Building Project Success with Strategic Architect/Client Communications
At the AIBC, the Professional Conduct and Illegal Practice department as well as AIBC’s Practice Advisors are the first points of contact for receiving queries and complaints from architects and the public. A reoccurring theme is that many complaints could have been resolved mid-project, or even avoided entirely, had a well-developed architect/client communications strategy been in place.
Developing such a strategy at the outset of a project and equally important putting it into practice, supports a communications process through which information exchange can easily flow and challenges are effectively addressed as the project progresses.
Considerations for Developing an Effective Communications Strategy
- Keeping clients and stakeholders informed.
Who is the main contact when there are multiple players involved and how should they be contacted? Establish a communication hierarchy that identifies key contacts, the standardized communication methods (by phone, email or text) to be used across the project and ensure this includes all stakeholders.How will you manage client communications when you are not there (e.g. when you’re ill, going on family leave, or going on holidays)? Clearly articulate in your plan how communications will continue during such absences.Avoid the common pitfall of fading communications by building in milestone updates along the way to ensure the channel remains open throughout the lifetime of the project. These mid-project updates are great opportunities to review changes in project costs, shifts in scheduling or adjustments to the project scope.
- Managing client expectations.
Clear and accurate messaging will go a long way to building client confidence and managing realistic expectations. Be forthright with clients about how long it could take for permits to be issued. Outline the dependencies of the project, making note of how changing variables like weather, material availability or stakeholder delays might impact the schedule.A project budget that accurately reflects the project scope is yet another key to keeping the client’s expectations in alignment, but also consider where the client places the value in the project: price, quality or speed? As the common adage goes you can have two but not all three of those options, so understanding your client’s priorities will allow you to build a budget and timeline that is responsive to these expectations.
- Communicating the right message at the right time.
The nature of communications will change over the course of the project, from scheduling and administrative matters in the beginning, to more time-sensitive, decision-oriented communications mid-project. Knowing this, plan a strategy that is responsive to these variations and makes use of the most effective communications methods throughout the lifetime of the project.Lastly, remember that clients may not be familiar with industry-specific terminology and acronyms so taking the time to explain details in familiar language will ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the work to be done.
Regulatory Communications Requirements
In addition to contributing to a project’s success, adequate communications are a regulatory requirement for registrants. As discussed in a previously published Regulatory Review on Terms of Engagement, Bylaw 34.10 states that (other than through approved competitions) architects can’t provide services until retained and instructed by the client. Of note, the bylaw also includes an important and binding council ruling with respect to communication:
“(c) An architect has a duty to communicate with a client and to keep a client reasonably informed.”
While many assume this architect/client communication will happen organically as the project evolves, experience has proven this is not the case. A well thought out strategy developed and implemented at the outset of the project can help avoid common miscommunication pitfalls, and significantly increase the chance of a successful project outcome.
- AIBC Bylaws, section 34.10 (c)
Issues of AIBC Regulatory Review will be published on a regular basis, announced via Connected and archived on the AIBC website.