Proactive Rather Than Reactive Design

More than ever, proactive strategies are taking the lead in how design projects are handled.

With the fast pace of many of today’s projects brokers, architects, contractors and others in the design business have found that boldly and, energetically managing their project is the key to meeting schedules that look unattainable at first glance. It’s also why my firm is constantly pushing to be more proactive and less reactive.

One of the best ways to actively manage jobs is to prepare for them before the work has been secured. That means looking closely at established standards and tools today, as well as your firm’s ability to get the required work done efficiently. There’s no need to pull plans from a drawer, but it’s a good idea to create a checklist that establishes a baseline or proven starting point.

Once hired, executives should have a workplace strategy to streamline the process and manage expectations. It’s important to clarify what clients will receive and why certain information will be needed in specified time frames. Also, the smart architect, broker or other design professional encourages transparency about his projects early on. Clients can later make needed decisions and provide essential feedback to keep jobs moving along.

In 2013, I wrote a piece on ways to manage fast-track jobs, a phenomenon that our firm was encountering with increasing regularity. The stragegies remain the same: assemble your team as soon as an agreement has been reached with your client, determine a budget before signing a lease and make timely decisions.

Another time-saving tactic involves creating a 3-D schematic of a project before actual design work is done. Showing a client preliminary 3-D designs of her project can make it easier for her to make key decisions about the job and speed its progress along. While such due diligence can take a couple of days to complete, creating preliminary visuals is a faster, smarter way to get a job going, especially when junior staff members are recruited for the work.

One project my firm recently undertook followed a client mandate specifying that all of the construction documents for the job needed to be done in four weeks, a month short of the norm. We established a clear plan to meet the harrowing schedule so we would not be forced to react to fast-approaching deadlines with on-the-fly overtime and added staff positions.

Sure, it can be stressful to work on a tight timetable, but instead of becoming overwhelmed by the process, we got a buy-in from our staff and stuck to our fast-track vanilla plan, successfully meeting our scheduled dates and client expectations.

Design projects are rife with options, which allow for plenty of client-specific solutions. Too many options can slow a project’s time frame to a crawl, so it’s important to provide clients with proactive recommendations. Of course, the aim isn’t for design professionals to force decisions or throw alternatives on the table with disregard for their clients. It’s the job of designers, architects and contractors to gently guide their clients when it comes to priorities, including budgetary, aesthetic and timeline considerations, using their expertise and specialties to decrease the likelihood of having to react to any unanticipated issues.