A Case for Putting in the Work to Deliver Value
BUILDING DIALOGUE: Bridging the Gap
Over the course of my career, I’ve come to see that – in simple terms – there are three types of project budgets: bottom line, value and opulent.
Realistically, most projects, even for tenants of extreme high net worth, traffic in the first two. More often than not, teams are challenged to deliver value in the face of real project constraints. However, there is a large and critical difference between value thinking and bottom-line thinking. To ensure a project thrives, it’s essential to understand this difference.
Strictly bottom-line thinking results in prioritization of schedule and cost with diminished regard for the project’s purpose. Budget and schedule are, of course, essential pieces of the puzzle, but in a value-driven approach, they are part of a more comprehensive, holistic understanding of a project. That understanding begins with digging deeply to discover what the tenant truly needs to support its business goals and employees, what it values as a company, and the elements it would love to build in, if time and budget allow.
Value is ultimately about getting it right. Often that requires extra effort, informed compromise and delicate balance. It usually means one of the project’s pillars needs to adapt. When that is the case, creative solutions need to be sought, pushed and crafted – often relentlessly.
Sometimes, for example, getting it right means you need to find a way to devote more of the budget to a particular architectural component. Something else may have to give in order to do that. Most projects have a critical component to the design that just needs to be right or else the project won’t serve the tenant’s needs; it won’t provide the value it means to offer. Cohesive teams can work through these obstacles.
When I was a young intern a few decades ago, I remember I was deeply concerned about asking for more time to complete the design of a particular project. We would have been more than able to make the deadline with a technically solvent set of documents for permit and construction. However, I felt in my gut we were missing the real intent behind the project. It was subtle, but important. We were about to check the boxes we were required to meet, but the whole team knew something didn’t feel right. It was a large, 125,000-square-foot ground-up, 17-story tower – not something you want to gamble with. Thankfully, the principal in charge of our work said something that has stayed with me ever since:
“One hundred years from now, that building will still be there, but no one in it will know if we were a week off the delivery schedule. Let’s see if we can find a way to carve out another two weeks.”
We did, and with some crafty teamwork between a great general contractor and a trusting, albeit nervous, tenant, the result was more than worth the adjustment. Our project turned out much better than it would have without the time. We got it right.
More often than schedule, budget is a chief concern on any project. While design teams should always have a strong handle on the products they’re proposing to create their concept, the most important thing any design team can do is to fully integrate the construction general and sub teams who will “turn the wrenches” and actually build the concept. Teaming with them keeps the creativity flowing and allows you to seek and address any potential issue – or combination of issues – before it becomes a problem.
Occasionally, the bottom line wins. Some projects truly have no wiggle room. But what’s more typical is that it’s hard and stressful to find creative solutions. Bottom lines can elicit a group-think where everyone involved agrees that the minimum is OK, blaming it on the budget. This is a mistake.
We are all busy. Delivering value isn’t easy. But if one of your projects hits that scary moment where you feel like giving in, I urge you to pause. Take a deep breath. Walk around the block. Remember the entire set of goals that set the project in motion from the beginning, and focus on the folks who will work, live and learn inside the spaces your teams are inventing. Then get back to doing your job and find the answers.
When the entire team stays focused and committed, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. That’s creating value. That’s worth fighting for.