Secrets to Controlling Cost & Creating Value

Our clients are getting younger and have less time (and research shows less ability!) to make decisions. As designers it's time to up our game! That was a major message relayed to the builders and designers who packed a room to listen to our own Principal Designer and CEO Deboni Sacre speak at the Design Build Alliance of Utah this week. Thank you to Roth Living for being such great hosts to the group.

Big Problem 1: Morphing Client

"The climate is changing," Deboni explained. "The age of clients purchasing their second home, or vacation home, has dropped significantly in the last 15 years. This sandwich generation is time-crunched and has little time to make decisions." Now more than ever the designer needs to and take control of the design process early on. It's also the designer's role to not allow "information paralysis" (it's a real thing) to burden the client. If Home Depot and other large firms are responding to the new client with significant product offering change, it's time to take notice!

Big Problem 2: Construction Industry: A Path to Tears

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Going over budget 60 percent of the time is a problem -- a huge problem.  "That stat shows a lot about some significant underlying issues in the industry. As professionals, we can get a handle on this, and we must...or today's new client will pick builder who takes care of them. In fact, research indicates they will even pay more for that simplified solution." 

More industry concerns Deboni addressed were the huge delay problem that is only growing and the fact that construction is the hardest and longest-working industry.  

Harvard Shows us the Key to Controlling Projects

The good news is that our research team says there is a simple road to improvement. 

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The key to managing the process is to utilize a total-quality-management approach. Quality doesn't just mean well-constructed.  It means the client can "count on it".  They need something they can count on in their busy lifestyle.  

Our firm has been slowly implementing TQM including Quality Control, Process Control, Vendor Selection, Total Employee Involvement for the past few years. But, of all of the ways to improve TQM can you guess what Harvard says influences 80 percent of the overall quality of the project?  It is Design. According to a bunch of smart people, if you want to see improvement, there is no better way than to implement a strategic design process.

That's Great, But This Brings Up Another Industry Problem

The underlying issue is that design has a perception that it's about pillows (or colors and decorating...you get the idea). It's NOT! If it truly controls 80 percent of total quality, the right kind of design is SO much more.  Design influences more than aesthetics and can't be treated as an afterthought.  

If you've had a bad experience with design or designers, it's probably because that designer treated design like it was about pillows.  

So what IS good design?

Deboni discussed several aspects good design. First shooting down the misconceptions. 

 1) Design is NOT reactive. It is Proactive. Often design in construction is treated as a reactive process- making selections as they come up and addressing decision decisions when they are urgent. Nope, that's not design.

2) Design is NOT shopping. It's accurate specification. Deboni didn't shy away from saying, "If designers or contractors current process is running clients from one showroom to another, stop it. That is not in service to the client. There is a better way!"

3) Design is NOT Pinterest Boards. It's documentation that goes straight to PO. It's not just an idea; it's to scale documentation a contractor can build from.

4) Design is NOT budget overruns. On the contrary, design when done accurately controls the budget.  The key to controlling budget is in the design process.

5) Design is NOT client driven. Not in the "I'm in charge and what I say goes" typical designer way.  Design is a strategic process- also a Harvard statement- and designers with experience and understanding of the best way to guide a client should control the process. "I learned by experience that 'taking orders' from clients is the path to tears," Deboni admitted.

Measure Up

"If you measure something, it will improve" is one of Deboni's favorite sayings learned from her mentor.  Deboni allowed the group to measure against essential design standards.   

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Take this fun True/False test and see how you score!  And assess the industry- how do you think we are doing as a whole? Because design isn't seen as a strategy; the industry has room for improvement.  Let's start the change together!  

Lisa FlindersComment