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What If the (Facilities) Project Program is Wrong? Part I

ad hoc Workgroup

This ad hoc Workgroup of experienced planners took on the hardest question:  What if the program is wrong?  No one wants to abet the Owner in building the wrong building….

  • Susan Dineen
  • Kevin Hickman
  • Tim Lerdahl
  • Steve Raasch
  • Derrick Van Mell
  • Mike Vascellaro
  • Pete Vogel

Topic question: What if the program is wrong?

The premise: If the program’s wrong, you’ve built the wrong building. Approvals, design, real estate transactions, construction, FF&E, financing and relocation might be perfect, but is it a success if it doesn’t clearly support the Owner’s management goals?

Discussion questions

  1. How many programs work well after three years?
  2. Why do programs fail?
  3. How can programming be improved?

Top 3 lessons

  1. An inspiring statement of purpose is essential to a good program
  2. The overall business case must be solid
  3. Owners must be helped to think about the future

Get the “Why?” right—or else

The program itself is the spreadsheet of spaces, but it should be covered by a project charter.  If the charter is wrong, the program will be wrong—and you’ve built the wrong building.  The charter is the Why and the program is the What.

  • Success is when a 20-year-old building still feels like new
  • The Owner must have a compelling vision
  • The business case must be right, too. 
  • Put differently, one must define the problem
  • Need to put short-term budget pressures into context
  • Good programming can open operational insights for the Owner
  • An inspiring purpose will energize the Owner’s employees and the project team

Do your homework, and make sure they do, too

  • Need to understand client’s operations and processes
  • Taking tours is essential, but you must provide the right examples
  • Programming during COVID is challenging given changes and uncertainty
  • Include fit and feasibility tests of the program
  • Include FF&E in the program

Process:  Ask the right questions of the right people

  • Need to clarify the decision-making process
  • Provide end users the “Why?” instead of asking, “What do you want?”
  • Try to understand how people feel about the space
  • Communicate continuously about lessons from the program and the project
  • Some Owners have shorter tenure than the project duration, cutting off accountability

“Future proof” this long-term investment

  • Don’t just extrapolate today’s assumptions
  • Consider effects of location and site
  • The infrastructure must support flexibility
  • How should the program be evaluated?

The group agreed to continue to meet, to develop develop this best practice:

  1. The Why: Can we share/create a sample of the ideal “project charter” to show clients?
  2. Prep: What’s on the programming preparation checklist—for ourselves and for the client?
  3. Decision-making: What are top 3 questions for: Board, CEO, executives, facility managers, end users?
  4. “Future proofing:” What techniques in programming can deal with the uncertainties of the future?
  5. Evaluation: What tools or techniques can tell us if a program worked?

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The Center for Management Terms & Practices is the standards body for general management. CEOs can delegate with confidence if managers in every department use the same best practices, language and tools. See The GMs Index and The GMs Toolkit.

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