In this series of articles about a subject that I consider vitally important to getting anything done (and done well) as an architect we’ll discuss the creating of a schedule for the development of your project. For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on development for small and medium private sector projects using design-bid-build project delivery* in the good ol’ US of A. Your specific experiences may vary with other project types, methods of project delivery, places around the globe, and how insane your project team is but generally the issues we deal with as architects in driving development scheduling are the same.
*We’ll have a couple examples of other types of project delivery in here too, but mostly design-bid-build delivery.
“I waste time and now time doth waste me”William Shakespeare
Before we get to the exacting beauty of a precisely scheduled project, we need to understand how different people see the development process, which is what we’ll cover here in Part 1.
The most important person/entity on any project is the one who decided to do it (and pay for it) in the first place: the client. They know there are steps involved in the development process, but more often than not, they drastically underestimate the number of steps and length of time it takes to turn an idea into a building or space. Let’s graphically approximate what a typical client might imagine for a development schedule…
Most clients understand that an architect and maybe some engineers have to draw their building, but they often assume that the design documentation and construction documentation are the same thing — that you design it and whatever’s drawn at that time is the same document that the GC will use to build. They also understand that you need to get a permit, but underestimate the time and complexity of permitting. Then you build. That’s it: design it, permit it, build it — I mean, it’s not exactly wrong from a very broad perspective, but there are steps missing. To the really uninformed client, designing and permitting take a few days apiece and then building takes something like a few weeks. There’s absolutely no schedule contingency either, so get ready for heartbreak. They’re missing a lot of critical phases of project delivery here too.
General Contractor-led design-build projects usually mean the GC drives the development schedule. Even in design-bid-build delivery and especially in design-negotiate-build the GC often has huge influence over the development schedule. The GC is a builder, that’s what they know and love, so it makes sense that their idea of a development schedule is build-centric and often rushes to their favorite part, tripping over everyone else on the team along the way…
GCs love focusing on every last little step of construction, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all for that phase, but we need that level of planning for the rest of the project too, folks. There’s frequently a desire to overlap phases of project delivery by starting the next step before the last step is finished — and especially to start building while permitting is happening. The GC will take the project team through all sorts of machinations to figure out how to make that overlapping happen, usually without enough consideration of the downsides of fast-tracking things. Overly optimistic timeframes are a hallmark of GC schedules as well, at least for the stuff that’s not construction.
Okay, obviously not a member of the project team, but I wanted to include architecture schools to show the wakeup call emerging architects get after they step out in the real world. Architecture schools haven’t been the best when it comes to teaching their students about unsexy parts of the architect’s job like development schedules. There are a lot of reasons for this, enough to probably warrant their own article, so let’s skip ahead to look at the way many architecture schools envision a project’s development schedule…
It’s almost all design because schools spend such a minuscule amount of time teaching what all goes into project delivery and even less time discussing the amount of time all of that other stuff takes. I think it’s fine to take a lot of time designing while one is in school because you’re learning to do that for the first time, but there needs to be more preparation for the real world of deadlines and an understanding of all the other steps it takes to deliver a project and how to lead that process.
Now that we’ve looked at how others see development, we’ll dive into the way the one person on the project team who understands everyone’s roles and processes, the architect, sees it all come together. We’ll fill in the missing elements of project delivery and see how they come together in a development schedule in Part 2!