Monday, June 6, 2011

Collaboration and a Good Process – Keys to Successful Outcomes

Good process and collaboration can save the day.  Bad process and a silo approach set us up for painful project failures.  Save yourself and the other stakeholders from trouble by insisting on collaborative, thoughtful process basics.

·       Clearly articulated top level goals – re-articulated often and firmly through the process
·       Distinguish deal breakers from nice to have characteristics
·       Require communications loop-backs to ensure a common understanding across the decision makers (and implementation team if possible) of all critical aspects
·       Expect and require transparency and appropriate decision item documentation in the process
·       Be respectful and firm, while staying open minded to achieve the best outcome
·       Keep the goals in mind (don’t take ownership of problems that aren’t your problem!)

I’ve been in intense, long and challenging meetings for the last few weeks where everyone around the table is working hard to fix a big problem and keep a deal on track.  We are working to get a LEED Gold light manufacturing lease deal moving again.  It was derailed by bids that were 50% over the  90% design completion estimates.  Needless to say, there were some hard questions being asked around the table.  In reflecting on what went sideways and what we’re doing that seems to be getting it back on track, it really has brought into the spotlight the need for the above list of bullet points to be in place.

We did articulate the top level goals at the beginning.  I always start there with clients.  We actually restated them often during the process.  Where I dropped the ball was not recognizing scope-creep as various consultants reflected their vision for the project that exceeded the primary goals, and ultimately the budget.  I understand that we all want to leave our fingerprints on deals – especially fun ones that are unique in character as this deal is.  This will be one of a very small list of LEED Gold advanced manufacturing facilities in the State, and we believe the only one that involves a landlord/tenant relationship instead of an owner/user situation.  Many people on the design team – smart, well intentioned people all – let their excitement flow into the design process.  Excitement is good, but needs tempering by realistic budget and  baseline needs.  We needed more differentiating between needed items and additions that would be terrific if there were money to fund them (but there wasn't).

Once the bids came back beyond any possible go-forward amount the tenant had the option of walking away for a modest termination fee I’d negotiated to cap the exposure my client had on this phase of the deal.  After all the work to get to that point - by everyone on all sides of the table - and after some intense conversations with the landlord and design team, we decided it was worth the energy to try to intensively re-design and take one more shot at making the budget – with the tenant retaining the veto option if the revised design to meet budget didn’t meet his needs.

So then the question is how to re-visiting of the top level goals, now with a clear requirement to understand deal breaking elements vs. nice to have, and make the budget. It is a very different project when you have to trim a third out of it.  The challenge at this point in the process is as much psychological and emotional as functional, since things are being "taken away".  It’s analogous to house shopping at a price range above what you can afford before you get to a point you can buy – you like the things in the more expensive home, but you can’t afford them so it feels like a letdown to look at your price range even if it would have been terrific had you not seen the higher end things that are unaffordable.

One of the keys to the redesign process has been an acknowledgement that there were breaks in the communication loop and process in the first pass that we were determined to resolve.  Information from the consultants on electrical and mechanical systems had not been clearly or timely relayed back to the client’s operating people originally, nor to the cost estimator by the 90% completion point.  There were many nice things that were in the spec that were not needed or designed with mis-understood priorities. In some cases items were not requested or not discussed, just well intentioned but very off base assumptions, and they exceeded the functional needs and budget constraints of the project. 

 During the redesign process the architect has worked with us to document discussion items and be very clear about things on the table; what’s ok to drop, what’s critical to keep, what needs more information regarding cost against which to weigh the respective value, characteristics relative to cost. The consultants have been proactively looped in on better understanding needs and coordinating with the value engineering (cost reducing) process.

In future projects of this complexity I will require better loop back or check in communication pieces from day one.  We requested more clarifications that we got the first round, but we didn’t force the issue and it was an important part of missing the budget target the first time.  We believe we have the needed additional tracking tools to ensure we’re all on the same page so the project reductions we’re making are the ones that make sense.Most importantly, the team has rallied together to collaborative and aggressively address the issue - this resolution focused attitude seems to be getting the job done.

This conscious attention to communicating clearly and grounding it back to the functional requirements and LEED Gold objectives has been very effective at improving focus and has added transparency.  Being able to see and hear the suggested changes and modifications in this format, with drawing modifications too, of course, has improved the client’s comfort level that we will still achieve a great building meeting his LEED objectives and functional requirements within the new design that will likely meet the budget this time around.  While there is disappointment about some of the things left on the editing room floor, he has the big picture perspective to still see the great improvement in facility the resulting building will provide his firm over his current facility.

Given the personalities, egos and personally desired outcomes at stake, this revision process has been an amazing thing to participate in.  It has required the best from everyone – focusing on the successful revision of a project everyone has a professional and emotional attachment to in its former, unaffordable form.  So all around a mindful, sensible, egos checked at the door approach has been required – and it’s coming together.  It appears at this stage that we have a LEED Gold, very functional project with a number of special features still retained.

This is a work in progress – I’ll add a “how it turns out” note at the end of this post in mid-July when the new bids come in.  I’m keeping the faith that it will be a good update and that this hard work and refocusing will pay off.


Index of all blog posts by Kevin on “Business Space Decisions” is at:

Kevin Grossman helps businesses lease and buy space. Taking a  “real estate department for hire” approach, Kevin ensures clients are engaged in the right questions, are deeply listened to and then receive the attention and assistance to make and implement the best decision.  Kevin can be reached at 206.730.5567 or via email at

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