Understanding this 3-part definition of a project will transform your project approach into a logical, predictable, and enjoyable experience.

As a Real Estate Owner Representative, I work with homeowners and commercial real estate owners to protect their interests and to advise, track and manage a project on their behalf. The primary objective is to ensure that the project is delivered on time, within budget, and meeting the requirements of scope and quality set forth.  My personal goal for each assignment is to guide the owner through an important, but also exciting and rewarding experience to a successful outcome. With clear and reliable communication and proactive tracking from the very beginning, a project can be a very fun and enjoyable journey.

Particularly when I come in to correct a project that has fallen into distress, I often find expectations are unrealistic. Either they are set so high so that they cannot be met, or too low, resulting in a skeptical and defensive stance toward the contractor.  These patterns are seen regardless of the size or type of project. What is lacking on both large and small projects, residential or commercial, is a framework for setting and tracking expectations from the earliest conception through the completion of final punch list items.  This is where an Owner Representative can add a tremendous amount of value, not only in dollars and time, but also in peace of mind.

The first concept that I coach my clients on is to consider their definition a project. Nearly universally, I have found that most people focus the overwhelming majority of their time and energy on the WHAT they want to build or accomplish.  I call this the SCOPE:  what is the function needed, what will it look like, how will it lay out, what finishes, fixtures, lighting, etc.   Agreed, this is the most exciting part of a project, but it is only one aspect.  Predictably, when most of the energy and time is focused on developing the SCOPE of the project, sometimes right up to the start of construction, priorities shift pretty quickly. Now the only questions that matter to ownership at this point are: “How much will it cost?” and “How come it isn’t done yet?”   Unfortunately, at this point, you also have diminishing ability to impact these two critical factors.

So it is helpful to broaden the definition of a project to include SCOPE, COST, and SCHEDULE.  All three need to be considered, developed and tracked simultaneously and iteratively from Day 0 through completion.   Simultaneously, so decisions to one aspect are made with the knowledge of what impact they will make to the others, and iteratively to update and verify that all three aspects of the project are being updated based on current decisions and current field conditions. 

I have found this to be one of the most effective tools for keeping projects within budget and on schedule and for keeping expectations rooted in reality.  It also facilitates decision making.  A decision to enhance the scope of a project sounds like a great idea when designing on paper, but  when the scope change comes with a price tag and impact to overall project schedule – the decision is often much easier to make!

So consider this expanded concept of the three aspects of a Project: Scope, Cost and Schedule on your current and next projects. Cost and Schedule are the necessary constraints which must be solved in order to make your goals reality. So enjoy the process. As you conceive of your project, discipline yourself to also write a conceptual budget and consider your schedule needs and constraints. Do not worry about doing this perfectly, the idea is that you start thinking of the connection between the three. I will write about my approach to defining Conceptual Project Scope, Budget and Schedule and updating these iteratively in successive rounds of refinement in a subsequent article.

The main goal is to enjoy the journey, construction projects are a lot of fun. As long as you keep your expectations up to date and rooted in reality, you’ll find greater enjoyment once you reach your final destination.

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