I have a number of experiences working with a client’s Building Committee. This seems to be the preferred project management method for non-profits, church-based organizations and higher education. My personal preference is to work with a single person representing a for-profit, the goals are crystal clear, the path you take is straight and logical. But there are these other times when you have a Building Committee.
I’ve never had the chance to really shape a Building Committee. If I could, I would start by explaining their mission to them, because they don't know. Being a building committee member is a once in a lifetime occurrence for which there is no training. The typical Building Committee member thinks they are going to ’oversee’ design. So they are taken aback to learn that before design starts, they need to plan the project, to set the goals so they know HOW to judge a design.
The Building Committee’s Planning Mission
The Building Committee's planning mission normally includes eight issues - organization, space needs, character, context, constraints, schedule, budget, and methodology. So I would elaborate on these eight. My Cliff’s Notes version is:
The first task of the Building Committee is to organize itself. Who will be members, who will be chairperson? When will it meet? Will it operate formally or informally? What staff can assist? What does the Building Committee need to do its job?
SPACE NEEDS & CHARACTER
The Building Committee's next task is to determine the Space Needs of the organization. The tools for gathering this information are interviews, surveys, projections and reports. Most of the data will come from staff. In this process the desired Character of the facility should be addressed as well. This means determining what features and systems are needed. Durability, operability, aesthetics and environmental issues would also be part of Character considerations.
CONTEXT & CONSTRAINTS
The next two tasks are to look at the physical (Context) and non-physical (Constraints) environment in which the facility will be developed. The Context issues are location, needed exterior features, assets to exploit and disadvantages to minimize. The Constraint issues are zoning, building code, ADA, storm water and special issues dictated by the organization itself or its parent - for instance the approval process.
Now we get to the big one. The Building Committee's main charge is setting and managing the budget. This will include determining the source and amount of funding and how to allocate those funds. It is crucial that all the project costs are considered (not just construction) and that an adequate contingency is included. I like to make costs part of all the issues. There is no point in ignoring the elephant in the room until it steps on your foot.
SCHEDULE & METHODOLOGY
The final tasks of the Building Committee are to set and monitor the schedule for the project and to determine the methods and type of contracts that will be used to design and construct the facility. To a great extent the Building Committee's work is nearly done once construction starts, but first there is a year or two of planning and design before that milestone arrives.
Building Committee Membership
So who should be on a Building Committee? The ideal focus for the Building Committee is the planning and process. Some of the key skills that the Building Committee needs are Facilitating, Researching, Coordinating, Organizing, and Communicating.
Desirable Building Committee Members are people who know how to lead, plan and manage. Involvement in the construction industry isn't necessary, and many times it is a handicap. Examples of the individuals you want to see are executives, entrepreneurs, educators, administrators, and managers. Specialists who diagnose and implement aren't accustomed to the analysis of multiple alternatives that need to be explored.
I’ve noticed that active participation in meetings decreases as the size of the group increases - so smaller is better, say 6 - 12. There needs to be a chairperson who speaks for the committee and communicates with the parent organization. "Symbolic" members of the Building Committee require special handling. I have watched helplessly as a key donor, who is used to giving orders, grabs the reins and has everyone chasing his whims - because no one was prepared to risk annoying him.
The ideal characteristics (virtues?) of a committee member are open- mindedness, diligence and perseverance.
Only the simplest of projects can be planned in one "pass" through the eight issues. Often three or more passes are needed for a coherent plan, so that every issue makes sense in terms of the others.
So that’s what I’ve gathered from my Building Committee experiences. Hopefully this gives you some ideas for how you can handle your own Building Committee adventure.