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Project Planning: The Ultimate Guide For Architects

By 7th Apr 2020Feb 20th, 2021No Comments
Project Planning: The Ultimate Guide For Architects

As a professional architect or project manager, you have to fill many roles, such as designer, creator, mediator, communicator and project manager, to successfully deliver on a construction or architectural project. Wearing each one of these hats comes with its own set of stresses and concerns, but by implementing project planning processes, communicating effectively and taking care of yourself, you will be able to take on every aspect of design and construction with ease.  

Professional Requirements: Implementing Project Planning Processes

Organisation and project planning are essential components of any successful build. Through project planning you, as the architect or project manager, are able to map out all the different elements related to the project, from the client’s needs and objectives to resources, building requirements, budget and timing. This ensures that you reach the desired goals, reduce risks, avoid missing deadlines, and deliver on what is expected of the project. Effective project planning ensures that the build will be completed on time, to the client’s specifications and within budget, which in turn will impact the overall client experience and allow the opportunity for referrals and future business. 

Several elements impact the flow of commercial buildings as well as the productivity and efficiency of the build. By following the steps below, you will be able to develop a project plan to suit your project needs.

Step 1: Define the Project Scope

Step 1: Define the Project Planning Scope

Once the client has completed the architectural briefing document and you have met with them to discuss their ideas, needs and goals for the build, you can start developing the project scope. This scope is the first step in the project planning process and will give you an overview of the design needs and requirements. To put a detailed scope together you need to define the client needs, research possible design options and solutions, and gain insight into what is required for effective construction management. You can use the below questions and factors to consider as a starting point : 

What are the client needs for the build?

To answer this, we often start with needing to answer the who, what, where, when, and how questions crucial to effective project planning. This ultimately will speak to the client’s needs, budget, timeline and objectives, uses and requirements for space, etc. These are the basics that can be worked from to identify the project needs. 

Identify project needs

From the client’s needs, you will be able to generate insight into the requirements of the project. This is where your project planning nad architectural design skill comes in and you put a blueprint together of the design and its specifications. During this process, we are specifically looking at elements like: 

  • Spatial considerations – this would include the number of users, what space will be used for if there are any environmental restrictions, the light, the landscape, etc. 
  • Functional requirements – this will include information around how many toilets the building will need if there are regulations for space, if communal areas are needed, do certain areas need to link, is a kitchen required, as well as accessibility, etc. All of these elements will need to be considered in the project planning process when designing the building.
  • Design requirements – are there specific materials that need to be utilised, are there restrictions, do they want to extend at some point, what aesthetic are they going for, etc. 
  • Physical requirements – this would be the physical measurements of the space and what you have to work with in terms of the land itself, etc. 

Research, design, and resource allocation 

The project needs and requirements are the starting point for the design and construction management process, integral in the project planning progression as it plays an important role in resource management. From these elements, you will be able to research and design construction drawings that suit the building needs. From there, you will be able to determine which suppliers you will need, what resources you will require and develop the budget around each of these elements. To effectively do this, we have put together some factors to be considered:

  • Identify the building materials needed: list all necessary materials and any specific materials the client has requested be utilised
  • Identify your suppliers: this will consist of quantity surveyors, civil engineers, electricians, general contractors, material suppliers (aluminium, concrete, tiling, etc.)
  • Develop the budget: once your suppliers and materials have been identified you can develop a budget 
  • Ask the tough questions: ask the suppliers the tough questions about timelines, resource delivery, stock availability and if there are any elements of concern, etc. This will help identify any red flags, problems or issues from the outset so that expectations and possible delays can be communicated and managed. This step is essential for risk management.

How will we measure the objectives of this project?

As is with any project, you want to measure success or failure. Often, this is difficult in terms of a construction build or aluminium project as we define success based on elements that include time, cost, quality and client satisfaction. These elements can be broken down further and measured using the SMART principles below:

  • Specific – This involves stating, through the project planning process, accurately what the project wants to achieve. That is what, why and how things will be done. Clarity will reduce the chances of ambiguities and misunderstandings. For example, we want to design a commercial building that has a modern aesthetic, is energy efficient, can accommodate 500 people, makes use of natural light and is wheelchair accessible, etc.
  • Measurable – To be measurable, you need to decide if your goals and objectives can provide feedback and be accountable. Are you able to measure the success of the project in relation to your specific goals? For example, for a building to be energy efficient they may make use of solar panels, use as much natural light as possible, use products that specifically promote insulation and that aim to reduce the use of energy. 
  • Achievable – Can your project’s goals and objectives be achieved, given the resources and time on hand? In the end, did you manage to stick to the budget and the timeline? 
  • Realistic – Are the goals and objectives easy to deliver, especially if you face problems or complications. Will these reduce the overall quality of the project’s outcome and cause running over budget and not meeting the set deadlines. Were you able to effectively mitigate any problems or issues, was this communicated successfully with the client and were they happy with the overall service levels? 
  • Time Frame – Can your project goals and objectives be achieved within the allocated time frame? Is it a pivotal criterion to meet these deadlines? Did you meet your project timeline?

