Establishing Project Viability First | Building Solutions
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Establishing Project Viability First


I’m going to tell you how to establish project viability first before going any further into the design process and tell you why that is so very important for your budget and your project.

So, what constitutes a viable project? It’s simple.

  1. It looks and feels wonderful 
  2. It fulfills the practical goals of the project
  3. It fits your budget

Project Viability, or not, is reached when we have a set of plans that gives us a preliminary design and a costing document that delivers us a preliminary budget.

Once you know this, you may keep moving forward, you may make small or significant changes in the direction of the project, or you might even put the project on hold for a while. But, most importantly, you’ll have the ability to exit the project altogether without having spent money on deeper dives into structural engineering, the permitting process, or a thorough design process for a project that it turns out—you won’t be building.

Project viability is just the first step in any well-crafted pre-construction value engineering process. 

Project viability should also be Phase 1 and Priority One for the pre-construction contract and there are just 9 simple, easy steps. 

  1. Conduct a preliminary site visit:

    After signing the contract, here begins the assessment process for design possibilities. Likely permitting procedures, potential structural considerations, and value engineering or costing opportunities. 

  2. Due diligence:

    If there are any surprises waiting for us in the files at City Hall, we’d like to know sooner rather than later. We would also like to identify any previously unpermitted work that could affect the project budget, reveal any easements in the title report that may drive the design process, find out what’s in front of us for permitting, etc. In short, clear the path forward of any surprises that nobody wants.

  3. Initial design and programming meeting:

    This meeting takes place on-site with all the client stakeholders. It reviews the due diligence report, the design option for the project the clients would love to have, and establishes the long-term investment goals for the project.

  4. 3D site scan and photo survey:

    Back in the 20th century, it took several people hours and days on-site meticulously measuring with tape measures and note pads with pencils and rough sketches. These days are over and we now routinely lidar scan the entire building, the grounds around the building, the neighboring structures, the street front area, as well as the crawl spaces above and below the building with just one person in just a few hours per single-family dwelling. The accuracy goes way up, the cost goes way down.

  5. Create the software 3D model of the existing structure:

    For the last twenty thousand years, we have been creating lines on flat surfaces with sticks in the sand, ink on parchment paper, 2D lines on a screen – and those days are also thankfully over. At the Forefront of 3D architecture modeling is Autodesk, located here in Marin County, with their suite of 3D design products, including Revit. This is the way we will do a design for the next twenty thousand years.

    Instead of laboriously drawing separate lines on paper with a pencil or on a screen with a mouse, we are now constructing three-dimensional objects in a virtual environment. Just let the implications of that sink in for a moment. For the same or less cost, we can do a thousand more things with the design process, and more importantly, our avenue to a solid budgeting and value engineering process just went from a single-lane country dirt road to an intergalactic wormhole network between the stars.

  6. Create luminary design options based on the initial design meeting in Step 3:

    A copy of the 3D model of the existing structure is created with a mouse click and the modification process begins on that copy. All of the dreams and options from that initial design meeting take on a life of their own on the Star Trek holodeck of the Revit environment. The ability to place 3D cameras at any location within or outside the model, assign different finishes to any floor or countertop, create shadow studies for any day of the year, and see the actual view you will enjoy from the new second-story deck are just some of the astonishing experiences the folks at Autodesk have given us. The results for this design process are revolutionary, including the client’s ability to log on and see their product as it is being created. Rotate it, add or remove layers, all without the designer’s assistance at their own leisure and as part of the collaborative visioning of their own project. We even have 3D goggles for virtual walkthroughs. 

  7. Meet to review and finalize the preliminary design:

    Meeting with clients in person or over the Internet, we narrow options and explore project directions based on clear financial goals made easy in the 3D World of Revit. Final changes can often be made during the meeting itself and of course, the financial goals to begin the budgeting and value Engineering Process will be made clear.

  8. Create preliminary design costing documents:

    Now that we have a preliminary design, we can quickly create a preliminary budget. This document is not a static pricing product with a breakdown of 10 or 20 or 30 line items. Rather, it facilitates a dynamic value Engineering Process utilizing hundreds of line items that give us lots of choices and the ability to create different scenarios with a wave of a laser pointer in the client’s hands at a big screen during the final step.

  9. Meet to present the preliminary costing document:

    This is the final step of phase one of the pre-construction process as we now have both a preliminary design and a preliminary budget to go with it. From here on in we let the budget drive the process, ensuring good designs with a clearly intended and realistic financial goal. In this way, we live up to the best practices principles. Don’t spend money on design unless you’re sure you’re going to build it! Budget is always king.