Contradictions in Design 4

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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.

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Contradictions in Design 3

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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

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Contradictions in Design 2

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Contradictions in Design 2

Reducing Your Footprint while Creating a Rich Culture and Engaged Staff

Over the past 30 years, most organizations have shrunk their real estate footprint in order to decrease their operating costs. They have done that initially by reducing their closed and open office space standards dimensions, increased the ratio of open office space vs closed offices and decreased the number of staff receiving dedicated workspace through implementing telework/hoteling programs.  

At the same time that we are witnessing the shrinking of square feet per employee metric we are also seeing a groundswell of new initiatives driven by  management desiring a higher level of  staff engagement, more innovation through creative collaboration and the creation of a strong organizational culture which will help support the attraction and retention of talent.

According to Jennifer Olson, Principal of KGO, a project management, relocation and change management firm headquartered in Washington, DC, the antidote for these two opposing goals is achieved by creating a culture to support the intended behaviors and required mindsets. That starts with re-training and re-tooling management with new management skills, all aligned with the organizational policies, practices and procedures. This takes place long before a new workspace is designed to support the desired behaviors.

The Team-Based Leadership Model

Management can be trained to operate in a team-based leadership model where teams are assembled based on each individual’s skill sets, personal strengths and experience. In order to achieve the desired goals, it is critical to get the team members on board with the team mission and vision, with a clear understanding of each team members’ unique role, and accept accountability to accomplish their part by specific milestone dates.

HR and Organizational Policies

HR can also play a vital role in supporting this model with professional development initiatives. Clearly stating and promoting organizational policies and values that support the desired behaviors while breaking down organizational silos and having cross-departmental communications channels also helps achieve these desired results.

Conclusion

This contradiction in design is achievable but it takes a new management paradigm combined with policies and space design that will support the new management processes.

Action Step

Take a look at where your organization’s disconnects are when it comes to desired behaviors and organizational leadership by answering these questions: One a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being low and 5 being high)

  • My organization’s leadership and management have defined and live the organization’s mission, vision and values. That filters down to empowering each team and its team members in the organization to know their unique role. ______
  • My management knows how to manage remote staff while maintaining a strong connection and culture to include both remote and in-office staff. _______
  • Our office environment supports creative collaboration and innovation by providing a good mix of collaborative spaces as well as heads-down work space for individual work. _______

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Contradictions in Design

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Contradictions in Design

My series of blogs for 2018 will be focusing on the theme of “Contradictions in Design”. I will be exploring a number of controversial issues where there are competing end-results that are often at cross purposes with each other. These disparate approaches and options must be resolved, or at least a compromise solution reached, in order for your facilities projects to be seen as successful by most stakeholders.  The topics I will be covering are common to a lot of projects that I have been involved with over the past 40 years. I will also be tapping into the thoughts, opinions and case study solutions from many of today’s leading workplace strategy thought leaders.

Some of the topics I will explore in this year’s blogs may include, but may not be limited to some of the following topics:

  • The desire of management to reduce its real estate footprint while also wanting to provide a rich culture, engaged staff and a highly collaborative work environment
  • Personalization of workspace and individual worker’s control of their personal work environment while trying to create simplified workspace standards to maximize flexibility and speed of change
  • Design to meet an already tight budget while creating a workspace that will meet your needs and be maintainable for the duration of your occupancy
  • Increasingly compressed project schedules and design fees while wanting a thoroughly thought-out design scheme, thorough/accurate construction documents and a high level of involvement from your design team members
  • Utilizing a democratic design process to gather the needs of the staff while trying to simplify  decision making into an autocratic process
  • The perceived need to create a consistent culture and brand throughout a dispersed organization while respecting the culture of different office locations and the unique personality inherent in diverse departments
  • The pros and cons of competitive bids vs negotiated bids while working with your purchasing and legal departments to customize its approach based on the unique constraints and needs of the project
  • The pros and cons of stick-built construction vs offsite, pre-manufactured products to address the needs of the end-users and the project schedule and budget constraints

