Three Questions Owners Should Ask About Their Projects

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Benjamin Franklin


During the early 90's I was in high school and looking for a summer job.

I was bored of working at the local clothing retail store because I wanted to do something "better" and not push apparel promotions on middle school kids. I dialed up the internet and found a marketing opportunity that promised to fill my days with excitement and my bank account with cash.  "Yes!" I thought, this is "better"! All I had to do was make a (ahem...) small investment in inventory.

I will spare the gruesome details, but I failed, miserably. Most of the lessons I learned from that endeavor are applicable to our building clients (and really just to life in general), so here are some questions you can ask before starting a building project for your business.

These will save you from some of the difficulties we often see. Take a look!



1.     Why Am I Doing This?

I learned quickly that I’m not a natural salesman, and my new business wasn’t much different than selling clothes in the mall. The only thing that changed was the product and I was still left with my shortcomings! At the beginning I attributed improvement to my life from making this change, but then ended up in a worse position because of my failure to properly analyze what an improvement would actually look like.

After doing a preliminary budget for a project a few years ago, the estimated amount was ~20% higher than the client’s projection. In discussing the details, the only way to reduce the budget was to significantly change or reduce the scope of work, which the client did not want.  We advised the client to review his scope for the project and list, in detail, how each one would advance his business interests. In reviewing the list, there were several items that offered no marginal value and were easily changed or removed to meet a more reasonable budget.

It’s easy to get swept away by the changes you can make (and costs you can add) during construction: let’s do this, and THIS, AND THIS!! Make it a priority to specifically identify how each construction goal is going to make your business “better”. Everyone has a different “better” for their business, but in most cases it helps to be as quantitative as possible – how is this going to increase revenue, reduce costs, improve efficiency, attract customers, or help the community?  As a simple example, one of our clients needed to reduce the amount of dust cleanup caused by one of their machines. By specifically addressing that one concern they were able to spend a measured number of hours more manufacturing and less time cleaning up.

If you find yourself saying, “This would be great”, “We’d love to do that”, “How about this?”, it’s time to progress to specific questions, like “How *exactly* will this bring in more customers?”, “How *exactly* will this help our employees be more efficient?”, “How *exactly* will this streamline our workflow?”.  Those types of questions should be followed up with even greater scrutiny to see if they are in line with your goals and if they bear out in reality. Occasionally we have clients who have money to spend and just want something to “look better”, but we more often see greater satisfaction when construction projects align with improvements that lead to “better” business.



2.     What is my budget?  No, really.

Following my initial investment in my summer business, I had no money left to pursue or satisfy other requirements to run my new enterprise. Clients often come to us with million dollar projects they expect to be built for thousands. We've found that many clients underestimate their building costs by 25-50%, mainly because projecting down the cost of the capital project is the only way to make the investment feasible. This is a crucial part of the planning process that cannot be achieved by hope. Make it a priority to ask the hard financial and funding questions that allow projects to move forward without running out of money, including planning for the unexpected.

Not only do we often see projections underestimating the overall cost, we also regularly see the responsibility falling to the contractor for achieving that cost as the final measure. The design and construction team can often suggest materials and methods that reduce the cost impact of overall construction goals, but if you find yourself continually facing funding and budget issues to obtain the design you want, it's always best to readjust project expectations prior to commencement and not grind to a halt in the middle of a project.



3.     Who Is Helping Me?

When I launched my new summer venture I went alone, completely alone (to failure). This is not a good plan for a 16 year old and not a good plan for most people making a foray into commercial construction. I should have talked to my friends and contacts, asked questions to people with experience, did more research on the venture, and just overall spent more time figuring out if it was a good idea. After doing that and asking the two questions above, ask this question about your project: What are the most important criteria for choosing who I want to work with?

For many, the most important criteria at the beginning of the project is the lowest price, and then as the project proceeds the criteria suddenly re-prioritizes to scheduling and quality. It’s important to keep in mind that those criteria are not independent of one another. This is common in other industries as well, but the old adage usually rings true: You get what you pay for. If you approach your project expecting to pay for a Ford and receive a Porsche you will be severely disappointed. If you have a high expectation of one of those criteria it is important to adjust your expectations of the other two.

This is where a good design and a supportive construction team up front will help you work through those expectations and find the proper balance that you will be most comfortable with for the project. There will be continual discussions with your team throughout your project, and finding a group that you can work well with is of utmost importance. Don’t delay in defining your *real* expectations for the project, and then base your design and construction choices on that - it will go a long way in bringing out the best.

Let us know how it goes!