Why Good Clients Lead to Successful Projects
I meet regularly with fellow architects and building contractors to talk about various issues of mutual interest. We often discuss the key reasons that one project is successful, but another less so. There is general agreement that the property owner’s attitude, intelligence, and approach to doing the work may have the greatest impact on the quality of the services we provide.
Recognizing this, when an architect and a contractor meet a property owner to discuss a project, not only is the owner evaluating each individual’s fitness to do the work, but the architect and the contractor are assessing the impact that the owner’s personality, budget and schedule limitations, and knowledge of design and construction will have on developing the type of working relationship essential for a successful project.
Architects and contractors are likely to assess building opportunities in different ways because of differences in their education, work experience, and business goals. Nevertheless, it is useful for owners to be aware of the traits that both groups value in potential clients
A steady, upbeat attitude.
Designing and building something for someone who remains positive when dealing with the emotional ups and downs of construction is a pleasure. An upbeat client will draw out the best effort from an architect and a construction crew. No one wants to disappoint an owner with whom it is a delight to work.
Each step in the design and construction process is taken for a reason. The work needs to be done intelligently and with disciplined care to achieve the highest long-term value for the effort. An owner’s efforts to speed the work along, while understandable, rarely come without a price. All too often, that price becomes obvious years later, as construction problems arise because someone was inattentive or took unwise shortcuts when trying to finish the work quickly.
An understanding that their own knowledge of design and construction has limits.
It is said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Familiarity with design and construction is almost always a plus, but judicious owners remember that their design and construction intuition has been formed on far less knowledge and experience than that of the people they have retained for assistance. Wise clients always contrast their judgment and inclination with that of their consultants before making key design or building decisions.
Clear, honest communication throughout a project is critical. At the start of the work, if an owner does not convey budget and schedule goals—as well as other factors peripheral to the project that may affect major decisions—the architect and builder can’t assess the project’s feasibility or effectively plan its execution. During the work, candor between the parties is needed to confirm that the quality of the work is meeting expectations. If not, changes can be made when they will be most effective.
There are hundreds of large and small tasks to complete in a project. Often, things do not go as planned despite everyone’s effort to be vigilant. Dismantling and redoing recently finished work saps resources—money, time, energy, enthusiasm—and halts project momentum. Realizing this, astute clients examine each problem situation with their architect and builder to determine if a less extensive modification to completed work can be made that will not significantly compromise their goals and preferences. This type of client flexibility is often rewarded later in a project, when the architect or builder has an opportunity to provide assistance beyond that contractually required or expected.
An owner is asked to make many decisions over the course of a project while attending to normal work and family duties. Owners who are organized and can make decisions quickly keep design and construction work moving forward without delay. Delays play havoc with attempts to coordinate the work schedules of multiple project participants, many of whom have responsibilities at other locations. Delays also cause labor inefficiencies that invariably lead to frustration on everyone’s part and increased costs.
Support for creative design and craftsmanship.
Regardless of the size of a project’s budget, owners who support the efforts of their architect to produce interesting design, and of the building crew to provide good workmanship, are likely to get more of both than their budget suggests is possible. First-rate architects view each project as an opportunity that tests their creativity and challenges them to provide the best design for the buck. Similarly, talented craftspeople are enticed by work that is different from that they are normally asked to do. Many love thinking of ways to build unique designs efficiently and well, and welcome any challenge to their manual skills. When these individuals are fully engaged in the project work, everyone benefits.
A desire to pay promptly.
Timely payment is an affirmation that the services rendered have been appreciated. That appreciation often means as much as the payment itself to the small-business owners who receive it, and often spurs them to provide even better service.
Owners should be aware that architects and builders may have different financial and managerial goals that will influence the choice of clients and projects they think are a good fit for their company’s strengths, limitations, operating style, and overhead structure. For larger organizations, projects with tight budgets that lack sufficient profit potential may simply have to be dismissed, regardless of an owner’s attractiveness as a potential client. Occasionally, however, an architect or a builder may choose to assist an owner with whom he senses some affinity, despite doubt that the project’s financial return merits the effort required to do it well.
Difficult economic times do not diminish the importance of choosing the clients who have the personal characteristics that we value most in our business relationships. In the course of a construction project, when things are going well, those traits will be welcome; when things are going badly, those traits will be essential if any problems are to be resolved intelligently and amicably. Only then will the property owners, the architects, and the builders know for certain whether they have chosen their project partners wisely.