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Successful Project Close Out

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Successful Project Close Out

If there is one phase of any project that is frequently ignored or reduced it’s the project close-out phase. By the time most teams get to this phase, they are worn out and ready to either go on vacation or go on to another project. You can’t measure the success of a project, or the lessons learned that can be applied to future projects, without having gone through the project close-out phase. The following items are several steps that result in the development of helpful tools that become a useful reference for future projects. They can also be the basis of positive PR for your team to put in front of management:

The End-User Survey:

Before you relocate the end-users or stakeholders, send them a brief survey that measures their level of satisfaction with their existing work environment. The questions should be based on issues that you believe will be improvements that the new space will provide compared to the end-user’s existing space.  Common issues that the questions may address could be topics such as space standards, furniture standards, aesthetics, lighting, support areas, HVAC comfort, as well as visual and acoustic privacy.  After they have moved to and acclimated to their new space, those same questions can be asked again, and the results tabulated.  Survey Monkey or other similar web-based tool. Have them rate each issue on a scale of 1 through 5 or (poor to excellent). If the project was a success in the eyes of the end-users, you should see a significant difference in the numerical tally between the two surveys. Use this survey to create metrics for the project that can placed into a memo for management to review. Blow your horn to illustrate your value to your organization.

IPOR/FPOR (Initial Plan of Record/Final Plan of Record):

It is important to track the initial budget item costs against the preliminary budget estimates and the final costs of the project so that you can justify project budget vs actual variances as well as to use as reference for future, similar projects.  This document also assists in developing a lessons-learned document. Make sure you fill in the remarks column with any additional information about the reasons for the variances. Other project metrics that might come in handy in the future can be documented in this spreadsheet such as square feet per person or construction costs per square feet.

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Best Practices/Lessons Learned Document:

Create a document that reviews the project successes and the reasons for those successes. Where is there room for improvement for your next projects? What processes or steps can be eliminated, which processes should be refined? Continual improvement should be the focus.

If you would like to see how project close out metrics can be incorporated into improving your future projects, please contact Rich Fanelli at 703-563-0379 or rfanelli@fmstudios.com

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       Why Do We Re-Brand?   By Richard Fanelli, AIA, CFM, IFMA Fellow Principal/FM Studios  It has been 8 years since our last major re-brand, but a lot has changed since then. Since starting the firm in 1985 as Intraplan, Inc. we have changed our image 3 times and each time in an effort to move forward while marking a turning point in the company. Now, we are excited to be launching our new look and a new name: FM Studios.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


     Why do we change names and logos? Some might say “To keep things fresh and contemporary.” But really, we change to meet the needs of our clients and to represent our own growth as a company. When we transitioned from Intraplan, Inc to Fanelli McClain Design Studios in 1996, it marked the year that our MEP engineering firm came into our office. That move defined a change in the way we served our clients and the way we thought of ourselves.  In 2011, at the beginning edge of social media, we shortened our name down to Fanelli McClain. Many of our long-lasting customers already knew us by name and felt like old friends. We wanted to bring that feeling to every new client that entered our renowned architecture and engineering design process. A simplified identity made sense for us and for our clients.  Now, as we approach our 33rd year in operation, we are officially transitioning to FM Studios. Many of you already knew us as FM Studios from our website to our email addresses. Today, we have become FM Studios to highlight that while Sonny McClain and I started this firm, it is bigger than us. FM Studios is a full-scale experience from our key in-house engineering team to the people-focused work that we create.  The move to FM Studios is a change to represent our future in architecture and design. It allows us to boast about our incredible team of hardworking architects, interior designers, and engineers with a new style that keeps us at the top of our game. Creating fantastic workplaces that meet our client’s specific needs is what FM Studios is all about. We look forward to continuing working with you on what matters most to you, under our new name.

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Why Do We Re-Brand?

