are wrong. If wrong assumptions have been made, it is expensive and disruptive to go back after the move-in to modify space once it is built. On the other hand, some organizations make the process too democratic which may slow down the project while you conduct too many interviews and end-user surveys.

There is a happy medium approach:

Pre-selecting an internal project team with a representative from each department and major support area, who is supportive of the project, has a positive attitude, has the respect of their staff and management and can understand drawings, will always be the successful foundation of any renovation or relocation project.

Once this team is in place, get them familiar with the project goals and objectives, project budget constraints and schedule. They can now become the cheerleaders for the project as well as the voice of reason when dealing with their staff and management.

Conduct a town-hall meeting(s) to discuss the project with the rank and file staff to conduct a project orientation, review the potential benefits of the project, conduct a Q&A session and address any wish list items that may be important to the end-users. Addressing what currently works well in your existing space and what doesn’t work well is valuable feedback that can be addressed at this time. This approach is more effective than sending out an impersonal survey, which could raise people’s expectations or not effectively address specific areas of concerns.

The project team member representatives are also a conduit of information to the project leadership when it comes to relaying important feedback from their staff. They should maintain an open flow of communication with the group that they represent throughout the project.

Giving the End-Users a Say:

Once the basic project design has been vetted for alignment with the project budget and schedule, it is recommended that you receive constructive feedback from the end-users on their choice of design options. This can include finish options, furniture options (through evaluating mock-ups), accessories and seating. We recently went through this process with interested staff at the new site that they are going to move to. This allowed the stakeholders to get a better feel for their future building and the views from the windows. Having color floor plans showing department layouts, visualization renderings, and boards illustrating finish option also help add to the excitement. Allowing voting on finish and furniture options also contributes to a sense of buy-in from the staff.

In Conclusion:

Controlling a semi-democratic process is more time consuming than an autocratic process but will result in across-the-board project buy-in and happier end-users come move-in day as well as fewer client-initiated change orders.

End User Buy-In Tools & Techniques:

Here is a check list of buy-in tools and techniques, mentioned in this article, that you can use to successfully implement a semi-democratic needs analysis:

  • Develop an internal project team made up of representatives from each department and major support areas
  • Get your design professional, who will be developing the design, involved with any meetings and interviews with your project team and end users
  • Kick off the project with town hall meeting(s) orienting the end-users on the project goals, objectives and process
  • Develop visualization renderings and finish boards with finish options to vote on
  • Build mock-ups if you are changing space and/or furniture standards
  • Conduct scheduled site walk-throughs with the end-users and tally votes on preferred options-report the findings
  • Send out regular updates on the progress of the project. Use photos, a live web cam for base building projects and other appropriate visuals
  • For larger, longer term projects, consider utilizing a project management website with limited access for end-users that allows them to see information real-time. Include information on neighborhood amenities


Contradictions in Design 5


Contradictions in Design 5

Achieving a Win-Win Relationship between the Client and Design Professional in Spite of the Odds

This article in my “Contradictions in Design” series addresses an issue that should be important to both the client and their design professionals who they work with. It’s all about getting the level of professional design services that you need and expect, while ensuring that you are paying professional fees that are in-line with the level of expertise that you expect.

What Does the Client Want?

In dealing with clients for the past 40 years, I have come to understand that the following qualities are important to most clients:

Translating the customer’s needs into creative, customized design solutions

  • Deep listening and understanding of the customer’s needs
  • Creative problem solving to build on the client’s vision
  • Presenting design options for the client to choose from
  • Being up to date on the latest products and design trends

Technical competency

  • Accurate and well-coordinated drawings that result in tight contractor bids, faster permit turn-around time, and fewer change orders
  • Knowledgeable about the design/bid/build processes so that the design professional can be the technical advocate for the client’s best interests
  • Keeping the project implementation on schedule and on budget


  • Being able to respond quickly to the client’s requests and team communication
  • Responsive problem solving

What Does the Design Professional Want?

On the other hand, the design professional has needs too, that when met by the client, creates an enjoyable working relationship and a successful project outcome. These expectations can include:

To be trusted and respected by the client

  • Where the client accepts the expert opinion and advice from the design professional
  • Where the client has realistic expectations, especially when it comes to budget and schedule issues

A client who can articulate their vision and be decisive

  • A client who knows what they want and can make quick decisions when presented viable options

A client who is fair and reasonable

  • A client who strives for a win-win solution to any project issue or problem that inevitably come up
  • A client who is as responsive in paying invoices as they are in expecting responsiveness from their design professional during the project design and documentation phases

To be paid a reasonable fee that is commensurate with the level of expertise and experience provided by the design team

  • Having achieved a reasonable profit at the end of the project after considering time and attention spent as well as  the internal costs of the design team members working on the project
  • Having enough professional services fee on the project so that the design firm doesn’t have to nickel and dime the client for any minor scope changes or minor, above scope requests

In Conclusion:

When the customer’s needs and the design professional needs are met on a project, it almost always results in an enjoyable experience for both parties where all the team members are working in the same direction for the benefit of the client. Communication is open and transparent and politics are left at the door. These projects are almost always seen as success stories in the eyes of the client’s management where predetermined success metrics are achieved.

The Win-Win Client Test:

  1. When selecting a design firm, the project team’s qualifications, experience, reputation and fit are more important than selecting the lowest professional fee. (True or False)
  2. When issues arise during the course of implementing a project, I seek a win-win, fair solution. (True of False)
  3. I am articulate when addressing the vision for the project and being decisive in making decisions and approvals. (True or False)
  4. At the start of the project, even before I request a design proposal, I clearly state my expectations of the design professional and clearly define the scope of the project. (True or False)

If you selected “True” as your answer to the four questions above, then you are considered a “client from heaven” which should result in successful project outcomes and a great working relationship with your design team.


