Tag Archives: management

Is your architecture or design client value for money?

Money by Philip Taylor PT, on FlickrLast week I started a discussion on how the client and their expectations impacts on the cost of design. Whilst there was some hope expressed on linkedin about this next post offering solutions…I’m not really sure I’ve got the answers. As I was originally writing this blog, I found that as I wrote I was moving more and more towards discussion of another contentious topic – competitive tendering. So today, while I continue pondering the impact of the client, this has segwayed into a consideration of the problems of competing tendering.

Often the project brief (or lack thereof) is the beginning of the problem. Whilst developing the brief can be part of the architect or interior designers scope, if it is teamed with unreasonable contract conditions or unreasonable interpretations by the client, significant additional work can be required. I have encountered contracts which expressly forbid the designer from claiming variations due to a prolonged program, limiting the number of meetings or site inspections or from an increased project value. This, to me is incredibly unfair on the part of the client. When the brief is little more than this – design a 5,000m2 fitout in a new building of 5 storeys to accommodate 400 staff in a mix of open plan and enclosed offices with support facilities. To me, the program and budget are key considerations in my scope, the scope is not just the final construction documents. Whilst it is true that the architect or interior designer could increase the construction cost due to design decisions, it is equally true that the client could increase construction costs and the amount of detailed design and documentation required due to their decisions on a higher level of acoustics or particularly extensive and complex joinery requirements as examples. I guess the decision has to be made at the fee proposal stage – do I take this risk of bidding on an very undefined scope and how do I (if possible) cost this into my structure. If the client then gets unreasonable in assessing variation claims, this is a recipe for cost overruns. In the end this kind of client should suffer with reduced quality for their project, but often they don’t, because we as designers still want to do a good job and keep the client happy. And our companies can often somehow think they will be able to make the money back on the next job, but in my experience its hard to make this work if you are dealing with clients who require competitive tendering on every job.

At the other end of the scale I have seen very detailed briefs, which (I thought) set out the clients full expectations of activities and deliverables. I responded to this detailed scope, pricing accordingly. We were even shortlisted for a tender interview. However, it turned out the client was interviewing all the tenderers (there were 3-5 selected tenderers) because there was such a large difference in the fee values (I think it was something like 200%) and they wanted to ask further questions of each party. I thought the interview went very well, but then we didn’t get the job. When we asked for a debrief, we were informed that we were offering a ‘blue ribbon’ service and that the client couldn’t afford this. So apparently the project had gone to someone with a much lesser level of services than they had put the tender out for, and a matching lower price. So much for fair tendering processes. If they didn’t want our ‘blue ribbon’ services, we should have been given the opportunity to price the same as the other company – or perhaps if they weren’t fixed on the services but on the outcome (eg the fitout) then they shouldn’t have specified all the detailed meetings, reports and the like in the tender. Very frustrating.

Although the tender process makes these things worse, even with more involvement with a potential client up front there is still no telling. Just like a job interview, it is a pretty brief time you spend with someone, where both parties are on their best behaviour. Later when things start to get even a little bit difficult or go wrong it could be a different story. Or it could be that the people change, or additional people get involved in the project. Having a user group that violently disagrees with the project manger/property person responsible for delivering the project can be a challenging process to work through for both the architect or interior designer and the client representative.

The most time consuming client I ever had, was one who used to pop into the office every single day for weeks at a time. She had decided to personally take charge of the colours and finishes. Whilst I wasn’t happy with that, the client organisation had agreed she would do this (I think that people thought it would reduce our workload! Little did they know…) If I told reception I wasn’t available she started to ask for the other project team members. She would then ask to come in and look at the samples library – but she wouldn’t just be doing this quietly on her own, the whole time she would be asking the opinion of whoever had let her into the office and they couldn’t get back to their own work. At the end of the project she sent back a removalist size carton of samples. We did actually end up charging the client extra fees, and thankfully in this case, the organisation was reasonable and recognised the additional work we had incurred due to the behavior of their staff member.