By Richard Fanelli, AIA, CFM, IFMA Fellow
Principal/FM Studios

It has been 8 years since our last major re-brand, but a lot has changed since then. Since starting the firm in 1985 as Intraplan, Inc. we have changed our image 3 times and each time in an effort to move forward while marking a turning point in the company. Now, we are excited to be launching our new look and a new name: FM Studios.

FM_Blog_Logov2.jpg

Why do we change names and logos? Some might say “To keep things fresh and contemporary.” But really, we change to meet the needs of our clients and to represent our own growth as a company. When we transitioned from Intraplan, Inc to Fanelli McClain Design Studios in 1996, it marked the year that our MEP engineering firm came into our office. That move defined a change in the way we served our clients and the way we thought of ourselves.

In 2011, at the beginning edge of social media, we shortened our name down to Fanelli McClain. Many of our long-lasting customers already knew us by name and felt like old friends. We wanted to bring that feeling to every new client that entered our renowned architecture and engineering design process. A simplified identity made sense for us and for our clients.

Now, as we approach our 33rd year in operation, we are officially transitioning to FM Studios. Many of you already knew us as FM Studios from our website to our email addresses. Today, we have become FM Studios to highlight that while Sonny McClain and I started this firm, it is bigger than us. FM Studios is a full-scale experience from our key in-house engineering team to the people-focused work that we create.

The move to FM Studios is a change to represent our future in architecture and design. It allows us to boast about our incredible team of hardworking architects, interior designers, and engineers with a new style that keeps us at the top of our game. Creating fantastic workplaces that meet our client’s specific needs is what FM Studios is all about. We look forward to continuing working with you on what matters most to you, under our new name.

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Controlling Project Risks

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Controlling Project Risks

Controlling Project Risks

By: Richard Fanelli 

A potential client once asked me at a sales presentation, “What do you see as our greatest risk on this project?”  After losing my “deer in the headlights” look in my eyes, I responded with some extemporaneous answer about budget or schedule. He didn’t look satisfied with the answer. Now I try to do more research and digging before I go into a sales presentation to find out what are the major concerns that are keeping my prospective clients up at night before they take on a major facilities project.

It takes more than one person on a project team to determine what the potential risks are. This can be done by having a brain-storming session of all the higher-level management and internal PMs who have previously been involved with major facilities projects.  Asking the question…”What would happen if Murphy’s Law took over the project? Asking these next two questions are critical for planning a course of action:

  1. What is the probability of this issue or occurrence happening? (give it a scale of 1 to 5; 1 being low and 5 being high)
  2. What would be the level of severity if that issue or occurrence actually did occur? (give it a scale of 1 to 5; 1 being low and 5 being high)

If there are any issues that ranked a 5 for probability and a 5 for severity, then assign your best and most experienced project team member to that risk.

Risk avoidance is the ability to elude the risk through experienced team members taking the proper steps to bi-pass the potential risk. An example of this would be the potential of the project being completed later than the “drop-dead” completion date due to equipment lead time issues. This can be avoided by the owner or tenant ordering the long lead equipment directly if the general contractor has not yet been selected. Having the right team members assigned to this risk is critical to avoid this risk.

Risk mitigation is knowing that a potential risk is unavoidable and preparing the project team and stakeholders to act to lessen the severity of the risk. One common example of this is to have a contingency pot of money to draw from in the event of change orders. (see my April 12, 2017 blog on “Creating a Realistic Project Budget”) or to plan for a peer review permit to shorten the permit approval process if schedule is the critical issue. Another risk mitigation task might be to assign a secondary team member as a back-up to a critical team member, should that critical team member not be able to perform their assigned responsibilities during the course of the project. Similar to that of an understudy for a key player in a play.

This risk matrix can be used when evaluating project risks and their severity:

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Controlling Project Changes and Change Orders

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Controlling Project Changes and Change Orders

If the proper ground rules are established at the beginning of the project, they should provide a decision-making structure that will discourage changes and limit change orders. There are four major reasons for change orders. Each of these reasons can be dramatically reduced or eliminated if the right guidelines and actions are taken throughout the implementation of the project.

