So, the dilemma unfolded, a crossroads of sorts. What to do? I am sure that most A/E/C professionals have been faced with a situation where they had to decide between telling a client what they would like to hear versus the painful truth.
We received a RFP calling for a combined design and construction schedule of six months. Upon analyzing the project details, it was clear that an eleven-month schedule was required. This left us with the option of proposing a schedule and fee that matched the client’s delusions, or present the reality. Do we tell the truth and risk losing the project? Do we tell the client what they want to hear? Should we lie?
The answer was obvious – present the truth. As an owner’s representative, it is counterintuitive to mislead the owner. We are, after all, supposed to watch out for their best interests. We secured an interview and although we had an opportunity to interview and present our position, we were denied the project. Another team did indeed demonstrate their ability to meet the abbreviated schedule.
We lost the project, but did we really lose? What if we went along with the unrealistic-schedule charade and were awarded the project? We would likely have had to begin playing a game of chess to protect ourselves. Some strategies might have included:
- Build a schedule that allots one day for the client to review and approve the drawings.
- Schedule 2 or 3 days for the design team to return comments to the building department. Or, better yet, have perfect drawings with no comments.
- Have a multi-phased project and a RFP that would require overtime work. Sure it would increase the owner’s overall costs, but we are justified. They set the goal; we are simply trying to devise a plan to meet it.
- Attempt to have the ownership team call in their political favors to expedite processes.
The schedule could be set up in a manner in which we would not be the cause for any delay (except that we set up the schedule). When deadlines are not met, we could point to the incompetence of the team (that ought to make for positive relationship building). And, the results are ugly. We are left with:
- A client having to make excuses as to why the project is late.
- A design team that was not treated fairly and is now bitter.
- A project that is not on time.
- Negotiating add services that may not be approved.
- Pushing a contractor to make up time, thus risking quality.
- A miserable project on which we all dread working.
As an owner’s representative it is imperative that we honor our commitment to advise in the owner’s best interest. We must be honest about project constraints and sometimes present an unwelcomed reality-check. Our integrity depends upon it.
~ Paul, Wember, Owner’s Representative
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
Paul, I don’t exactly know why but I really like your short parables.
On this one you also have to weigh how a project like this effects your current workload. I would ask if the client is unreasonable for lack of knowledge or by nature. If it’s lack of knowledge it may or may not be changeable. If it’s by nature, how might a bad project negatively effect ongoing projects? That should make the decision easier. Throwing people under the bus should not be an option.
Thanks Joe, we have a pretty strong open rate so something is hitting a nerve, good or bad. I appreciate your comments and agree with them.