For me the problems is that these different client attitudes have costs attached and this time can also impact upon the project program. We have planned the project process based upon certain time periods, and its not always a simple matter of throwing extra resources against the project when the client requirements expand the time required. So how do we as an industry change this? We can’t always work for repeat clients that we know and understand, where we can somewhat predict their behaviours and expectations at the fee proposal stage. Particularly when it comes to competitive tendering we don’t have the opportunity to get to know the client. Or if we do know them, we might overprice the job or the opposite, we can win the job by offering a lesser level of service than the tender calls for. In my view, we as an industry need to take some responsibility for this. Architects and interior designers need to be less hesitant about defining scope and claiming variations. All architects and interior designers need to take responsibility for this, as often client attitudes are determined by the other architects/consultants they have worked with in the past. We need to educate our clients. But I also think that large client organisations, who purchase architectural and design services frequently also need to take responsibility. In particular, in Australia, government at all levels is a large user of architectural services, generally uses competitive tendering processes and frequently promotes one sided contracts. Clients need to understand their roles in the process and what has been allowed for in the fees. The staff involved need further support and education. Value for money does not mean cheapest. The conditions at tendering stage need to suit the actual project expectations. Client organisations need to judge project management success on more than just keeping consultant fees down.

If one of our largest clients (as an industry) treats architects and interior designers as not worth being treated as professionals with a high level of skills and value, what does that say about our profession? What is your experience – do you think competitive tendering offers the client the best outcomes? Do your clients understand that program or meeting attendance is part of the scope and can impact on your fees? What kinds of additional services have your clients expected without changes to your fees?

Image Credits:
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Philip Taylor PT 

How many architects or interior designers does it take to design a building (or fitout)?

Light bulbs No, that’s not the start of a joke comparing architects versus interior designers. And it’s just as applicable to engineers too. The question is really how do we determine how many hours it will take to design a particular project? I’m back to what seems to be one of my readers favourite subjects again – design fees. Last week a comment on my post on BIM-onimics queried the number of hours spent on some of the example projects. This question put me in mind of a number of issues I’d been meaning to blog about one day – the main one being how do you cost the client themselves into your design fees? To me this is often more difficult than the already difficult task of putting a number of hours on creativity.  However the more I started to think and write on the subject, the more it has expanded, and so this will be a 2 part post.

As I mentioned in my response to the comment on the number of hours a project takes, and I’ve discussed previously (in my post What makes a great workplace design client) clients come in many forms. I find particularly in the areas I of design I have worked in (workplace, healthcare, labs), the client group expects to be (and in my view quite rightly is) part of the design process. But that said, different clients at both the organizational and the individual level have very diverse views about what their role is, what their architect or interior designers role is, what deliverables should be provided, how many review points they should have, how frequently we should meet and generally how much involvement they will have in the design (and even construction process). The client’s level of industry knowledge and familiarity with the design and construction process also differs. All of these factors will impact on the amount of time I spend working on a project – not necessarily designing, but managing the client inputs, reviews and approvals, answering their questions and producing documents which are specifically for their use and not a requirement for construction.

I don’t necessarily mind doing any of these things. The problem is that if I don’t know the client (and by this I mean both the organisation and the individual) at the fee proposal stage then gauging what kind of client they are and what their expectations might be can be exceedingly difficult, and in some cases downright impossible. If you’re lucky you have a client who is only seeking proposals from  a small number of your competitors (or even better you are single select) and they may meet with you once or twice to discuss the project. You have a chance to speak directly with them to clarify the scope and their expectations. It may even be likely that if there was an obvious difference in scope between the proposals the client would come back to you to discuss this. Unfortunately, in my experience this has not been the norm. Maybe in some sectors and firms it is, which is great (give me a call, I’d love to come work with you!). Particularly when dealing with government or large institutions or organisations, competitive tendering becomes a more usual approach.