Reason #1: Client-Initiated Changes

Controlling end-user design changes is often fraught with politics. The best way to limit this major reason for changes is to make the end-user initiating the change responsible for all costs relating to the change(s). Creating a formal process of sign-off approvals for every major deliverable helps to support the charge-back of changes to the initiating department. Sign-offs for the programming report, final space plan, finishes, and construction documents are typical deliverables that should be signed-off on from all major departments who have stakeholders involved in the project. The end-users also need to understand that the later in the process they make a change, the exponentially more expensive that change becomes.

Reason #2: Field Conditions

Never assume that “as-built” architectural and engineering are accurate. Architects and engineers must always field verify existing, visible conditions above and below the ceiling in order to know what conditions might influence how the space is designed and to also ensure that the demolition plans are accurate. There are those situations where you might have to perform some exploratory demolition in order to find all hidden conditions. The Tenant will require access to the site and be willing to incur some up-front demolition costs long before a general contractor is selected.

Reason #3: Errors and Omissions in Architectural and Engineering Construction Documents

The third largest reason for change orders is that the architectural and engineering construction documents are inaccurate, incomplete or not well-coordinated. If the architects and engineers are in different locations, it may not be easy for them to effectively communicate and coordinate as often as they need to in order to create a well-coordinated design and a “tight” set of drawings. In my office, we are spoiled by having our engineers only steps away from our architects and designers which makes it easier to have that high level of communication and coordination throughout the entire A&E design and documentation process. An established quality control process for reviewing and revising all deliverables before they go out to the client, the jurisdiction and the contractor is vital to avoiding most errors and omissions. We have a three-step process with the last step being a “fresh eyes” review from an experienced project manager who was not involved in the project.

Reason #4: Regulatory Interpretation and Building Code Compliance

There are a myriad of building codes that must be met in order for a design and set of A&E drawings to go through the permitting process without having the process stopped for non-compliance. It is always a best practice to meet with the fire marshal or a jurisdiction’s plan reviewer to get an initial ruling on any code compliance issues that required interpretation. Even if the jurisdiction charges for the Fire Marshal’s time, it is money well spent to avoid the permit process being delayed or stopped for non-compliance. Even when the drawings sail through the permitting process, that doesn’t guarantee that the jurisdiction’s field inspector might rule on a code compliance issue differently and require you to make a change to the build-out during construction. Common compliance issues include such issues as common path or travel compliance, adequate toilet room fixture counts, and ADA compliance, just to name a few.

Check List to Limit Change Orders:

  1. Is there a system set up for sign-offs of deliverables for all affected departments?
  2. Is there strong project leadership to communicate and enforce charge-backs for any end-user-initiated changes?
  3. Do your architects and engineer teams have a successful history of working effectively together?
  4. Do the architects and engineers have a process in place to review each other’s design and drawings to ensure client design issues have been addressed and that the A&E drawings are well-coordinated?
  5. Has a code compliance review been done prior to submitting the space plan to the client?

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Effective Team Communication

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Effective Team Communication

Team Leadership

In my 40 years of working on facilities renovation and relocation projects, I have had the honor to work with a number of effective project team leaders. Many of them were facilities managers representing the interests of their management. They all had something in common. They knew how to establish an atmosphere of trust and how to create a sense of shared purpose and team synergy. They were organized, they established clear project goals and objectives and they knew how to guide their team throughout the project while never losing sight of those critical project success metrics.  Showing respect for the other team members’ expertise and opinion is also critical in creating this atmosphere of trust. Re-considering a long-held belief based on a team member’s expertise and experience goes a long way to illustrating that respect.

Establishing expectations

Another key attribute to effective team leadership is establishing quality standards and communicating those expectations to the other team members. This is easier when you work with the same proven team members from one project to another, but more difficult when you are working with new team members. Quality standards can include everything to meeting deadlines, having complete, coordinated and accurate work submissions. Expectations can also include being proactive in your dealings with other team member, outside vendors and consultants as well as effectively communicating with other team members.

