Both the NFL and College Football seasons are back in action so many of you will spend a lot of time over the next few months cheering on your alma mater or your local professional team.

There is one thing about football that is very different than our lives as architects.  The goal posts are fixed in place during a football game and they never move.  Both teams know where the goal line is located and they can work hard to get across that line.  Or they can take the consolation prize and kick a field goal through the stationary goal posts.

It is much different for design teams.  Projects where the finish line is set in stone are a rarity…dare I say, they simply don’t exist.

I’ve worked on two major hospital projects that had complete programatic changes partway through the process.  The project I am working on now started as a research center with multiple buildings, got shut down during the last recession, and has morphed into a single engineering building.

And yet, we continue to be frustrated by changing scopes or schedules.  We continue to schedule our vacations for after deadlines when we know that the deadlines never stick.  And our clients continue to be frustrated by additional-service requests.

The stress of change can wreak havoc on every part of the team from owner, to architect, to engineer, and contractor.  Most of that stress comes because the change is out of our control.  Priorities change, institutional leadership changes, budgets evaporate.

I think we all need to expect change and maybe even welcome change. We’ll be much happier once we embrace the fact that our projects will be different tomorrow than they were today.  

We should go into every project expecting the goal posts to move and then we should help advise our clients on the best ways to mitigate that change while keeping the project on schedule and within the budget.  Good communication and frank honesty go a long way in making project changes less stressful.

Some tips:

  • Stay on top of recent comparable projects in your office so you know how many hours you expect to spend at various points in the project.
  • Send up warning flares as the scope starts to creep, even when you still have the bandwidth to absorb the changes.  Calmly explain what you can absorb and where you move into rework.  Most clients like to know where they stand so they can work on their side to stop the changes.
  • Don’t nickel and dime your client by asking for more money every time they sneeze.  Keep in mind that some of their changes can actually result in less work for you.  Keep a mental note of that so you can let other small changes slide, but make sure the client knows you are working with them.
  • At the same time, don’t be afraid to request additional fee when the scope has clearly changed.  The warning-shots should have helped your client understand that they are getting close to causing additional work for your team.  Once the change is clear, ask for more fee.  If you do it right away, the client has an opportunity to adjust the scope if they don’t like the additional cost.  Wait too long and you might have to absorb the change depending on contractual arrangements.

When you plan for change then you will be much better at handling the stress that comes with it.  Constant and clear communication with your client should make their stress levels lower as well.

As the saying goes, expect the unexpected.