Five Steps to a Successful Project

What can you do to ensure a project's success?


Building projects can be incredibly complex, involving multiple stakeholder groups, consultants, specialized designers, lengthy timelines, and millions of dollars in capital. With so many things that can potentially go wrong, what can you do to make sure a project is successful?
In this blog, we’ll explore the five steps to a successful project, based on a presentation that I recently gave to the Independent Colleges of Indiana along with Phil Kenney, President of Wilhelm Construction.


At Design Collaborative, we ask a lot of questions during the programmatic stage of the project because we want to know what’s important to you. We want to discover your needs, and the significant requirements for the project to be considered a success. In this process, it’s important not to take anything for granted. For example, if a client says, “We want to expand,” our team will conduct an interview to dissect what exactly that means. What is the driving the need for expansion? How much space do you really need to add? How is your current space being used? Through these interview questions, we might discover that existing space isn’t being used as efficiently as it could be. As a result, we might then rework the existing space and spend less on new construction, saving you time and money.
Another fundamental driver is your master plan. This includes determining the utilities and infrastructure to be considered during the project, how the project fits into your strategic plan, if the project is a short- or long-term solution, and any concerns with first costs versus life cycle costs.
The project timeline is another fundamental driver. Typically, you, the client, already have a timeline in mind for project completion. The team will need to understand the drivers behind the schedule to appropriately and safely meet deadlines. We don’t want to rush to meet a deadline and miss something as a result, so proper planning is crucial. Carefully looking at and uncovering the hidden obstacles that can affect the timeline is very important. The timing of approval processes, such as Board or administrative approval, should also be considered when developing a project timeline.
Finally, establish who the stakeholders are, what authority they will have, and how involved they will be during the project. Once the goals of the project, timeline, and stakeholders are established, it’s time to assemble the perfect project team.



This is the most important step because your project must be led by people you can trust. Establishing a relationship with a trustworthy team who excels at guidance is vital. Without strong guidance, the process of designing and constructing a building can be overwhelming and difficult, especially if you haven’t done it before. The project team is there to guide you through the complex planning and iterative design process.
The team should include the client’s internal team (identified in step one), the architect, and the contractor. The first priority is to determine who will be responsible for what. The key areas of responsibility include: cost, schedule, design, quality assurance, and safety. It’s important to clearly establish who has the authority to make decisions concerning different areas of responsibility.
How do you select the right architect and contractor? If you don’t already have a strong, existing relationship, you might consider issuing an RFP (Request for Proposal) to generate interest. When selecting your team, you need to think about issues like experience, cost, expertise, and portfolio. Is the collaborative experience of team members important on this particular project? What kind of construction delivery method and construction type does each contractor offer?



Once the project team is established, a review of the project delivery methods and timeline should begin. Some delivery methods allow materials to be pre-purchased, or release some portions of the work for construction while the design of other elements continues. Options like these can help you to be more aggressive with your schedule and timeline.
A newer method of delivering construction on larger projects is integrated project delivery (IPD). This is related to “Lean” processes. The IPD process takes time to set up, but is beneficial to larger projects because it can be more efficient and help maximize things related to cost, quality, and quantity.
The goal of defining project delivery is to minimize change orders. Change orders can create confusion, potential errors, cost increases, or timeline delays. More effort spent upfront in the planning phase often results in fewer change orders as the project progresses.


The project team will need to establish guidelines and define reporting methods. Safety will need to be ensured at the project site. Milestones will be set on the timeline, and should include a completion date and have room for potential damages that might add to the scheduled timeline. If warranted, damages can be liquidated for completion (approximately 20% or fewer projects have liquidated damages). For example, if a project is not finished on time, a penalty incurs.



At this point, the project is mostly complete but requires some finishing touches. This can be time consuming and difficult to schedule if members of the team aren’t as involved anymore and have moved on to newer projects. Team members will need to schedule time to return to the site to check that all final details are finished before the project is complete.
Commissioning and qualification will take place now. Commissioning measures the building’s systems and equipment to ensure that things are functioning properly and efficiently after installation. We encourage a warranty walk-through with clients 11 months after a project is complete. This allows some time for any repairs or changes that might be necessary inside a typical 12-month equipment warranty.
Most projects today are designed and documented for construction using some type of Building Information Modelling (BIM) software, like Revit. A BIM model is a three-dimensional, digital model that contains an incredible amount of data about systems, finishes, and construction. BIM models can be kept up to date by owners or facility managers, and help make equipment maintenance easier to track and schedule. The smart model created with BIM software acts as a repository for all project data, and makes stacks of moldy, old drawings or illegible scans a thing of the past.



Design Collaborative’s mission is to improve people’s worlds. We do this through true collaboration with our clients, and by valuing relationships as much as the building we’re designing. We engage each client as a partner, spending time finding your unique goals, personality, and vision. Together, we explore new possibilities and make sound decisions while meeting timelines, budgets, and project goals. Do you have an idea for a project? Let’s work together.


Kevin Scully, NCARB
Principal, Registered Architect