Defined approval process and sign-offs

Many projects get off track because there is no defined review and approval process that is established between the project leadership and the stakeholders or end-users. The project stakeholders usually have a project completion date in mind, whether it is a wish date or a critical date. It is vitally important for the team leader to communicate with the end-users that in order to achieve that date, that certain key milestone dates need to me met, which includes a specific number of days for their review and sign-off indicating their approval. They also need to understand that if they make any further changes to the project design or deliverables, that the critical completion date won’t be met and that they will have to incur any additional soft costs for revisions to documents or hard costs for demolition and construction.

Working in Virtual Teams

For larger, long term projects where team members may be brought in from remote locations and regular face to face meetings may be too expensive or impractical, creating an effective virtual team work environment supported by the right technology tools will be critical. Put communications on the agenda at the beginning of the project. Agree upfront on the when and how the team should communicate.  Be mindful of time zone differences so that no team members are adversely effected by the planned time of remote project meetings. Kick-off the project with a face to face meeting where team members can get to know each other better and create a personal connection before they have to work remotely with each other. Consider technology tools such as “WebX” for conference calls or “Go to Meeting” where visuals are important. Consider creating a project management web site which can act as a central repository for all project documents. Some of the most popular project management web-based tools that work well for facilities-related projects are Project Center and Basecamp. Microsoft SharePoint is also a good tool but it needs to be customized on a project by project basis for a facilities project type.

Smaller projects can utilize virtual team meetings in order to reduce the cost and time required for face to face meetings. It is not unusual for projects teams to meet virtually every other meeting, especially during the construction phase of a project. The most important thing is to have regular team meetings at predictable intervals so that it gets onto every team member’s schedule. Asking for agenda items from the project team members, sending out an agenda in advance of the meeting and following up with a timely meeting report with assigned action items are also critical tools for effective team communication.

In Closing

Be respectful of your team members’ time. If a team member is not active during certain phases of a project, there is no reason to request their attendance during a meeting where they are inactive. Let them know in advance that team members will cycle in and out of a project depending on their responsibilities and activities over the course of the project so that they don’t take a non-invite to a meeting personally. 

My Communications Check List:

  • All team members know their areas of responsibility and know what is expected of them and their critical milestone dates for deliverables and approvals
  • All project team members understand the goals and objectives of the project as well as the project success metrics
  • Regular team meetings have been set up on specific day and time each week. Invites are sent out for these meetings to all relevant team members
  • All team members understand my preferred methods of communication and the turn-around time that I expect for responses

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Creating a Realistic Project Schedule

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Creating a Realistic Project Schedule

Creating a Realistic Project Schedule

One of the basic metrics of a successful project is completing the project on-schedule. This can be even more difficult than bringing the project in on budget since time has a way of slipping away unless it is carefully managed and controlled. Any number of team members can miss a critical path submission date and throw off the entire project schedule and completion date.

Is the Completion Date Critical?

One approach to developing a project schedule is to work backwards from the desired project completion date in order to determine when the project should start. If the quoted project completion date is not realistic, wave the red flag immediately because bad news doesn’t get better. Research the source and reason for the completion date. The first step in creating a project schedule is to ensure that it is realistic in the first place. I prefer to start with the creation of a forward-pass schedule consisting of a work breakdown structure (WBS) list of tasks, that must be completed along the critical path, broken down by project phase.  Assign a realistic duration for each task and link the tasks along the critical path by assigning a predecessor. Always include realistic review, comments and revision turn-around times for each deliverable. Once you have created this forward-pass schedule, along with the predecessor links, you will understand what the realistic duration of the project is. You can then compare this forward pass schedule’s duration with that of the backwards pass approach. If you find that the backwards pass schedule with the fixed completion date is substantially shorter than the forward pass schedule, then you will need to educate the source of the critical completion date. Let them know what the potential cost premium would be to meet that desired completion date and the potential compromise on quality would be if they decide to fast-track the project. 9 times out of 10 you will find that the stated completion date isn’t as critical as you were first told.

