Your client is confused and confusion leads to frustration. You have presented an AIA agreement to them calling out multiple project phases including Programming, Schematic Design, Design Development and so on.  Respect that many of these terms are new to clients and they don’t understand why you are making this so complicated, why not go to 0 to 100% complete? Design teams often state that critical sign offs are needed during the process. These industry standards are in place to protect the design team and require them to make sure the client is getting what they want.

Read that last sentence again and check your heartbeat if it didn’t make you cringe.  Why on earth do we need a process that would require the service provider to confirm the client is happy?  The truth is, that’s  a hard sell.  The reality is these phases protect the design team from the owner making changes after a defined phase is complete–so be honest and tell them that.

We have worked with many owners and architects and nobody’s Design Development (DD’s) drawings look exactly the same. Although there are published AIA checklists, clients don’t have easy access to them (they are not free) nor do architects adhere to them all of the time.  With the introduction of BIM we are often hearing the Design Development phase is being extended and the Construction Document Phase is being shortened, another confusing situation for your client.  How could it be extended? Why isn’t it still a phase with checklist to determine what should be done?

What is most confusing to the owners is the invoicing procedure. How do they know if a phase, such as Design Development, is 100% complete, even if some of the deliverables our outlined in the agreement.  Surely there is standard of care but that isn’t referred to until after legal action.  Some suggestions:

Sit down with the client at the onset of the project and describe the phases, be honest on why they exist.

  1. Provide your client with samples of deliverables to visually demonstrate what they should be expecting.  This will expedite payment and sign-offs when required.
  2. Explain to your client that every architect’s deliverable vary and again, clarify yours.
  3. If you require official phase sign off, set up the protocol early as many clients may have to go to a board or have multiple parties involved. If you are regiment on this requirement then reflect it in your schedule.
  4. Consider ditching the Schematic Design through Construction Document phases and call it design, billing percentage complete; it may be out of the norm but your client might like the simplicity.

Paul Wember ~ Owner’s Representative