Architects and Delay

Thoughts on how to manage the relationship with an architect who is not diligent about staying on schedule. July 30, 2009

We're encountering more and more problems with architects that don't seem to be interested in getting their client's projects completed in a timely manner. This is something that has gotten worse over the years and it's gotten to the point where I'm wondering how anything gets done anymore. Many times they refuse to answer questions or act as if they're being inconvenienced by simply being asked for information. More often than not the documentation they provide is rife with errors and inconsistencies. We are always respectful when initially requesting their help and on many occasions have been forced to notify them that the lack of information will result in project delays to no avail. I suspect we as contractors are getting the blame for projects not delivered on time because often times we have no direct contact with the customer while the Architect skates merrily along. In the best interests of those customers, does anyone have any suggestions on how we hold them accountable to do their part?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor L:
Lots of those problems can be overcome with your shop drawing submittals. Shops should include notes explaining how you propose to handle conflicts or lack of information. When you get the shops back the architect will redline those items he feels strongly about and at that point you've got his attention. Most of the time they will just accept the millwork shop drawings with only minor clarifications. Conflicts arise due to multiple people working on the same drawing, standard specs being used that have not been matched to the job at hand, inexperience, etc. Use your shop drawings and notes to expedite the solutions.

From contributor Z:
I've had the same trouble to the point the client screams at me for things my hands are tied over. On a few occasions I have put the architect on the spot at meetings with the client and problems have been resolved. Needless to say they don't use me anymore but some of their clients do for repeat work without them. The problem is getting all parties in the same place at the same time "in person" with no conference call stuff to get things straight. I have also found that many newer less experienced ones are not too willing to put their signature in anything. Fear of being responsible - who knows. In all fairness I have worked with a few very good guys who really know their stuff.

From contributor U:
The proper protocol here is documentation. Start the discourse with email. State your concerns clearly, in a friendly kind of way.

For example:

"Dear Architect,
We are still missing information regarding detail "X" and I am concerned that this will cause a delay in our ship dates. I was wondering if perhaps we could get together at your office to go over these questions. I have some ideas that I think could solve this problem and I would like to show them to you. When you get a chance, please take a look at the attached drawings and let me know when would be a good time to meet.
The Mgmt."

After you have documented on paper your concerns you want to follow it up with a phone call. At this time you can chat up your idea but, more importantly, keep a positive spin on the issue. It is easier to start with the documentation and follow it up with a phone call than doing it in the reverse order. Sometimes following up the conversation with paper can be perceived in an adversarial way.

Email first and phone call second. Architects do not like a paper trail to their front door. You will find that documentation will magically fix at least 60% of the procrastination. Phone calls will be conveniently misinterpreted or else forgotten (disavowed) altogether. This technique also works with general contractors.

From contributor S:
Situations like this are very common with most architects due to their conceptual approach to most of the projects. Often, the architect does not have an answer on technical and very detailed questions. Do not just ask architect how to do it, most likely they will avoid you and you are not getting the information you need. Instead, offer them a possible solution. In 90% of cases they will accept it, because they do not know other way to accomplish it or they simply do not care and completely trust your expertise. I work with architects very closely, for many years. There are some very good, with hands on experience and some very talented but not that much techy. Contributor U is absolutely right, document everything. Email is the best way to communicate, but unfortunately not all the people are so computer savvy as we want them to be. If I'm not getting response to my emails (happens all the times) I will fax, and then follow up with phone call. In no way I will tell the architect that he/she is wrong, I will just kindly suggest other way. They have gone a long, long way, before they became architects.

From contributor E:
You work for the contractor not the architect and he should get you the information you need if he does not then bid what you build and make it clear in your proposals and shop drawings. If the crown detail is missing, for example, then qualify the crown as whatever you want to provide or exclude it all together. If they decide they want a 3 step crown down the road you submit a change order and charge them for it including the time needed to revise shop drawings because you covered yourself in your initial proposal clearly. In this tight economy contractors don't want to be asked questions but want you to submit the smallest number as a base bid and then include what you want to sell as alternates.

From contributor T:
We have not put it to the test yet, but we have decided to handle one problem this way: if they have not chosen colors by the time we are making shop drawings, we will insert a standard color (like white PVCc banding for a woodgrain laminate) and then they will have to specify the color before they send the shops back. We have a list of standard materials that we will insert to prompt them to get the info to us. I don't know if it will work yet, but simply stating "color TBD" is pretty open-ended and is not much of a motivator.

From contributor S:
It will not work, guarantee. The Architect will simply reject your drawings, with "Revise and Resubmit" or “Not Approved”, and you are going to end up with endless revisions and re submittals, which will delay the process even more.

From contributor S:
Deadline must be noted in contract: from the date drawings are approved for production. Any additional changes will increase production time and will cause delays in delivery and installation and are subject of change orders and additional charge. Every little change must be documented, approved and signed by architect, and completion time must be readjusted. You charge them big for change orders, this way they think twice before changing something. If you give it for free, then they are going to take it and ask for more, because you are such a nice guy.