A GUIDE TO DEVELOPING and EXECUTING SUCCESSFUL PROJECTS

The following guidelines are based on best practices and are intended to help people find success when embarking on complex works. These methods have proven effective on construction projects of all types and sizes and can be applied to other endeavors such as business startups, software development, and event planning. 

For reference, these observations and analyses are compiled by someone who's worked as a project engineer, project manager, cost estimator, and builder for over three decades constructing everything from mega-structures to jewelry boxes. I have worked for and consulted with large building firms around the country and found that these practices are used by each and every one, the reason being is that they are time tested and proven effective. This applies to builders, architects, engineers, subcontractors, and owner/developers alike.

TEAMWORK FOR THE WIN

Successful projects have all parties working as members of the same team as opposed to adversaries engaged in a tug of war. The goal is a successful project for everyone involved. It’s virtually unheard of for only one side to ‘win’ and the project be a success. Good contractors want repeat clients as owners want reliable contractors for their next project. Teamwork makes this feasible in both instances.

Owner’s Interests: Their project is on time, within budget, and meets or exceeds expectations in terms of functionality, performance, aesthetics, and comfort.  

Contractor’s Interests: To complete a satisfying project within the projected schedule and with minimal stress. To make a reasonable wage/profit and have a satisfied client.

Only when both parties meet their respective goals can the project be considered a success.

 

DESIGN COSTS ARE INVESTMENTS

It is highly recommended to have a clear and thorough definition of the work to be performed prior to expending resources on labor or materials.  Many people who are not familiar with the process see design work as unnecessary, hence a waste of money. The reality is that proper design is an investment in the project, just the same as the hard costs.

During the design phase, most problems are circumvented upfront that otherwise would occur onsite when the clock is ticking. Initially resolving the bulk of construction conflicts on paper or computer eliminates many issues before other valuable resources have been misdirected, thus containing cost and time requirements. Considerate design also allows for visualization of the finished work so that everyone involved understands what is to be built and how it will look and function when complete.

A comprehensive design is also required to produce an accurate estimate of time and material requirements before physical work begins. It is for these reasons that even when I’m building something for myself, whatever the scope, I always draw it first, followed by a detailed time/material takeoff and resultant cost estimate.

 

COMMUNICATION

Successful projects ALWAYS have effective communications. Resolving issues, answering questions, and making selections must be done in a timely manner to properly maintain the schedule and budget. Between design, deliveries, lead times, onsite and offsite work, plus changes to the plans, specifications and/or scope, there is a lot of information to convey in real time. Effective contractors have information management systems in place to initiate, transmit, manage, and log this complex data flow.  

 

PROJECT DOCUMENTATION

The following documents should be in all agreements to help assure a successful project.

:: Proper plans and specs. These documents are needed to ensure a "meeting of the minds" between owner and contractor and are definitely in the best interest of both parties. On minor ‘handyman’ projects, in lieu of plans one might take photos of existing conditions and mark them up to show work to be performed to help ensure that nothing is forgotten or omitted from the proposal.

:: Scope of work. This defines ALL work to be performed; the more detailed the better. There should also be a section for "exclusions" to clarify any work that will not be performed.

:: A written warranty with terms and conditions agreed upon by all subject parties.

:: A detailed proposal/agreement referencing all information above, plus cost and time schedules.  The proposal should include a clear payment schedule which generally has a certain percentage as material down payment with secondary payments upon completion of project milestones that are in line with the value of the work performed on their completion.

This documentation is also necessary on all but the simplest projects when seeking multiple bids to ensure the contractors are in the same ballpark rather than each submitting numbers based on their own assumptions. While this may seem excessive, even on small projects a few hours of upfront planning can prevent a lot of hassle and expense down the road, and usually saves much more than it costs.

 

DESIGN/BUILD

This is the preferred project delivery system used by individuals, companies, and organizations who do repetitive building projects.  This model is too complex to go into in this writing, but as a very brief summary, the idea is to employ one entity for both design and construction so that you, as the owner, have one point of responsibility when issues arise, thus eliminating a raft of conflicts and curtailing cost/time/liability issues.

 

PITFALLS TO AVOID

Perhaps the biggest mistake made by home/business owners when setting out on a project is in seeking  ‘the great bargain’.  Material and workmanship qualities are commensurate with the associated costs. This price will be competitive among similarly qualified contractors/artisans and runs on a spectrum from low to high in terms of quality/cost. When a finished project is way under the desired level of quality, it is often the case that a low bid was accepted. Excessively low bids are typically submitted by someone not qualified/knowledgeable enough to produce an accurate estimate, or a fly-by-night who's not concerned with the end product knowing they are not in the business for the long haul. I advise everyone to consider much more than the bottom line when hiring a contractor of any sort.

 

SUMMARY

It's virtually impossible for anything to arrive at its intended destination without a sound charter in place beforehand... an array of random acts will not probabilistically lead to a predetermined conclusion.  For best results, remember: Teamwork, Communications, Planning, and Design, and are key and will help you tackle your project like a PRO.

To project success,