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The art of managing compromise

Have you ever been faced with the dilemma of delivering a project to the highest standards, with an immovable deadline and a fixed budget? Managing time, cost and quality in relation to any project is where the rubber hits the road. If you are in the business of managing and delivering projects to meet client expectations these three chestnuts are what the game is all about.

I’ve found that if you talk to your client early in the project set-up about managing these sometimes oppositional forces, you can set an expectation and offer options. Managing the three objectives can be an inclusive and collaborative process with shared understanding rather than an ‘us versus them’ dynamic.

The suitcase example

There’s a modern-day proverb that goes something like this…

There are three suitcases. In the first suitcase is time, in the second is cost and in the third is quality. You can only pick up two of the three suitcases.

If you apply this wisdom to any project delivery process, there are three possible outcomes.

1. Pick up the time and quality suitcases and leave cost.

If time is of the essence and maintaining high quality is imperative, it stands to reason that the project will cost more.

2. Pick up the time and cost suitcases and leave quality.

If the project must be delivered quickly and the deadline is immovable, and cost reduction or minimisation is critical, it’s likely that the quality of the delivered solution will at best be compromised.

3. Pick up the cost and quality suitcases and leave time.

If you want to protect the quality of your project and do so while constraining cost, chances are it will take more time to source and deliver the solution.

Managing compromise

Most projects will involve some sort of compromise, especially when there are multiple stakeholders involved. On the client side, there is the marketing and communications department driving design and brand consistency (quality), there is property or facilities responsible for managing the rollout (time), and there is procurement and finance presiding over cost of change (cost). By nature, these three departments are measured against conflicting performance criteria.

On the contractor side, you have a mix of creative consultants (architects, interior and graphic designers), project advisers (quantity surveyors and project managers), and a range of contractors, manufacturers and suppliers. Here there are multiple design disciplines and a tension between creativity (representing innovation and design leadership) and the built reality (representing the pragmatic and what is actually possible).

With these competing forces and agendas at work with the planning, development and delivery of a retail space or showroom, managing compromise can be the keystone to a successful project outcome. The imperative is to reach agreement on what can or must be discarded for the project to be delivered and what – at no point – can be yielded.

For this to occur in a timely, reasonable and smooth manner can at times be seen as as achievable as reaching Utopia. Bottom line – the earlier the issues are flagged, the better. Try to get all the critical information, agendas, ideals, limitations, possibilities and performance criteria on the table for discussion and debate as soon as practicable. Just as importantly, someone needs to own this process. The best person is usually someone independent of the client stakeholders and of the creative team and suppliers.

A good example of how this can work is the recent global ANZ Bank brand identity project, in which the rebrand was rolled out across more than 4,000 physical assets and 32 countries. At the outset of the project the marketing, property and procurement departments of ANZ collaborated with the external creative design and project implementation teams to develop an overall execution strategy.

Strategy and tactics

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Obtaining a balance between design innovation and practicality, or the risk and return equation, requires that project team members consider long-term strategic goals and short-term tactical ones. Engaging the technicians in the strategic process and exposing the strategists to the tactical issues is fundamental to a collaborative project environment.

On a smaller scale to ANZ Bank, the design and fit-out of the new corporate offices for Diageo in Sydney and Brisbane featured early collaboration between the client, architect, designer, construction manager and contractors. A flat structure was developed to combine design services with construction management under a single project responsibility. This enabled the design to be undertaken in an environment where concepts were continuously tested against performance criteria such as build-ability, lifespan, cost and ongoing maintenance.

Weighing up the cost of implementation

The physical cost of implementing a brand outweighs that of the creative services by a factor of at least 20:1 – in some cases up to 40:1.

It is vital to ensure that the creative process doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Normally, the creative work is done up front and then passed from the brand guardian to those with control over delivery-based objectives. Typically this results in a ‘lost in translation’ moment in which the strategic brand platform and communications alignment go astray. At best, there is a sub-par return on investment or maybe a design adjustment. In the worst cases it means a whole re-do.

It makes sense to bring the creative process together with the operational elements from commencement to completion – the only way in which inevitable compromises can be managed and a great solution achieved.

Kelvin Taylor is marketing director at Diadem.