Even on an invited or short listed tender with a limited number of companies it is unlikely that there will be any significant interaction between the designers and the client representatives. Whilst a site inspection may be held, this usually involves all tenderers and doesn’t really provide an opportunity for the designer to get to know the client. The first time this is likely to occur is after you have submitted your fee, at a tender interview. Indeed for some larger open tenders, there is never even the opportunity for the architect or designer to speak to the client. The only means of contact may be via an anonymous procurement email address, with the whole tender process run by a different individual than the person who will be the client representative.

Especially when the person who becomes the client representative in the design stage has had very little involvement in procurement their expectations can differ markedly from what is documented in the tender and project brief. Individuals can have very different views over what constitutes a review or approval and how the design should progress. With some of my clients I know that if we have a meeting and I present some preliminary design options, I will get instant feedback and go away straight after the meeting to revise and develop the design. However with others, the decision makers are not in the room or further people need to be consulted, I will be lucky if I get feedback and direction 1 week later. These two scenarios affect my resource planning and my project costs. Design is not just dollars per hour, every time I start and stop it costs more. There is also the likelihood that during the time the client is reviewing the schemes they will have more questions, will ask me to explore more options and that overall there will be more meetings and the project will take longer. Now, I can and do try to reduce my exposure to such risks by including a detailed scope and program, limiting the number of meetings and options and other such assumptions within my fee proposal. But still, a number of scenarios have arisen for me in the past where for a wide variety of reasons other issues arise which further complicate the potential project costs or reveal interesting things in relation to the expectations of the client.

Tune in again next week to find out more about some of these issues, a discussion of competitive tendering and my opinions on what needs to happen to help sort out this mess!  In the meantime, feel free to offer your own stories, suggestions and comments.

PS. My TEDx video is now available on line. Click here for the Audience Talks. I’m at around 9 minutes of the way through.

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BIM-onomics: How will BIM change the business of design?

Money by Tax Credits, on FlickrDoes BIM cost your design practice more? How does BIM impact your fee proposals? How does BIM impact your business? These were some of the questions I was recently asked to address in a presentation at the Revit Technology Conference held in Auckland.

Partially as a result of my previous blog posts Architecture and Interior Design is a business, isn’t it? And The art (or is that science?) of architecture and interior design fees, I was invited to address the topic of the economic and financial impacts of BIM on a design consultancy – I think due to being among the relatively small group of industry professionals who understand both BIM and the business of design. I convinced another such individual Rodd Perey – committee member of RTC Australasia who had invited me to do this talk – as well as Principal and Group Design Technology Manager at Architectus, to join me in discussion of this topic.

One of the most interesting things about preparing the talk, was that whilst Rodd and I come from very different practice and BIM backgrounds, much of the time we agreed on the issues affecting a design practice who are using BIM by themselves and for their own benefit. We termed this Lone BIM – as opposed to the benefits of using BIM as part of a larger project process in conjunction with clients, sub-consultants and contractors. This Lone BIM, the efficiencies and impacts on practice, and its opportunities for reducing project risks, were the focus of our talk.

I have attached the slide deck to this blog via Slide Share.

BIM-onomics slidedeck from Ceilidh Higgins

As you will see from the slides, one of the repeated messages was that practice directors, principals and anyone costing or managing design projects need to firstly understand what BIM is actually being used and produced in their office and secondly what BIM outputs will be delivered to the client. How can you calculate your fees if you don’t understand your deliverables?

Right now in the industry and even within individual practices BIM can mean different things to different people. It’s important to understand which BIM deliverables and processes are additional services outside traditional services, and which ones can help you improve your efficiency in providing traditional services. To model every part if a building at 1:1 with full operational and facilities data will certainly cost you more than traditional documentation, but is that what the client has actually contracted you to deliver?

