Questions to Ask Before a Project Launches

We meet clients at various stages of their journey. Some have already acquired property and need help revitalizing it, whereas others are looking for just the right space and need help finding it. Regardless of where you are in the process, there are many common, predictable things that happen. We offer this ongoing series of tips to help educate anyone, whether an entrepreneur or homeowner, working through the design and construction process.

Renovate, Expand, or Start Fresh?

One of the best parts of being a virtual firm is all the wonderful and interesting spaces we utilize to meet our clients. While meeting over lunch at one of our favorites, the client asked a question we’ve heard many times, “How do I know if I should renovate and expand my space or find a new one?” As an architect, I know that I can dive into an expansive explanation about feasibility studies and programming. However, as an entrepreneur I also understand that this owner needs a more efficient, less academic answer to address their immediate need. The easiest way to do this is through a series of questions and answers not unlike a scientist or reporter would do with “wh” and “how” questions. Let’s delve into the process bit-by-bit, and I’ll add tips I hope are helpful along the way.

Answer the Five Ws to Get to the How

So, I break down the potential homeowner or entrepreneur’s question on how to proceed like this. In this situation, I said something like, “Let’s keep it general and deal with the base facts: who, what, when, where, and why. Once you can answer those questions, you’re ready to tackle the how. You do this for both scenarios and then compare the pros and cons.” My client nodded and then asked, “Can you explain further?”

So, I began this explanation, which I later realized could benefit many others not in attendance at that meeting.

I continued, “When looking at the who question, you need to keep in mind all of the players. Those are first and foremost your patrons, the people who keep the doors open and the lights on. I assume you’re in this position because business is good and you want to grow and accommodate more patrons. You will need both sets of numbers, the current number of patrons and the increase you anticipate realizing by expanding or building. Next is the staff. Put together the current numbers and the expected increase here as well. Last, but not least, are your vendors and consultants. And remember our four-legged friends, too! These numbers inform many decisions you’ll need to consider in the future such as parking spaces and toilet facilities, etc. Make a list and note any special needs, then evaluate the costs associated with the who between the two scenarios.”

Next, I went into the what. “When working on the What don’t get hung up on a detailed assessment at this early point, that’s what a design professional will do for you later. Just get an idea of the number, types and size of spaces that you’ll need and any amenities required. You understand your needs better than anyone else ever can so rank, highlight and organize the spaces list. A basic comparison of the list of spaces should yield an idea of the relative cost difference between the two scenarios.”

The when is at this point general. I illustrated this by saying, “You should set a goal of when you want to be in your new space or have the renovation completed. If you have a hard deadline being imposed, indicate it. That’s it. Just understand, this is a moving target until you develop the project further.”

I then lead into the where, a very important piece of the criteria for any client. “When considering where to relocate, the best way to do this is to make a list of all the pros and cons of your current location. Look at both the micro location and the macro as well as the surrounding amenities. Think in terms of your patrons and your patrons’ needs as well as your operation. Highlight the pros, and add anything not available that you would like in a new location. You will be able to evaluate the two scenarios in light of this information.”

So far, so good. The client was taking notes and asking some questions. I went on. “The why is by far the most important piece of information. You need to clearly explain the reasoning behind the decision that determined the need for the project to begin with. Write it down. Most decisions going forward are based on the why. Later on when you hire a professional, that information is invaluable.”

Evaluate the List of Pros and Cons

At this point you have the lists from each question, pros and cons. Go ahead and outline basic scenarios of how each project can be achieved. Note potential solutions as you go through each list. Based upon what you have recorded, you can get a clearer picture of each project’s viability. And you will have an informed, organized understanding to begin the work with the professional.

How to Proceed on a Project

Anyone can do this. If you are a homeowner or an entrepreneur, the benefits of an organized approach cannot be overvalued. Once you have worked through this process, you will have a clear, concise picture of what your potential projects are and how they can be achieved. The next step is to begin contacting the design professionals whom you believe will be required to develop your vision. These professionals will assemble the “how” of your project, whether a rehab, new build, or new buy. Whom you contact will depend on your specific project and the details you have organized from this tips list. We will walk you through the next part of the process in a future article. Stick around!