These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

October 2011
I Want What I Want

…and I want it now!

temper tantrum calvinMy mother had an adage: “I want doesn’t always get.” She was ages before the Rolling Stones “You can’t always get what you want.” Either way, there’s obvious truth to the advice. That doesn’t mean we should give up on telling people what we want. It just means we have to manage our expectations of satisfaction.

Facilities Managers have a related, albeit more technical, ‘want’ and ‘get’ situation on their hands. Getting Architects, Engineers, Contractors and many other Vendors to give them what they want seems like a never-ending ordeal. Satisfaction comes perhaps from the discipline of Design Standards. ‘Basis of Design’, ‘Standard Specifications’, ‘Facilities Guidelines’ – all more or less the same. Let’s explore the subject.

What's the diff? –shrugging hobbes
Why bother?

There are many good reasons why a conscientious Facilities Manager would want to make the effort:
  • Only get what your staff knows how to maintain.
  • Get some control over replacement part inventory.
  • Save energy.
  • Shorten the learning curve with Consultants, Contractors, and Vendors.
  • Simplify the purchasing process.
  • Install what works for the regular users.

Ok, How?

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to implementing Design Standards, but there are some routine considerations.

1. First, Look at what you're doing now.

It’s likely, without actually meaning to, you’re already promulgating standards.

  • Are you giving Architects and Engineers the specs from the last job, telling them “I think this is what I want.”?
  • Are you touring prospective Contractors through existing facilities so they can see what has been done in the past?
  • Are you constantly reusing the same consultants because ‘they seem to know what you need’?

These are some of the varying methods of achieving some level of consistency, uniformity and satisfaction. Once you've done this a few dozen times, I’ll bet you’ve thought there might be a better way.

2checkbox. Decide what's important.

What’s consuming most of your time? What is costing you the most money, either initially or annually? What is constantly getting messed up? What do you feel inclined to control?

3. Detail? – How prescriptive do you want the information to be?

Tell them a little or tell them a lot — the choice is yours.  Describing the minimum expectations is, of course, where this all starts.  If that’s adequate to suit your needs, good for you.  Documentation can be simplified.  More detail — alternates, working conditions, specific proprietary makes and model numbers — these complicate things as the directives pile on.

Taken to the limit, Design Standards can begin to look more and more like CSI-formatted technical specifications.  The extra effort may be justified.  It depends

4. Do you know what you DON'T know?

puzzleHow much technical expertise do you have?  Merely thinking that you know what you want doesn’t mean that you actually ‘know’ what you’re asking for.  For example, I want low GPF water-closets and urinals to reduce water consumption.  Problem is — I’m not sure I want to have the possibility of increased maintenance or cleaning responsibilities.  Do you know the realities of the trade off?

Chances are you have people with very clear desires, but are they objective?  Are they skilled?  Do they do this all the time?  Pride can sometimes have pitfalls.

5. How much responsibility are you willing to assume? puzzle piece

Even the most detailed Standards — the ones that look like full technical specs — should be evaluated for relevance in the context of adjacent and related conditions.

As nice as it might be to hand a consultant your requirements, saying “Follow this, and don’t make any changes”, there’s a major downside.  When something goes wrong (and it eventually will), you’ll own it, like it or not.

A better choice is the make the Standards ‘advisory’.  Consultants and contractors should be contractually bound to accept your Standards, review and coordinate them with project requirements, advise you of needed clarifications and/or modification, get your consent, and formally accept professional liability for the execution of their work.

A good Design Standard makes this all very clear.

6. How much time do you have?

If you want to write things down in a formal way, it takes time and other resources.  If you need many sections, perhaps with a lot of detail, those involved may be in for some heavy lifting.  Realistically, doing a good set of Design Standards is not an overnight venture.  Proceed with your eyes open.

7. Who will 'own' this?

Facilities organizations have varying interests and maybe multiple groups.  Repair, renovation, new construction, maintenance and operations — to name the most common.  Which group prevails?

Although any group can — my candidate is the maintenance people.  They see the long term, and sometimes unintended, consequences of the choices made.  They are often the most vocal when forced to put up with stuff they don’t really want.  Let them ‘own’ it, but establish an objective process for consideration of change.

8. Do it yourself OR have someone do it for you?


  • Do we have the time?
  • Do we have the right people?
  • Are we objective?
  • Do we have the right experience?
  • Can we write?
  • Have we done this before?

Answer “yes” to most of these, and perhaps you’re in a good place to be your own author.  If the responses are shaky or “no”, think about getting help.  Good people are out there.

9. have a maintenance program.

puzzle houseAnything that is built to last has to be maintained.  Design Standards documents are no different.  A process which accumulates comments, suggestions for revision, and nominations for new elements is essential.

Oh yeah —

 follow-through goes without saying.

You CAN get some satisfaction

Back to the Stones (not my mother, please) — and the double negatives actually cancel.  Carefully planned, with help if necessary, Design Standards increase productivity, reduce cost and enhance function.  Try it — what’s to lose?

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

August 2011  “A Beach Read”
May 2011  “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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