Contradictions in Design 4


Contradictions in Design 4

Contradictions in Design vs Construction Costs

"What Your TI Allowance No Longer Buys You"

Matching the end-user’s expectations on a desired level of build-out to the available TI build-out allowance is becoming increasingly more difficult as construction costs continue to rise while TI allowances remain relatively flat. According to a number of commercial real estate brokers and general contractors who I interviewed for this blog, the rising costs of construction has outpaced the minimal increases for TI allowances offered by most landlords. For a typical mid-range level of build-out, the hard and soft costs of a tenant relocation and build-out project can now exceed $125 to $150/RSF while TI allowances have been ranging from $60 to $100/RSF depending on the building location, class of building and the length of lease term.

Construction Cost Increases

Over the past five years, commercial construction costs in the DC metro area have increased by 20% to 25%. Much of that increase has been over the last two years as the economy has heated up and construction activity has increased. The recession from 10 years ago wiped out many small sub-contractors. That market sector has not been totally re-built, which has created a qualified labor shortage in the DC metro area.  Larger sub-contractors have leverage in picking and choosing what projects they bid on and which general contractors they want to work with (usually the general contractors who pay them quickly). This trend has increased labor costs to some degree while material cost increases have been the reason for much of the cost increases. Petroleum-based products and steel have been the source of much of the material cost increases. Looming tariffs on imported steel and other construction materials are only going to increase construction costs in the near-term.

What Can Be Done?

The easy answer is tenants will just have to pay out of their own pocket to make up the difference to get the level of build-out that they can live with for the duration of their lease. Other options can also be considered in their leasing strategy such as:

  • Some Landlords will do a “turn-key” build-out where they control the architect, engineers, and general contractor as well as the value-engineering decisions. This can reduce overall soft and hard costs but leaves the end-user out of much of the decision-making and quality control process.
  • A longer lease term with no early termination rights can result in a higher, negotiated TI allowance.
  • Value engineering some materials and equipment that have comparable quality as a more expensive alternative can be driven by your architect and engineers on your behalf.
  •  Have a realistic project schedule with some slack time built in to allow for time to prepare schematic A&E drawings with pricing notes and have pre-qualified general contractors prepare budget pricing. This will allow for the project scope and potential upgrades to be adjusted prior to completion of the design and drawings. This can make early value engineering less painful a process.
  • Allow enough time for permitting, contractor bidding and build-out, so that general contractor overtime is avoided, can also result in an economy of construction costs.
  • Using open-shop, non-union sub-contractors whenever possible can save over 25% of construction costs. In locations where union contractors are required, using open-shop subs for those trades who do not have to be working on-site for long periods of time, might be an option.

Best Practice Exercise:

  1. Work backwards from your expectations regarding the quality of build-out that you are trying to achieve. Determine the probable range in costs for that build-out by working early-on with a general contractor and architect. Consider all soft and hard costs in developing a conceptual budget based on current industry standard pricing.
  2. Work with your real estate broker in developing a strategy to get the allowance that you need to achieve your financial objectives in covering as much of the soft and hard costs as possible. Determine where you have the most leverage in your marketplace to negotiate a favorable deal.
  3. Make sure that you have all the tools you need before final lease negotiations. That may include architectural test fits, conceptual pricing, and an engineering evaluation of your short-listed buildings. This will enable you to identify potential costs that the landlord should pay for outside of your allowance. These issues could include such things as code compliance upgrades, new light fixtures that meet energy code requirements, electrical service upgrades, ADA compliance issues or mechanical equipment replacement.


Contradictions in Design 3


Contradictions in Design 3

Personalization of Work Space vs Standardization

One of the contradictions that I constantly see with my clients, when it comes to design initiatives, is the desire to give their staff what they want while trying to simplify their space, furniture and specifications standards. The organization typically wants to achieve more flexibility, when it comes to making future changes to their space, as well as to create an economy of scale for the initial purchase of furniture, accessories and fixtures.

In this day and age of telework, hoteling and the adoption of an activity-based work model, this compromise is easier to achieve. The territorial space standards of dedicated workspaces are vanishing from many organizations and being replaced by shared workspaces. This paradigm shift has been slowly evolving with some organizations and happening overnight with others. According to Kay Sargent, a workplace thought leader with HOK, “employees can have the sense that they belong to the organization and its culture by creating neighborhoods where there is a collective “we” personality.  The “we” team personality can be reinforced through team images on shared information walls while personalization can be achieved through images of activities that the individual likes to participate in or images of family members or pets on their  locker and laptop screen.”

Another way to create a sense that the individual has a say in their workspace is to create a survey that asks questions about desired amenities and then publish the results. When management responds to the desires of the majority, that reinforces the “we” mentality and shows that management is looking out for the good of the majority.

This paradigm shift also requires employees to give up most of their personal stuff and unnecessary storage. Many organizations have realized that file cabinets have become “paper coffins” where 80% of the material that goes into a file cabinet never is used again. With the high cost of real estate, the 9 square feet of space that a file cabinet takes up can become a substantial savings when multiplied by the number of file cabinets that can be purged throughout an organization.  Kay Sargent says “that purging an office can be liberating for the employee and a cathartic experience.”

Consider these initiatives to create a “we” team environment:

  • Out of office team-building activities or retreats
  • Regular team brain storming sessions where titles are left outside of the conference room
  • An appreciation board where team members leave thank-you messages for other team members recognizing their help or contribution to the team
  • Creation of a team name
  • Hold celebrations for team accomplishments and efforts
  • Scheduled down-time for individual thinking and team brainstorming