program it again!


the beginning

Your project began a while ago. Remember? Your architectural team asked you a lot of questions, probably using some version of a questionnaire that was distributed to the many stakeholders involved in your project. There were interviews and meetings. You told them how you would be using the designed space, who would be using the space, when the space would be used and by how many, what time of day the space would be used, what you wanted the space to look, feel, sound like. And probably a whole lot more. This was called programming and it was a bit grueling and probably kind of boring. But your architectural team pushed for answers. You were glad when it was over and you began to see renderings and samples of what your newly designed space would look like and how it would solve the problem you needed solved. You felt the adrenaline rise anticipating the completion of your project.


Then there were delays. Maybe the project would cost more than you had budgeted. Or your local jurisdiction had some issues that took months, or even years, to resolve. Maybe there were stakeholders who weren’t happy with the current design which resulted in a redesign, and maybe another. Perhaps the stakeholders changed and new stakeholders had questions that hadn’t yet been resolved. There are more reasons for delays than there are for projects to begin and complete on time…expect delays.

for example

I might be the most unpopular parent in my local school district right now. Sometime around 2002 our district began planning for a new outdoor stadium at the high school. With a toddler and a 2nd grader, this was way off my radar. One delay apparently led to another, and construction has not yet begun on the stadium project. This year the bond measures needed to finance the project passed and the project is now picking up speed. Designs were created, then re-created and last week there was a meeting. Parents and local residents were invited. I now have a daughter in her third year at university and a high school junior. I attended the meeting.

One of the main goals of the project has always been to build a field that could be used year round. In 2002 artificial turf was deemed the best solution. In 2015, with many turf fields already installed, we are beginning to learn there are some very good reasons to question the use of turf. And in 2015 we have a whole new set of stakeholders, both student athletes and their parents, who have never been part of the turf vs. grass conversation. Some of them do not want a turf field, and some of them (me) spoke up at the meeting. The room got very quiet. Changing the project from a turf field to grass would require a complete re-design, and resulting additional delays, for the project. So who dropped the ball?

begin again

There are many reasons to re-visit the programming stage of a project. The two greatest reasons are the passage of time and a significant change in stakeholders. Both were at play in the example that made me the least liked parent in town. Your architectural team should drive review of programming data, but if they don’t, it is up to you.

passage of time

If your project is delayed for any reason, and the delay extends long enough that data already collected might significantly change, needs might change, or the use of the project might change, then programming should be revisited. Was your project programmed more than a year ago without forward movement in design and construction? Then someone on your project team should review the programming data and verify the data’s current accuracy. If there is the possibility that it has become out-of-date, then re-program the project. If, as in the case above, millions of dollars are at stake, it is worth a few weeks (or even months) to verify that the project is built to fulfill current needs.

change in stakeholders

Has the delay resulted in a significant change in stakeholders? In a high school situation, there is an entirely new generation of stakeholders every four years. And partial turnover every year. This is an important consideration when programming a project in this arena. Even in business, there is turnover of stakeholders over time. At the beginning of the project a list of stakeholders should be created (not necessarily by name, but certainly by position). If delays result in a significant change in these stakeholders, then conduct programming again with the new stakeholders.

do it right

Sometimes doing it right means programming more than once. Construction projects are expensive and to be successful must satisfy the needs of current stakeholders. This means getting that first step, programming, right. No matter how many times that step must be re-visited. A multi million dollar construction project (any project for that matter), that does not fulfill the needs of its stakeholders is a very costly mistake.

