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Managing projects ...Balance of scope, quality, cost results in best value

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The primary concern for a business owner contemplating a new construction project is getting the most value for the money. Consequently, architects and contractors market their services by trying to convince a client they can deliver the most value.

While this seems simple, conflicting interpretations of "value" are the source of many problems. Therefore, it seems appropriate to discuss its definition in this special section devoted to commercial construction.

The quality model we use at our firm to educate clients has three components:

The first element is the scope of the project.

That's simply the size and composition of various spaces. Clients either establish the scope themselves or we work with them in the programming phase to identify specific needs.

This is one of the most valuable services the designer can perform getting in at the planning level and solving physical facilities problems alongside all the other planning issues a business traditionally deals with.

Quality is an awkward word for the second variable, but I don't know of a better one. That's the unit price for various materials and systems in the facility.

It's the difference between an air-conditioning system that lets each space have individual controls or one that just does a marginal job; it can also be wall surfaces that can take years of abuse vs. painted drywall.

This aspect of value is unique because there is a minimum standard beyond which an architect cannot go. That minimum standard is the building code requirements for life safety.

The last part of the model is the total amount of money a client plans to spend. Without doubt, many in the construction industry would be quick to point out other factors left out of this model. Time can be a crucial consideration after all, time is money. Architects would be quick to mention aesthetic quality and functionality.

But good architecture doesn't have to cost more money or require the client to sacrifice other aspects of value. A simple factor often overlooked is how pleasant the construction experience is to the client.

No business leader wants to spend a year racked with anxiety when he or she has so many other things occupying his or her time. However, these items are beyond this simple value model.

Here's why this quality model is an important concept: as a business owner, you can only control two of these elements.

You must yield control of one element to the architect/contractor.

In simple terms, Scope times Quality equals Cost.

If you specify how big your building is going to be, and how it is to be constructed, then you have no choice but to pay the market price. If your budget is fixed, then you must compromise on one of the other two components until the equation balances.

In recognition of this fact, the term "value engineering" has arisen. This bit of jargon has almost penetrated the mainstream language. It means to work through various combinations of the quality model to arrive at the mix which delivers the client maximum value. Unfortunately, contractors sometimes use this term to rationalize cutting quality at the client's expense.

Big problems arise when the reasons behind design decisions are forgotten.

It may have been clear to the plant manager why a less expensive system was used in a facility, but his replacement could consider it incompetent work. Even during the course of a project, priorities tend to change.

Compromises that were essential to making a project viable are often lamented once the client sees the full consequences. These things lead to disappointment and tarnished reputations.

The solution is effective communication.

The architect and contractor must have the confidence and competence to point out when client expectations conflict with economic reality.

They must thoroughly investigate the client's expectations reading between the lines if necessary and deliver those items.

Sometimes, the clients don't really know what their needs are. Frequent review of the value model and hiring experienced designers and builders who can lead the client through the process are the best answer.

That's how you get the most out of your construction dollar.

(Jeffrey Wells is chief executive officer of Pellham-Phillips-Hagerman Architects-Engineers in Springfield.)

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