The project development process step by step: What pitfalls to avoid in space fit-out

With massive numbers of people working remotely and new social distancing rules in place, companies have begun to recognise the need to reconfigure or refit out office space so that it best meets the needs of employees. What is important in planning a project development process? Experts of Cushman & Wakefield explain its basic dos and don’ts and what pitfalls to avoid.

The first step to a successful project development process is to understand the objective behind it. This stage begins with a series of questions that will direct an investor towards the right paths of procurement of professionals and contractors needed to complete the project.

“The basic questions to be asked before starting a project concern its objectives which may include the following: to upsize or downsize an office, to repurpose, convert or upgrade premises, to move to a different location (known or still being searched for), to improve the quality of space to be sold or leased, to upgrade existing space to bring it in line with current standards such as fire regulations, or to refurbish or refresh it. Once the objective has been identified, it is time to determine the project’s turnaround time and budget,”  says Aleksandra Kozdra, Project Manager, Cushman & Wakefield.

PITFALL #1: A belated decision to commence the project

“A lease that is due to expire, a shortage of workspaces for new hires or unfinished office space for the anchor tenant are the key reasons for starting a project. However, for a fit-out project to run smoothly, it should begin well in advance due to its complexity and multiple phases,”  says Michał Jaraczewski, Associate, Project & Development Services, Cushman & Wakefield.

It is advisable to consult an expert for advice on an expected project turnaround time, especially now, in the pandemic era. The key milestones of a project delivery are as follows:

  1. Secure funds (with enough allowance for cost overruns).
  2. Select designers (directly or through a bidding process), then design space – which is usually a multiphase activity, too.
  3. Select contractors and build – also a multiphase activity.
  4. Provide the required equipment and furniture, and commission systems such as IT and AudioVideo.

For a project (especially an office relocation or functionality redesign) to be a success for all employees and to guarantee satisfaction with the new space, it is a good idea to engage experts to conduct a Workplace Strategy review at the very outset. The review will comprise an analysis of the existing office, its conditions, fit-out and items valued by employees and a series of meetings engaging all employees so that they have a feeling that they have a real impact on the future of their workplace. Experts will use such data and analyses to prepare guidelines for an architect to use in developing a space plan.

If changes that a company will undergo are significant, it might be wise to engage Workplace Strategy experts also at a later stage to support change management. They can provide communication support and solutions that will make it easier for employees to embrace change and help them navigate the new reality more easily.

PITFALL #2: Belated engagement of a project manager

Another question to be asked at the design stage is: Who will be in charge of the project? A project manager should be involved in the project while commercial and business conditions are still being discussed. He is a specialist in his field and his contribution to developing a project schedule and budget and logistical arrangements may be key early on.

“A project manager may be either an investor’s employee or an external expert of a project management company. Project development may be a large-scale and long-drawn-out process for an investor. It is a good idea to engage an external project manager not only on account of his experience and expertise, but also because few investors can afford to put aside their daily duties to handle the running and coordination of a construction project,”  says Aleksandra Kozdra.

PITFALL #3: Poor budgeting

One of the most common pitfalls in projects is underestimating a budget, which will lead to major cost overruns. If you lack the necessary experience, you might want to seek advice from a specialist cost manager who is able to put together a very accurate budget based on a client’s guidelines.

“Many companies believe that it is possible to execute all the planned works on a low budget. It is true that you can execute a pretty successful project despite having very limited funds, but you really need to have the know-how. If you lack insight and experience, you may end up with a disappointing result,” says Michał Jaraczewski.

PITFALL #4: Distrust of designers/subcontractors

Depending on the nature of a project, the key roles in design will be played by either architects or engineers. Most projects, however, will require engagement not only of these two specialists, but a whole range of other experts, including specialists in IT, Workplace Strategy, OHS, acoustics, AV, security systems (CCTV cameras, access control), custom-built furniture, etc. Each of these fields is unique and has its own specialists. As no-one expects an investor to be familiar with all project aspects, it is important to hire designers he will trust.

“As regards project execution, an investor’s wish naturally comes first as ultimately it is the designers that are to implement the investor’s visions and needs. Nevertheless, the excessive questioning of design solutions will frequently lead to changes during construction works, resulting in cost overruns and delays. Designers are knowledgeable about materials and technologies, so it is worth trusting them. They will usually present various cost options, but disputing their advice and insisting on the implementation of the investor’s own solutions in defiance of the designers’ recommendations may have unpleasant and costly consequences,”  says Michał Jaraczewski.

PITFALL #5: Failure to inform designers, project managers and quantity surveyors about the budget

“Designers will be happy to let their imagination run wild if they are not given clear cost limits. As they are aware of the costs of solutions they propose, it is definitely better to specify a budget right at the beginning of a project and to design within budget. Otherwise, several months into work it may turn out that the budget has been overshot two or three times, or some opportunities were left untapped and cheaper products were used that do not fully meet function or quality requirements,”  says Aleksandra Kozdra.

It is vital that the investor allows enough time to go over the details of a finished conceptual or detailed design with designers or the project manager as the document will include a lot of information shown on technical drawings that will not be immediately easy to understand for people who do not read such documentation on a daily basis. Although it may take up to several hours to present a design in detail, the project manager or the architect should be allowed to do it before the design is fully approved. This will allow you to avoid surprises at the construction site when something unforeseen happens or, worse, when some key features such as IT or AV installations are missing.

Another important matter in the design process is the presence of people responsible for making design decisions until the project is delivered. If there is no investor-appointed person to make crucial decisions during the design, it is necessary to appoint such a person and to ensure that key individuals continue to be engaged. In practice, this means that the person making key decisions at the beginning of a project should be involved until its completion so that the team present during the final stages is aware of the project guidelines adopted by others early on.

PITFALL #6: Failure to include designers in supervising construction works

The conceptual design and the detailed design are frequently prepared by completely different designers. The conceptual design, as the name suggests, defines the look and feel, while the detailed design constitutes multidisciplinary documentation containing a set of ‘how to build’ instructions for contractors. As the detailed design is not always an ideal reflection of the concept, it may become necessary to modify the concept, which is where the assistance of those who came up with the original ideas is indispensable. The architect responsible for the design will often be the fastest to identify any construction errors or non-conformity with the design, which is why it is so important to engage him in construction works and to include the scope of his supervision in the original project quote.

PITFALL #7: No time between acceptance procedures for launching the investor’s own systems, installations or furniture delivery and assembly

In the case of a typical fit-out of a larger office, even a month is often hardly long enough to deliver the new space for the official opening of operations. The investor, supported by the project manager, should list the installation works to be carried out and specify a safe timeframe for completion. These may include the following:

  • Installation of movable furniture such as desks, tables, chairs, racks, etc.;
  • Installation and test runs of AV and IT systems, CCTV cameras, access control;
  • Commissioning of utilities, including the internet and WiFi;
  • Employee training on the systems in the new space.

The project manager will also help ensure from the project’s outset that everyone involved knows what they are responsible for and what their project roles are. This will make the project easier to run for everyone and will cause fewer misunderstandings. A list of contact details will facilitate communication. Everyone involved in the project should read all the relevant documents which should also be easily available and regularly updated.


Cushman & Wakefield

Last Updated on July 16, 2021 by Karolina Ampulska