There are exceptions - public schools, higher education, hospitals and organizations with a facility manager - but your first step is to determine what work they have done so far.
You want to know if they have a documented plan for the project as most Owner/Architect contracts state. So, if they have a documented plan and program, budget, and schedule, and they all seem realistic, you are ready to start designing.
If they do not have a boni-fide plan, and if you begin designing in order to 'stumble upon' a solution that works for them, then you will almost certainly have some re-designing to do sooner or later. You and the building committee need a coherent plan for their project - a plan that will require little or no re-design.
If there is no plan, or if it doesn't make sense, then you will need to back them up and take them through the planning that they need to do. The engineers and contractors on the committee will balk at this. This is where you point out that you are being asked to go 'off-script' and to proceed in a way that is unpredictable and that is not anticipated by the contract. So either way, planning first or jumping into design, you will need a larger fee than has been proposed because the scope of your work has changed.
If you are asked to begin designing anyway, you should try to get the fee for Schematic Design changed to an hourly basis to compensate you for the inevitable redesign that you will have to do. You might consider spending some time, in that case, doing the planning that needs to be done so that the redesign doesn't come back to haunt you after Schematic Design is approved and you are back to a standard fee for Basic Services.
If you are given the chance to help them with the planning, here is an outline of how you might proceed.
- Find out who all the stakeholders are
- Ask "On the day that you move into the completed project, what has to have happened for you to feel that it is a success?"
- Find out what is known already regarding size, restrictions (codes, process, approvals, etc.), context/neighborhood/location, budget (and method of funding), and schedule
- Consider alternatives that solve their needs
- Get clarity on what is driving the needs - pent-up growth, change, anticipated growth
- Determine if there are systems that they want to replace or that they need - security, networking, building management
- Get their reaction to a preliminary report stating what you have learned so far including any lack of 'fit'
- Interview key staff to arrive at a verified size that is needed
- Check codes, zoning, and other restrictions
- Gather record drawings, surveys and GIS information
- Prepare a preliminary budget making it clear what it includes and what it doesn't (there is a tendency to think everything is included as though this is a bid to do the project)
- Prepare a preliminary schedule for the project
orig post date Nov2012