A construction project that does not fulfill the needs of its stakeholders is a very costly mistake. Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,

If you are interested in the research I’ve done into artificial turf, email me. I didn’t include that information here as it is outside the scope of this article. Just be warned, it probably won’t make you any more popular than it made me!

sing your budget out LOUD!


before the beginning

The first step in any interior design project is what we in the field of architecture call ‘Programming‘. That’s where we ask you about your operation, your aesthetic inclinations, how many people will do what and where, etc. But actually, there is a step before Programming. It’s kind of like the prologue to the book you just started reading (of course you read the prologue, right?) The prologue to Programming is the budget discussion. Unfortunately, many clients are hesitant to divulge this information, thinking that if they keep it a secret we will do a better job of designing on the cheap. It doesn’t work that way folks. Construction is big, expensive business and good design does not make it more expensive. Good design makes an expensive construction job worth the money you just spent on it. Keeping your designer in the dark about your budget will end up costing you more in fees and a lot more in frustration and relationships. If you don’t know what your budget is, or should be, your designer/architect can help.

reality check

Construction is booming in most areas and most sectors right now. That’s great news on a lot of fronts. What it means to you the client, however, is that prices are probably moving in an upward direction. So managing your budget is more critical now than ever. And the first step in managing your budget is determining a realistic budget. If your budget is not realistic you will end up spending money on fees to no avail.

I had a client a few years ago who was convinced he could open a frozen yogurt shop for $150k. He priced equipment at something over $50k (remember, it was a few years ago), his inheritance was $100k over that, so peachy. Let’s quit being an IT guy and open a yogurt shop. The good news was that he had a budget in mind. The bad news was that it was not enough for what he wanted to do, and I gently told him as much. He spent a lot of time researching properties until he found one that he felt he could afford. We had already discussed his budget and that it would not cover his needs, but he was pretty determined. So we laid out the space, included minimal cost finishes, and got it priced. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $250k. Due to building, fire and health codes, some of the things that cost the most could not be left out (a restroom for example). Needless to say, he’s still an IT guy with a broken dream and a little less money in his pocket.

research, baby!

Before you pay for design services, pay for some really good advice. Talk to a designer/architect/contractor, lay out your ideas and let them help you determine if you can afford the project you are dreaming up. Do your research. And believe what you learn. That old saying ‘don’t confuse me with the facts’ is a very expensive way to go about business. Rider Levett Bucknall is a giant in the construction management business and they put out a quarterly report that includes cost per square foot in several sectors and several areas in the US. According to their Q3 2014 report, construction costs are increasing, in some markets as much as 3% (ouch Honolulu) in one quarter. Use their numbers to estimate what your construction costs might be. And remember, construction is only part of the picture (more on that below).

share the knowledge

However you come to your budget, share it. Sing it to the heavens and make sure that everyone involved is clear on the budget you have in mind. Work with your design team to understand how your budget will be spent. There are several big pieces that need to be considered.

  1. Construction costs: these are the checks you will write to your general contractor and will most likely be the largest part of your budget
  2. FFE: furniture, fixtures and equipment will include all of your furnishings, also decorative lighting and most anything movable
  3. KE: if this is a food service project you will also have kitchen equipment to purchase
  4. Fees: permitting, engineering, architect/design, taxes, local fees of all sorts, project management fees
  5. Owner costs: computers, signage, accessories, POS systems, that beautiful Ducati motorcycle that you want cut in half and mounted on the wall (I really had to do this once….sigh)

keep your eye on the prize

Your design team and your general contractor will work together to keep an eye on budget.  All information except owner costs will be accessible to them, so you will need to share that piece. And remember that there should be contingencies in every section of your budget. Especially in a remodel. You never know for sure what’s behind that wall….can we all say asbestos? So make sure that as you move through the project and check and re-check the budget, that you haven’t sped through your contingencies and are now seeing your budget in the rearview mirror.

budget busters

Indecisiveness, decisions by committee, scope creep and changing your mind are all okay, but they all have a price. So if budget is more important than adding another fireplace, keep that in mind when you discuss changes. And when decisions are needed, make them promptly. Then stick with them. Unless a poor decision will create an operational nightmare, weight the cost of changing your mind against the cost of living with it, whatever that means. Check with your design team and general contractor about the cost of every decision if you are unsure….they can help you weigh the options.

There, now we have had the least romantic discussion we will have on your project. Let’s get on with the fun stuff!

Keep in touch,