Designing the Right Decisions

Designing the right decisions starts with the right tools. When the right decisions are made at the first opportunity, time and money are conserved. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in design and construction.

In the built environment, decisions have long-lasting impact. In the healthcare environment, they can impact patient satisfaction, staff productivity, and business success. Professionals design effective decision trees for clients and organizations because mistakes are costly.

Architects, engineers, and construction professionals are called upon by owners to provide tools to aid in making the crucial decisions to support the business case for a project. The demands for good data, market knowledge, and sound design principles to create tools for decision support are only part of the picture.

Before programming and planning begins for a new facility, there must be agreement between the design team and owner to establish a process to support decision-making built around the guardrails of the project’s goals and objectives.

Examples of decisions to be validated and measured include project purpose, its planned contribution to the owner’s strategic plan, the function and program, operational strategies dictating its plan, and a broad array of aesthetic considerations. No owner can make each of these in a single work session.

Decisions need to have structure—much like if you were building a tree. You must make the big ones first giving you your solid base or “trunk,” the next phase is still a foundation and part of your main structure or “branches,” and on until you arrive at each detail or “leaf.” A documented project timeline affords the opportunity to build decisions upon each other relative to the level of detail developed for each phase.

The key is to understand how to use the tools required and allow decision makers to fulfill their obligations. Data, graphics, maps, architectural drawings, systems descriptions, cost analyses, and schedules are developed and illustrate the impact of each decision. These tools provide indicators of the possibilities afforded by the timeliness of prompt, confident conclusions before proceeding with next stages.

This is where it is important to remember, for example, that adherence to project schedules and the supporting work plans set the framework for when specific decisions need to be settled. Optimum efficiency requires commitment to the timing and agenda, and duration of each decision-making meeting. A strong facilitator familiar with the team and the design process is a great investment. Each meeting’s agenda must be supported with the proper tools as described above. Deviations from the agenda or the objectives waste time and create rabbit trails that become costly. If you want to conserve, you have to stay on task!

An understanding of the process of the programming and design of facilities is a function of getting the right information at the right time, processing the information, creating the reports and design documents to illustrate their interpretation, review with the whole team and receiving appropriate feedback on whether or not it meets objectives and goals.

On large and small projects alike, it is important to categorize the information required and summarize in the work plans the scheduled time when it should be provided to the design team. This also builds the agendas in advance and informs the work plan effort. Scheduling meetings and keeping them focused is a chore for most organizations, but the payoff is invaluable. Seeing them in a timeline in advance helps set the plan.

At the heart of the success of the entire decision-making process are quality tools. Whether it is the program, the narratives, design drawings, or cost estimates, it is imperative that respect for the decision-makers remains the highest commitment of those providing them. Clarity, accuracy and completeness are critical. Each decision calls for a different illustration of the conclusions being sought. Visual quality, descriptions of process or study steps, evaluations of options with pros and cons, and accurate and descriptive summaries are all important.

The best measure of the value of the documents left behind is when the reader can tell the story. And, the story shouldn’t leave out the bad news either! It is often the negatives that inform the best solutions.

Process, commitment, and schedules are good tools for making the right decisions at the right time, the first time. No one wants to second guess or live with regrets—especially when you have to walk in its door every day.

As managing director of FKP Architects’ Dallas office, Dan Killebrew leads design and planning work in the community health market across Texas and the southern United States.