What Really Makes a Project a Success?

By Andrew L. Shakely, PE, LEED AP
President | NuTec Design Associates, Inc.

Virtually all of our projects have the classic goals of being on budget, delivering on schedule and being completed with quality workmanship. While achieving these goals may result in a “successful” project, they often aren’t what make the project truly standout in the minds of our clients. 

These three items cannot be ignored in a world of global competition and just-in-time delivery, but there is usually something else that keeps our clients up at night. It’s our job to really listen to our clients’ needs to understand what may be an unspoken key to the project’s ultimate success.

For instance, sustainability is a common goal that is now part of almost every project. As design professionals, we strive to create energy-efficient facilities with beneficial long-term life cycle costs, but companies today need to be more transparent with their sustainability efforts. Their customers expect corporations to demonstrate how they are reducing their impact on the global environment and that they are making contributions towards a more sustainable society. Incorporating sustainable practices in the design, construction and operation of a facility can be a source of both employee pride and good customer relations for our clients.

In the manufacturing sector, a key issue may be keeping a critical process up and running while surrounded by construction activities. Or it could be designing a flexible building and utility infrastructure that can be quickly and cost-effectively adapted for a new production line that has yet to be fully developed. Another issue could also be paying attention to small details to create a manufacturing environment where the production employees feel valued and are engaged by their surroundings. Any of these can have both quantifiable and intangible benefits to owners.

In the corporate setting, underlying project goals also entail creating a positive, healthy work environment for employees. Additionally, they may include creating aesthetics that more strongly reflect a brand message, or even creating a whole new message to visitors and customers that depict the company as successful, innovative and ahead of their competition. This does not require bold, expensive design elements, but rather can be done with a thoughtful approach on where to incorporate design elements in an effective manner.

Our job as the design professional is first to understand our client’s needs, both stated and unstated, and then to lead them through the design and construction process so they achieve both their tangible and intangible goals. This can include educating about the advantages and disadvantages of project delivery methods, introducing new products or construction methods, presenting the latest sustainability strategies, or adding design elements to a project that can impact the emotional relationship of its occupants with the facility.

Once the true project goals are understood, they must be shared and embraced by the whole project team. Powerful insights and great ideas can come from staff members at all levels within a design team – often unfiltered by the biases that managers may have developed over years spent in the industry. New creative solutions frequently come from young team members. These ideas must be nurtured and encouraged, while being honed by the experience of the more seasoned team members to avoid potential pitfalls that young staff may have not encountered yet in their careers.

Ultimately, as we look back on the projects completed in our careers, the ones that stand out will not be the ones that simply were within budget, on schedule, and met quality goals. The memorable projects will be the ones that had a transformational impact on our organizations, employees, and even communities. They will be the projects that went beyond the stated goals and achieved success in ways that weren’t anticipated at the start the project.