Due diligence: Become a design superstar.

Businessman Wrapped in Caution TapeHow important is due diligence in your work?

As is the norm for the design business we all deal with the pressure of workload on a regular basis. We all have had a lot of work, and our teams are continuously challenged to meet their deadlines. Scope change, demanding clients and fast-paced projects are the nature of the beast these days in design consultancies. They also create all the right conditions for unnecessary design errors.

Those types of mistakes are the kiss of death.

There isn’t a single client I’ve met who takes design errors lightly (If you’re a consultant you’re probably nodding your head about now. If you’re a client, you almost certainly are.).

It stands to reason, because we’re all crazy busy, that no one has a lot of time to spend going over their work. But you would be surprised at how often changes and errors can be avoided with just a little more care and review. To maintain professional good standing, we are forced to implement good practices and processes, and we must be unwilling to cut important corners.


There’s nothing worse than an irate client.

When your client is angry, you can never really fully recover the relationship. You can do your best to make things good. Sometimes it works, but more often than not it doesn’t.

After all, if I pay someone to do something, and they don’t make sure they have their bases covered, it costs me more than I’d expected. And I’m certainly going to be upset; I bet you would be, too. Mistakes are a part of every business, but negligence is unacceptable, and, believe me, most clients see every mistake as negligent. Someone always has to pay, regardless. That’s why we all advise our clients to carry a contingency in their projects, and that we make sure they understand why. A contingency is a fundamental form of due diligence that we should never shy away from. Ever. It, coupled with clear communication and clear expectations at the outset of the project can save you a ton of headaches down the road.

That’s not to say that you won’t have to talk about the cost of an error, because you will. It’s inevitable. I haven’t met a soul in this industry who has completed a project without changes. In fact, I heard a colleague tell a client that he would eat a set of drawings if they could show him a project that was executed without a change. Ballsy, but true.

And that’s just the way it is.

As hard as we try and as good as we are, there will be errors. Eventually. The trick is to minimize them as much as possible.


That’s where the almighty Due Diligence comes in.

The term “due diligence” typically is thrown around in conversations about big-ticket mergers and acquisitions. In the case of a consulting firm, due diligence also is defined as an investigation of the viability of a project. We use this term in the context of reviewing our work before it is seen by our clients.

Regardless of its origin or definition, it’s simply good practice.

For example, I spent time working on a technical project for a sophisticated client who is consolidating one site into another. The client decided early on that to understand what the costs, risks and opportunities of the move were, they would commission a due diligence study. The study involved a detailed site evaluation, a scope of work review, a planning study and a project budget validation. A risk assessment, along with design options, was compiled to support the client’s business case.

Pretty straightforward stuff…..for them. But Interior Designers don’t regularly spend a bunch of time doing analysis on the viability of the projects they’re hired to do. The due diligence typically is done before we are on board. Does this mean we aren’t adept at understanding and evaluating risk? Hardly. But evaluating a business case for a real estate change isn’t really in our normal scope of work.

Our form of due diligence is inherent in the services we deliver. We work through the design process with our clients, and we take care to ensure that their requirements are met at each stage of the project. We ensure we get sign off on major deliverables. Through those practices, we generally understand and mitigate the risks of the project.

Another way to mitigate risk is to make sure you have evaluated and reviewed your work thoroughly before you submit it to your client — your own, personal due diligence. It’s easy to give lip service to an issue, or to cut corners, but over and over we’ve learned that the cost of those results isn’t worth the time you think you’re saving.

Consulting carries great responsibility and great liability. Take the time you need, in the moment, to ensure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted. Taking pride and care in your work is necessary to protect yourself, personally and professionally, and in many cases it will save you a lot of effort down the road.


Be the 30 percent

According to Gallup, on average, 70% of the workforce in North America is disengaged on a daily basis. Forbes later argued that the information is inaccurate, but as unbelievable as that statistic sounds there’s truth in the adage of where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Instead of being disheartened by the 70% statistic, look at it as a vast opportunity.

If you are in the 30% who care enough to go the extra mile, you will likely beat your competition. You may have a better chance to win new work; you may impress your clients enough that they want to hire you again. In your own office, you may impress co-workers enough that they look for opportunities to contribute more. Whatever gets you moving toward the 30% is good for you, to be sure, but everyone around you wins as your whole organization’s work improves. We have a few steps that we walk through to help keep our work on that 30%-or-better track. We would love to hear about your due diligence methods, and about any ideas you have to improve our processes.

1.      Peer Review

Don’t forget to get some feedback. ( See our post on getting an opinion.) You have the responsibility to explore the options and test the ideas throughout your project, but you don’t know everything. Neither do I. So go get some perspective. Letting others review your work also mitigates the risk of being one-dimensional.

2.      Drawing Review

Our PQA Process (Project Quality Assurance) is a defined process where we suggest that documents for permit or bid are not released unless there has been a “third pair of eyes” review by someone unrelated to the project. It’s technical due diligence, designed to ensure that our work is properly coordinated and is constructible. Normally the drawing review doesn’t have significant impact on a project, but we have had some “a-ha” moments. Seeing the forest for the trees is challenging, especially when you are in the weeds. Get the help you need.

3.      Scope review

Scope change can only be evident if the team is clear about what the scope is at the outset. Unclear expectations lead to dangerous assumptions, so sit down with your team and discuss the work. We have kick-off meetings for every project, no matter its scope and scale. Without a kick-off meeting, at our firm, you cannot get clearance to release documents to a bidder or municipality for permit. You will be amazed at the value this approach offers.

4.      Communication (expectations)

Without a written account of progress and action items, it’s impossible to manage a project’s scope and meet a client’s expectations. Written meeting minutes and responses to actions help inform your team AND your client of your understanding of the state of a project. Verbal communication is important, but without a written follow up,  recalling who said which way to go or which option to choose leaves the door wide open to incorrect interpretations. When things are in writing, you have the opportunity to revise and correct everyone’s understanding of the current issues.

5.      Schedule review (contingency)

A schedule without any contingency leaves no room for errors or delays to be corrected. As important as ensuring that there is money set aside for changes in scope is ensuring that there is time set aside to conduct the other due diligence items we’ve discussed. Without time to conduct peer reviews and technical reviews, the project is at greater risk of delays. You do not want to be in a position where you don’t have enough time to execute your work or where you are forced to make decisions under duress.


There isn’t always enough time to consider all the angles, is there?

In today’s world we are left with less and less time to execute work.

Clients have unrealistic expectations, and there is always a firm out there that can get the job done. We are left with a simple choice — accept the challenge or not. And firms that are structured to minimize risk and maintain creativity are going to win more often than not.

We can all say we won’t take on work that is too risky, or when we feel overloaded, but the reality is that when times are good we remember when times were bad. We tend to take on more and more when we have the opportunity.

The key is to remember that the only measure of any project’s success is how it turns out in the end. If we keep “surprises” to a minimum, whether they’re financial, errors or omissions or schedule delays, the pain is minimized. We all agree mistakes are going to happen, but keeping everyone informed along all stages of a project is more likely to result in a net positive with your client.

The due diligence tips above not only help you manage work more effectively, they also give you confidence to manage your client more effectively. Your clients will appreciate your straightforward and transparent approach.



To learn more about the mechanics of Due Diligence you can get in touch with me via email herecall me at  416-500-0374 or you can ask your questions below.

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