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Common Problem — Lack of Regular Communication
I attended BDNY 2017 last year. One the plane ride home, I read the Editor’s Note from Hotel Boutique Design. Editor Christina Trauthwein had just returned from High Point Market’s Hospitality at Market. Interestingly enough, the main theme of the two conferences was the same: getting all the relevant players on the same page and ensuring communication throughout the process.
So what does that look like and how can you, as a hotel owner or operator, influence this critically important and ongoing task?
Understand Your Architect’s Project Management Skills and Resources
When first interviewing architects for your project, ensure that the firm has stellar project management skills and adequate staff. Ask about their project management process — how they manage and measure their projects. Find out if the firm has a full-time construction manager. In most architecture firms, there is usually one senior staff member out getting business and another senior person overseeing projects and staff back home. If you hire a small firm, there needs to be sufficient manpower in place. Find out what role the office manager plays — often that person is key in getting construction documents moving to the right people in a timely manner. Ask to speak with former or current clients about the project management ability of any firm you are considering.
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The Building Process: a Fast-Moving, Continually Shifting, and Difficult Process
Architects are the unsung heroes of our time. It takes great skill to juggle multiple projects through the various phases and ensure all the right people are being pulled in at the right times. Moreover, the actions that you witness as an owner/operator are just a fraction of the activities and conversations an architect, interior designer, and other design-build professionals must coordinate to ensure completion of a successful project.
Regular team members include the architect, contractor, project manager, owner/operator, interior designer, civil engineer, and mechanical/plumbing/electrical engineers. Every time a single change is made to any of your construction documents, all these people must update their documents to reflect the change. Revision, revision, revision is a way of life and your final building is a result of all those little details being correctly coordinated. In addition, the architect must facilitate conversations with county and permitting officials. Construction is a fast-moving process that requires unyielding oversight to ensure the end result — your hospitality project — is built the way you want and in a timely manner.
Keep It Simple
I worked for four years with an architect whose project management process was straightforward and did not involve complext software, but it did include consistent communication with the appropriate team members at the correct times. Different design-build professionals were included at different times depending on the job phase. As the interior designer, I was involved in conference calls during design concept, and consistently toward the end of the project, as finishes were being installed, right through the walk-through after the close of the project.
Owners would be expected to be on the weekly call and if not available, to have a representative or substitute join in on the call. Having a substitute was the exception, rather than the rule. Below is a checklist I put together that aided me in filling in for the architect when he was not available. I would take notes and send any unanswered questions to the architect. Outstanding questions were handled with quick calls or emails with the appropriate people. Notes from the call, including responses to questions, would be emailed to the entire team by close of the business day.
Weekly Conference Call Prompters — A Checklist
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- update from GC – on site this week – project progress
- pay application status
- utilities: electrical, cable, telephone, gas
- civil, building, fire sprinkler, slab, framing, footer, grading
- exterior: awnings, other
- delays, anticipated delays; schedule tracking ok?
- areas to be addressed from last week’s GC report
- items in need of resolution
- outstanding permits (site, sign, exterior)
- request for information/change order proposals
- submittals outstanding
- Art, TV locations, need for blocking, power
- Audio/video, TV, voice data, security
- Next site visit: ____
- Off line calls with : ____
This is not a long or hard to understand list of items. It is weekly attention to these key areas that makes it a useful outline.
Tips on the Bidding Process
Perhaps you have a contractor that you feel comfortable with and would like to do the work for you. Consider taking the advice of your architect, who has worked many jobs with many contractors and will have a good idea of how they will perform overall. We would generally send the bid to 5 or 6 contractors. Not all contractors invited will submit a bid. You will, hopefully, have 3 to review. Ensure that your architect issues a standard bid form, to compare apples to apples as best possible. There will be a low, middle, and high bid. Be sure to look at the details and how each contractor priced each item. I’ve seen bids where the final numbers were almost identical but the individual components were off by tens of thousands of dollars. Do not rush the bidding process. Allow at least two, if not three weeks for contractors to contact their subs and get solid pricing. If you issue a bid during a holiday, add in another week as nothing happens during holiday weeks.
A Note on Contractors
General contractors have a difficult job. It’s such a juggling act to get business, keep business, and manage business. Low priced contractors have lower overhead, and can therefore offer better pricing but availability can be an issue — particularly when your job has already been secured and they are striving to get new business. You can feel left out in the cold. Alternatively, higher priced contractors have more staff and deeper pockets and you can be fairly certain that your job will be attended to until completion, but you pay a premium for that. Before you select a contractor, ensure you understand who you and your architect will be working with during the duration of your job. Often, the person who bids the job is at a higher level in the company and you will be assigned a project manager from the company. You want to be sure you understand this person’s abilities.
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Protecting Specified Finishes
Not all contractors will accommodate this request, but if you can get your contractor to purchase each and every finish and warehouse these items until the building is ready for their installation, the interior design will retain its integrity. If this does not happen, and items are not available, substitutions to original finishes will compromise your design. The more threads that are pulled (the more finishes that are substituted) the more your design will suffer. The finished look for your guests deserve that you make this a priority with your contractor. Even if they do not have warehousing of their own, there are so many options for short-term warehousing, that there is no reason to omit this important step.
I recommend that you do not impose an immovable final deadline on your architectural and construction team. While a soft launch can be used to work out logistical flaws, this should be a flexible event. Of course deadlines are important, and a certain amount of pressure needs to be administered, but things happen in the building business all the time. If you create a deadline that cannot be moved, all of the finishes, which come in very late in the game, can end up getting replaced by items that are on hand but are sub par. For a boutique hotel, this is unacceptable.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that individuals with disabilities are able to dine or work at a restaurant as well as an able-bodied individual. The Department of Justice enforces the rules that apply to a restaurant’s building and facilities.
The fire marshal can keep you from opening if the requirements of ADA are not met. One of your architect’s important tasks is staying up to date on any changes to ADA. However, it is still wise to add to your own checklist that all requirements for ADA are address very early on in the process. For example, you obviously need to include accessible seating into your hotel restaurant but if your restaurant design does not include bar type seating as part of the general dining area, then the bar itself must provide accessible seating. This includes a companion seat. If your architect is well versed in restaurant design, this should not be an issue. Trust but verify!
You Don’t Have To Be An Expert
While you don’t have to be an expert in architecture, the construction industry, or even project management, you have power as the owner/operator. You can be the momentum that keeps these conference calls going should that becomes necessary. Just 10 or 15 minutes a week is usually enough to keep everyone on target and in the know. You cannot, nor are you expected to manage all of coordination and communication that must take place among your design- build team, but these regular conference calls can be a key element to keep it all moving forward.
You Got This!
Your role as owner/operator is varied and demanding. However, you are in your position because you are smart, willing to learn, flexible, and you have a strong stomach! Recognizing the complexities of the building process will better help you to manage this part of your business. If you can appreciate the skills and knowledge of the professionals that are making your project a reality while expecting competence from them in return, you will strike a good balance. Don’t forget that your ability to manage projects and keep a positive attitude can benefit your design-build experience as well as your relationships with other team members.
Don’t ever be hesitant to ask questions if you don’t understand something in your construction drawings or have questions or concerns as the process unfolds.
Owners tend to be euphoric at the beginning of a new build project and angry at everyone by the end. A good process and realistic expectations will help you to navigate the stress that inevitably takes place at the end of a construction project. In addition, once you have been through one new build or renovation, and are becoming familiar with the components of the building process, you will have more insight and ability to weather the phases of any future projects.