We felt that there were a number of key aspects to using Revit (or other BIM software) within your practice that improve your “BIM-onomics”. Aside from understanding what BIM you deliver, you need to leverage the information and automation aspects of the BIM – for example scheduling, keynoting and proper use of materials which allow consistency and automation across the project. Directors and principals need to have some understanding of these concepts so they can question the outputs. However its not all about BIM either – continuous improvement, ongoing training and debriefs are necessary to capture and spread the learnings across your organisation. This needs leadership.

Then we get to really the key thing – BIM impacts all areas of your business delivery model. BIM impacts upon your project workflows, your resources, your programs and your QA. Are these things you are just going to leave to drafters or modellers? You can’t leave your practice to the “revit robots” nor can you buy in the revit “A team” to solve your BIM implementation problems (though it will help). Economically successful BIM relies on the knowledge of your team, the mix of knowledge between software, design, construction and business. Everyone is part of the BIM team. The senior architects and managers may not be on the tools, but need to be able to speak a common language and communicate with someone who can understand both the BIM and the business. Someone needs to direct the BIM process to ensure that over modelling and over servicing is not occurring, a common reason for cost overruns on BIM projects. But one that is more typically related to management practices than the BIM software itself.

BIM will change your project programs. As Rodd pointed out though, that most overused of conference graphics the MacLeamy curve is wrong – what consultant in their right mind would sign up for a process that makes you do the same amount of work earlier in the process, when the client is still most unsure? Both of us agree, that whilst BIM does put some of the workload forward, it will be overall less work – and the project examples we used demonstrated this (the graphs come up later in the slide deck).

Your quality checking procedures also have to change – again this isn’t one for the junior revit modeller in your office is it? But it is another opportunity to leverage your information – you can use BIM to check your BIM. Examples shown include using auotmated drawings to check precast panel details and smoke/fire compartments. The more uses you can find within the BIM itself the more valuable the BIM becomes. The BIM becomes also a risk reduction tool – you get in right during design and spend less time on site, you think things through and solve problems in the design phase. But again senior and experienced project staff need to be part of this process – they need to know what is possible with the BIM, and then they should be asking for it in their own offices.

Both Rodd and I presented a set of comparison projects with an analysis of an AutoCAD project versus a Revit project. Unfortunately it is impossible to ever directly compare 2 projects as every design project has different factors, but we both selected the most similar projects we were able to find. In Rodd’s case, 2 hotel redevelopment projects on the same site for the same client, and in my case 2 office fitouts of a similar size for similar client types. As you can see on the slides Rodd and I examined slightly different project metrics based upon the information we had available. The one metric in common though was the percentage difference between the number of hours and the number of drawing sheets. We both proved the Revit project to be significantly more efficient based on this metric, and amazingly we came up with figures within 5% of each other!

A question from the audience worth repeating here, was how long had the teams been using Revit? For both Revit examples it was between 2-5 years, and it was certainly not a case of having a super BIM team and a crappy AutoCAD team – both myself and Rodd considered the teams also to be comparable. To get a good return on investment isn’t going to be an overnight process.

BIM is a process you need to manage the whole way through your projects – right from fee proposal stage. Its pretty straight forward really…define what you are providing, what others are providing (such as point clouds, parts of models/existing models, BIM standards) and understand what you are costing. If you as the person costing a job don’t understand all the technical aspects, talk to someone in your office who does. Build the understanding between the technical people and the business people – or find people who are able to do so and bridge the gap, becoming the translator and teaching at both ends of the equation.

In conclusion – does the BIM-onomics stack up? If you manage the process, manage the risk and are delivering the same it should cost you less.

Do your BIM-onomics stack up? Do you know by comparing projects? If your BIM is not yet economic, what are the challenges and issues you see as stopping it? If you are a practice director or principal do you know your BIM? If you don’t, do you have someone who can translate for you? Have we missed any factors you consider critical to the economic success of BIM in your practice? Do any of my slides not make sense to you? (if so comment)

You can find my other RTC presentations – What’s in a Room and InforMeDesign on Slideshare.

Image Credits:

. http://taxcredits.net/