The architect down the road offers so many different kinds of services – why should I go with you?

The architect down the road offers so many different kinds of services – why should I go with you?

This is a question we get from time to time so I thought it would be a good idea to address it here. Let’s say you’re looking into the process of getting permits for your first commercial development. It’s not a huge project, but the City says you need an architect. Because it’s a smaller project, you start talking to some small firms. One guy sounds really impressive, a real one-stop shop. Not only can he design any kind of building, he also has experience as a construction superintendent AND is certified to perform every type of jobsite inspection you would need! Sounds like you could save a lot of time and money, right?  You might not even need to hire a GC and your inspections would sail through the City!  Not exactly. Think about it this way:

When you have chest pains, you go to your doctor, but if it’s anything other than heartburn, do you still want that generalist? No. You might start general, but as you realize the nature of what you need and how much depends on this going right, you turn to someone with particular expertise. You need a heart specialist because this needs to be done right the first time. You don’t want to waste your precious resources talking to the wrong professional.

Nobody can do it all. Close your eyes for a second. Picture the person meant to design your church, your hospital, or your high-end home. Think of all the specific details that any one of these projects might involve. Now erase that image and think of the person meant to inspect your plumbing and all the expertise that requires. How can they all be the same person?

What’s going to happen to your budget and your schedule when you are dealing with someone who’s doing everything under the sun? And what about the overall quality of the project? Even the most talented one-man band can’t come close to matching the experience you get from, say, attending a Rolling Stones concert or the symphony. Whatever your musical preferences, it’s a different experience when each person in the group masters a specific role and focuses on how that role harmoniously blends into the overall composition. A successful building project works the same way.

Another reason that you are at risk for runaway budget and runaway schedule … someone who says they do it all is probably doing it all for a bunch of people who have been attracted for the same reason. This is a case of insufficient boundaries. As a project manager, I have personally seen how valuable it is to clearly define the scope and goals of the project and to set a clear schedule and budget from the very start. Then stick to them.

When you don’t have boundaries on your project or clearly established roles for your team members, there will not be a true understanding of what’s required, not to mention no form of checks and balances that typically exists between the various disciplines on a project. Often, when clarity does come, it’s too late — the mistake is built and now needs to be torn out. That costs you time and, more importantly, it costs you money.

In the end, you pay more for this “I can do everything” approach. Your GC has a mechanical contractor and a framer. Every trade has its specialty. The tile guy isn’t the same as the roofer. Even for home repair, do you call the electrician when you’ve got a plumbing problem? And if someone doesn’t know what they do best, how are they going to be able to figure out what your project specifically needs?

I would caution you against going with someone who promises the world. Consider what it will mean when the architect down the road says he can design any type of project, for less money in some cases, and is “all over the place” in terms of other available services.

You have already done as much as you can to reduce your risk. Why create this kind of exposure now?