Step 2: Develop a project schedule

Step 2: Develop a project planning schedule

A project schedule is a critical component to ensure that your project is managed in the correct time frame, where all elements have been accounted for and taken into consideration. The project schedule lists the activities, deliverables and milestones that form part of the project. It also includes important dates, the resources assigned to each activity, highlights which resource will perform the work and the timeframe they must do it in. 

This schedule tracks every moving part of the construction process to give you an overview of the project and how all the moving parts will work together. This schedule needs to reflect every aspect of the building process to accurately map out the timeline. Without a complete schedule in place, you will not be able to track time management, costs and resources. These essential components need to be managed efficiently for the build to be successful and for you to deliver on the objectives. Follow these 5 steps to develop your project schedule: 

Define activities

It is the responsibility of a project manager to list and define all activities needed for the build, from construction drawings, approvals, breaking ground, laying concrete, brickwork, tiling, etc. Every activity that goes into the build needs to be listed and defined.  

Sequence activities

A project management professional needs to arrange the activities in relation to where they appear in the building process. You will need to arrange them in order of the tasks required and their requirements. For example, you would not schedule the tiling before the foundation has been laid, or schedule the interior painting to be done without the roof being on. 

Determine estimates

Use your technical skills and experience to estimate the time utilisation of each of the activities stated in the above step. Estimate the time needed in relation to what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Make sure to give yourself some leeway in terms of timing and build in a time buffer of a few extra days, so that if there is a problem you are able to manage without it impacting the overall timeline and client’s expectations. 

Determine task dependencies

Projects do not always go to plan, and activities are often dependent on others. By identifying your task dependencies, you can monitor and adapt the schedule as each task is completed. This will help you manage delays or changes to these dependencies.

Assign resources

The last step in creating the project schedule is to assign your resources. During this process, you need to assign the chosen resources to the activities and timeline listed in the schedule.  

For the project schedule to be effective you will need to continuously check-in and update it. This involves monitoring the different tasks and the status of the project and then updating and managing the project changes in the schedule. Some tips to help you effectively do this include: 

  • Schedule regular checks and meetings to check on the progress of the build 
  • Be flexible in your approach – do not be afraid to change or fast track tasks 
  • Communicate with your project team regularly, so if there is a problem you are aware of it as soon as possible and can manage it

Step 3: Develop a project communication plan

Step 3: Develop a project planning communication plan

You have developed your project scope and schedule. Now you need to communicate this with all stakeholders so that everyone is aligned. A great way to do this is to develop a project communication plan. A project communication plan is vital for the success of a project as it ensures that all stakeholders involved in the build are aligned, understand the objective, timeline, budget and schedule. This is a tool used to ensure that everyone stays informed about the progress of the project. This plan needs to identify who needs what information, when they need it and how that information should be provided. In order to create an efficient project communication plan you will need to: 

Identify all stakeholders 

Stakeholders refer to all parties involved in the project such as the client, the building contractor, the electrician, the landscaper, the civil engineers, etc. Once this list has been generated, you can look at the stakeholder and identify their communication requirements during the building process. 

Develop a communication matrix

Once you have identified the stakeholder and their requirements, you can develop a communication matrix. This is a document that will be updated throughout the construction and interior design process. It will detail elements like project owners, deadline, project status, objectives, budget, etc. Your communication matrix could include: 

  • Communication touchpoints: status reports, meetings, project newsletters, etc. 
  • The purpose of the communication: what is the purpose of the meeting, report, status of the project, etc.
  • Medium: how will the communication happen, for example: email, conference call or in-person meeting
  • Frequency of communication: will you be providing updates daily, weekly or monthly
  • Stakeholder: who needs to be present and who will be running the communication 
  • Owner: who oversees this part of the project
  • Deliverable: what will be the result of this part of the project 

Clear communication is key 

Successful project managers need to be efficient communicators, and have to be able to clearly communicate goals, responsibility, performance, expectations and feedback to all members of the project management team and stakeholders. Not only will you need to communicate with a diverse group of people, but you will need to effectively manage relationships and listen to what your team is saying. Regular reporting on the progress of the project with all those involved will ensure that everyone is aligned and will open up the conversation and communication, allowing for any issues or concerns that may be affecting your team members and their work to come to the forefront. This can be done using an effective project management software solution and will allow you to circumvent any problems and handle them quickly.

