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 rfanelli@fmstudios.com.


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


Contradictions in Design 2


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.


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. _______


Contradictions in Design


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


Successful Project Close Out


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.

Copy of Copy of IPOR-FPOR-blank.jpg

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


       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.


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.


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


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?