Get Input From the Core Team Members to Determine Durations

Gain support from your in-house and outsourced project team members by getting their input on the turnaround time required for their area of responsibility before you present the initial project schedule. The last thing that you want to do is to create any ill will with team members by telling them that they have less time than what they need to address their tasks.

For Big Unknowns Beyond Your Control-Do Your Homework

One of the critical tasks that is in most facilities project schedules, that is beyond your control, is the permit review and approval time. All jurisdictions have a slightly different rules and regulations for their permit process as well as options for fast-tracking the permit process. My recommendation is to speak to a permit expeditor that specializes in that jurisdiction to find out the probable turn-around times based on the size of your project, the time of year it will be submitted for permit and what the options and costs would be for a standard filed permits vs fast-tracking the permit. Many jurisdictions will let you do a demo and framing permit while the filed permit drawings are in for review. Peer review is also an option with many jurisdictions, which can shave several weeks off the permit process for an additional fee.

What Can I Do If the Schedule Slips Along the Critical Path?

Just because a task is on the critical path doesn’t mean that other linked tasks can’t be adjusted to make up for the prior task that took longer than what was scheduled. Many times these other linked tasks can be shortened if the team member(s) responsible for the later task(s) feel that they can compress their tasks that are coming up. People tend to be conservative when they initially quote a turn-around time for their areas of responsibility.

What Else Might Affect the Project Schedule?

As the project scope and specifications become better defined, you could run into a situation where a long lead-time item has been specified that won’t fit into the project schedule. That can be accounted for in the initial project schedule timeline by one of two options:

  • Re-specify an alternate specification with a shorter lead-time
  • Fast track the ordering of the long lead time item by not waiting for the drawings and specifications to be finalized. This can be done by the project Owner or by the general contractor if they are brought in early in the project, usually as a negotiated bid

The following items are commonly missed in the preparation of preliminary project schedules. Check your schedule against these issues:

  • Review and approval times of deliverables before proceeding to the next step in the project
  • Realistic turn-around times for working on and revising the deliverables
  • Including the turn-around time for a minor consultant whose work will affect the completion of a major consultant (i.e. a structural engineering study before the architect can finalize their design)
  • Flood control review in the permitting process if your building is located in a floor plain
  • Health review in the permitting process if you plan to have a food preparation facility where cooking is required
  • Getting the audio/video (AV) consultant involved early in the design process so that revisions won’t have to be made to the architectural and engineering construction documents due to the AV design

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Creating a Realistic Project Budget

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Creating a Realistic Project Budget

Two of the most critical metrics to any successful project is bringing it in on budget and on schedule. You don’t achieve these two major goals by accident. They are planned for from the beginning of any project. It starts with a general framework based on the project manager’s experience doing similar types of projects of a similar size and scope. Project costs, at the early stages of project planning, should be kept as a range of numbers, rather than a specific number or cost per square foot. Any specific number that is quoted early on in the planning phase of the project will be remembered and cast in stone (most likely that number will come back to haunt you).  As I tell my students at George Mason University and IFMA: keep a database of project costs to refer to for future projects (taking into consideration inflation and geographic factors).

Cost per (Useable) Square Foot or Cost per Person:

This can be based on projects of a similar size and similar scope of work based on your database. If you don’t have a database to refer to, ask trusted professionals in your network and take an average of those numbers.  Influential criteria that will influence your conceptual budget include: 

  • Project size
  • Project schedule (reasonable vs fast track)
  • Project scope and level of build-out, upgrades (Building standard vs high-end)
  • Project phases (1 phase vs multiple phases)
  • Location of the project (Downtown vs suburbs)
  • Union vs Non-Union labor requirements
  • Building infrastructure upgrades needed (if any)
  • Non-construction-related costs identified (i.e. furniture, equipment, AV, cabling, signage, artwork, plants, moving expenses, soft costs for A&E services and project management services)

Once a realistic, conceptual project budget range has been established, include it in a project scope statement that defines the project scope, the project goals and objectives, the internal and outsourced project team members needed, along with a conceptual project schedule (to be addressed in the next blog article). Submit this document to the project champion (executive who will be responsible for the project) so that the document can be formally approved by management.

