Hiring for your design project — that is, working with tradespeople — as a topic, could be the length of a textbook. This process involves not only many people from many disciplines, but also coordinating amongst and between them, as well as working with multiple suppliers. Who do you hire? What questions do you ask? You must be clear in your objectives, and communicate those objectives in detail to everyone involved.
If you’ve worked hard to establish a vision for your home, you’ll want to bring your vision to life perfectly. To that end, you’ll require a team that spans many disciplines, and your timeline will have to factor this in. If you’re acting as your own Project Manager, you have to keep everyone apprised of your needs and expectations, while at the same time allowing them to practice their craft with sufficient autonomy to bring their best work to the table.
I’ll spend a few posts discussing this topic, to give you a broad sense of the various trades you may need, and some of the basic considerations that can help you navigate your interactions.
Here are some of the people that you may need to hire for your renovation project (this is not a comprehensive list): architects, general contractors, expediters, cabinet makers, upholsterers, installers, movers, painters, decorative painters, electricians, plumbers, AV specialists, and home security specialists. If you work with designers, depending on the size of your project, you could have several teams — for Lighting Design, Interior Design, decorating, Landscape Design, AV design and so on. You’ll source furniture, lighting, accessories, wall and floor treatments, wallpaper, tile, countertop materials, building materials and textiles from a variety of places.
If this is your first time (and even if it isn’t), all of this could feel overwhelming. Even if you have excellent project management skills already, there is still a learning curve. Don’t let it discourage you. My main advice is to prepare a comprehensive list of questions that you’re going to ask each of the tradespeople you encounter. But what are those questions? I’ll cover this over a few posts, but let’s start with:
This is so important, because, in a team situation, we all wear different hats. Each person will be on their own island unless you can bring them all together. Your role as project manager is similar to that of a conductor directing an orchestra: to be aware of what everybody is doing and to keep them on course to bring the project to fruition. It is therefore crucial to know what each person’s role is, because you don’t want overlap or gaps. Every task must have someone (or a team) assigned to it, and no task should be accidentally assigned to more than one role.
Understanding roles requires that you be alert to the details of what you’re asking. For example, what is the role of the plumber? Will they buy all the supplies? Not necessarily, unless you arrange that up front. It could also be the general contractor, interior designer or homeowner who is tasked with purchasing supplies for the plumber.
This consideration can also bleed into other areas, like what sort of warranty the tradesperson offers. Consider this scenario: someone other than the plumber purchases a toilet that turns out to be defective, and the plumber installs it. Once the faults in the product become apparent, the toilet will have to be removed and a new one installed. Since the plumber wasn’t the one to buy it, you can expect to be charged for the reinstallation.
The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t assume anything that isn’t stated outright and agreed upon by all parties. This is what I mean by defining each role clearly. If you already handle teams in your line of work, then this shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, the particulars here may be wildly different from your workplace, resulting in different flows and necessitating different expectations.
I’m reminded of an episode of Grand Designs Australia where the homeowner chose to project manage his own renovation. He had extensive experience as a project manager in his field, but some of his usual rhythms didn’t always translate to construction. One day he saw that the digging equipment was not being used for several hours on a day where excavating was the primary goal. He became frustrated with the crew, and in his managerial capacity attempted to put pressure on the foreman to get the machines moving. All he could see was the financial side of the delay. It turned out that there were significant safety issues that needed to be addressed before the digging could continue, and his behavior toward the crew bred needless tension, as it seemed to imply to them that their safety was not important. Had he been in better contact with his team, he would have understood that the pause was not arbitrary.
This is all part of the learning curve in managing your Interior Design project. In future posts, I’ll address some more questions that you can bring to the table when working with trades. Until then, have a lovely day!
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