Spaces for Life

The ReTouch Home Improvement blog



Spaces for Life: The Secret to a successful construction project

By Lance McCarthy

My 6-year-old has been honing his comedy skills, and discovered the impatient cow joke. You know this one? ***Spoiler alert*** I’m telling the joke now…

“Knock Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Impatient Cow”

“Impatient C–”

(before the other person can say “who”)  “MOO!”


I consider myself a humor connisseur, and this is still one of my favorite clean jokes.  However, it goes from a “10” on the funny-o-meter to a “1” if the joker doesn’t say “Moo” fast enough to interrupt the jokee.  (Is “jokee” a word?  It is now).
My son doesn’t get that it isn’t just saying the right words, the joke is all about timing.  Get the timing wrong, and the whole thing dies.  


That is the way it works with planning for a construction project too.  My architect and I were meeting with a potential client yesterday for an addition project, and they said “I wish there was a book that told you the steps for going through this process.  I’m afraid of getting things in the wrong order and messing something up”.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.  It is scary.  There are probably 153 books on Amazon on “The Steps To A Construction Project”, but why do so many people end up mystified or unsatisfied with the process?  

Let me share a simple way we have found to help planning for a project work more better (ex-English teacher here).  

The secret is timing–this before that, that before the other.  

Imagine the design/construction process being like a giant funnel.  Traditionally (the way I learned to do it 20 years ago), the client tells an architect and/or contractor what they want, the architect draws a plan, the contractor (or three or four) gives them a bid, there is some quibbling, and a contract is signed (small end of the funnel).  Then as the project goes, the client, architect and contractor start discovering each others’ visions.  

“Oh, that’s our tile?  That’s not our tile.”  

“Oh, that’s behind the wall?  How did that get there?”

By the time the project ends, there is a vast difference between what the client thought they would pay and what the project actually cost (big end of the funnel).   Narrow to wide.  

To be clear, in something as complicated as changing someone’s home, there will always be unknowns.  We are years into honing this process trying to remove as much uncertainty as possible–we still get surprised now and then.  However, it is still possible to flip that funnel so that the process starts really vague (big end of funnel), then through a series of conversations (we call them “discoveries”), the contractor and architect discover what the client wants, and the client discovers what their needs look like and cost, which then impacts what they think they need.  Vague to specific.  

It is a big feedback loop.  A cycle.  (Cue Elton John singing “The circle of lihihiiife!”)  Put the right questions in the right order, the right people listening to each other at the right time, and the whole messy scary process becomes a lot less messy-scary.  (Note I didn’t say it wasn’t messy-scary, just LESS messy-scary”).

To sum it all up, there are a couple of key elements that will need to be a part of planning a successful project:

  • Go from vague to specific through a series of discoveries.  Timing is everything.  Right things in the right order.  
  • Have the right people in the room for those conversations (you want a team of people who are each talented in different areas–design, construction, budget–that can collaboratively represent their piece of the project
  • Get as much of the project built “on paper” as possible before signing a contract.  

There will still be plenty of stressful times in a big remodeling or construction project, but this will make it much more successful.  

And tune in next week to find out “How much an addition costs”.  You’ve been wondering, haven’t you?

Ready to Take the Next Step?