As the project is developed and defined, a pricing benchmark can be established through the preparation of preliminary A&E pricing plans:

  • Preliminary Pricing Plans: Based on a final space plan with descriptive notes referencing specific, proposed upgrades. A preliminary power/communications plan, reflected ceiling/lighting plan and schematic mechanical plan can be included in the preliminary pricing plans. The more information, the better the pricing accuracy. This package is sometimes referred to as a schematic drawing package or 30% drawings. Value engineering to the project scope can be done after the preliminary pricing is completed without major revisions to the A&E drawings.
  • Pricing check at 60% and 90% of drawing completion: Budget and scope fine-tuning can occur as the drawings become better defined. If pricing is checked at 60% and 90% then the construction costs shouldn’t be a surprise when 100% A&E drawings are bid or priced out. Note: a great resource for incremental pricing checks are General contractors who have been pre-qualified to bid the project as either a negotiated bid by one general contractor or multiple general contractors for a competitive bid.

Project Budget Reality Check:

  1. Has the project budget been established by management as an arbitrary, not to exceed figure based on a defined scope, certain expectations and level of quality or is the figure somewhat flexible based on your conceptual budget pricing exercise?
  2. Is there a project champion (executive) who is experienced in heading up similar types of projects that will represent you and your team’s interests?
  3. Are there sufficient resources to implement and complete this project? (i.e. internal staff dedicated to the project and financial resources to hire qualified consultants and cover all other hard and soft costs including a contingency to cover the costs of any potential change orders?)
  4. Does management have a process in place to get input and feedback from the end users and to control end-user change requests so that project change orders can be controlled?

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Creating the Foundation for a Successful Renovation or Relocation Project

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Creating the Foundation for a Successful Renovation or Relocation Project

Understand the Decision-Making Structure

All in-sourced and outsourced team members need to understand the politics of the organization and how major and minor decisions will be made. Understanding this structure will help the team members to understand the project goals, objectives and priorities. It will also give the team members an idea on who must be pleased with the final results and what those results should be. It creates a “filter” that affects decision-making from the start to the completion of the project.

Effective Information Gathering Techniques

A project charter, or a project objectives statement, should be prepared that describes the project, the justification for the project, the project goals and objectives and addresses the conceptual budget and schedule. Once management, or the board of directors, has blessed the project, it is time to start the top-down programming process.

With larger, more complex projects, it always helps to hold a “visioning” session with the key organizational decision-makers. The facilitator will walk the participants through a number of key, open-ended questions which should elicit a description of the ideal outcomes and project success metrics. Many times, this session includes a mind-mapping exercise that produces a free-flowing graphic depiction of what project success looks like.

Also with larger projects, conducting a kick-off meeting with the selected internal team members, who will be representing all the functional group stakeholders, will give you an opportunity to introduce the internal and external team members and review the project goals and objectives as well as orient the team members to the programming, or information gathering, process that they will be a part of. Distributing and reviewing a “Pre-programming Questionnaire” will make the programming interviews much more productive.

When conducting the interviews, it is important for the manager to attend all the sessions to help screen the information being received for validity and adherence to acceptable standards. The interviewer should use open-ended (who, what, why, where and how) questions to gather the richest information. Make sure that current, or future, space standards have been updated and validated before starting the interviews. The unit per usable square feet standards will be used in conjunction with the headcount by level and by department in order to arrive at the assignable and usable square footage figures.

Checklist for Project Start-Ups:

  • My CEO or President has signed off on a project charter or project objectives statement
  • A realistic, conceptual budget and schedule has been developed and approved by upper management
  • I have the right mix and number of internal management team members and qualified outsourced consultants on the team
  • I have developed updated space standards and have gotten management approval for the new space standards
  • If we are incorporating a telework strategy, we have determined the ratio of staff to dedicated office space, shared office space and hoteling space is needed to meet our telework objectives

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