Step 4: The importance of quality control

Step 4: Importance of quality control in project planning

Quality control is an essential element in executing the project, as it can influence everything from scheduling to cost. Without quality planning and control, the project may be negatively impacted. The quality control process involves inspecting and verifying the services and products that you are utilising for the build. This process includes monitoring and recording the results of the quality activities to assess the performance of products or services. This will be determined by information gathered by your team, the project management plan, quality metrics, quality checklists, work performance data, etc. 

The result of this process includes: 

  • Validating the deliverables 
  • Meeting the requirements of the build
  • Identifying the causes of poor product quality 
  • Eliminating issues around quality  

Each of these project management and project planning steps ensures that you can effectively organise and manage the construction process from start to finish. By ensuring that each of these project planning processes are in place, you can track, manage, and communicate on the progress of the project to all stakeholders. But this only talks to the professional aspect of the project management, what about the personal?

Personal Requirements: Taking Care Of Yourself

Managing a construction, architectural, or aluminium project from start to finish is no simple feat. It comes with lots of stress around managing a diverse group of people, possible delays, budget constraints, etc. This stress can have a significant impact on a personal level which in turn impacts how you communicate and how you do your job. Stressful situations often bring out the worst in people, we are all human and deal with stress in different ways. It is crucial to manage this so that you can do your job as effectively as possible, no matter what challenges come your way. 

To make this process a bit easier, we have put together a list of 8 things that could help:  

#1. Make a list

This may seem like a silly thing, but list-making is so important. Not only does it help you organise and prioritise tasks, but it gives you a snapshot of what you must do. Things do slip in the cracks, we are all human, but if they are on your list you will be less likely to forget. Do not keep all your to-dos in your head, you need the brainpower for other tasks like problem-solving and to think critically. Good project managers often take their lists everywhere they go. It’s as simple as carrying a notebook with you at all times and as you complete a task, tick it off. 

#2. Be smart with your time

You know when you are most productive. Whether it is early in the morning before everyone is in the office or during the hustle and bustle of the day, allocate your most complex tasks to this time period. You will get more done in less time when you use this method.

#3. Eat healthy and drink lots of water 

When we are in a project manager role and under pressure, we forget that our brains and bodies rely on healthy food and water. We are so often tempted, on high-stress days, to grab a takeaway, drink too much coffee, snack on sugary treats, or sometimes we just forget to eat at all. For our brains to work effectively and for us to feel energised, we need to make healthy balanced food choices. So, reach for that wholewheat wrap instead of the takeaway burger and swop the packet of crisps for fruit, nuts or biltong and remember to fill up on water. 

#4. Do not have too many stimulants

Coffee is excellent in the morning, and most people cannot live without it! But too much coffee can actually be as bad for you as are those energy drinks. We know how hard it is when you are feeling tired to say no to stimulants, but instead of reaching for your 6th cup of coffee or that Red Bull, have a healthy snack, drink some water or have a smoothie. This will keep your energy levels stable and leave you feeling more energised and happier for longer. 

#5. Exercise regularly

Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise stimulates brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Not only is it great for the brain and your health in general but it is a proven stress reliever. So, try that spin class, do some laps in the pool or even take a leisurely stroll, you will feel great afterward. 

#6. Change the scenery

A change of scenery can often help you to break your mental block and give you the ideas and insights you have been looking for. New sights and sounds of a different working location, such as a park, a library or other non-work setting, can often serve as a powerful creative catalyst. That is one of the great things about using a laptop — you do not have to be tied to your desk. 

#7. Get enough sleep

Sleep helps brain function and repair. We tend not to get enough sleep, and our brains run on fatigue much of the time. As a result, our brains are over-stimulated, stressed, and tired. It is essential to make sure you get enough rest for you to function effectively. If you battle to get to sleep, try staying off of your phone an hour before bed, instead wind down with a good book or try some breathing exercises. Making small changes to quieten your mind before bed will impact your sleeping patterns. 

#8. Teamwork and communication are key 

As architects and project managers, your job often involves interacting and working with a diverse group of people as part of an extended team. Effective teamwork, communication and the ability to build relationships are essential management skills needed to ensure the success of the project. So, remember to talk to the person and not just the job they are doing. Get to know your suppliers and clients on a personal basis so that you create a comfortable environment for communication, where successes can be celebrated, and issues and problems can be discussed productively.


Successful project management consists of many different elements and project planning processes that need to be followed. We hope that the free project management guide above will help you effectively manage your next commercial or residential project and remind you to take care of yourself from a personal perspective. In order to do the best possible job, you need to be organised, communicate effectively and feel energised.

Here is our Architectural Design Brief Checklist that will help you manage your projects more effectively

Werner De Beer

Werner De Beer

Werner de Beer is the Chief Operations Officer at Inso Architectural Solutions