Project management lessons learned

My apartment building is currently up in arms about a redesign of the lobby space that isn’t going very well. I’ve been reading the mailing list chatter for the past few weeks, and the overall complaint arc unveils some great basic project-management pointers.

My apartment building is currently up in arms about a redesign of the lobby space that isn’t going very well. I’ve been reading the mailing list chatter for the past few weeks, and the overall complaint arc unveils some great project-management pointers.

Don’t work halfway. The revamp of my lobbies is only touching half the decor: new tiles replacing hardwood, new ceiling paint and lighting, and new furniture. The designer did not touch the walls, columns, or border tiles. This has created a nifty mismatch, as well-marbled and worn tile abuts shiny new tiles without much marbling. Residents hate the look, as do I, but there’s a lesson in here: why rip up half a floor, or change the ceiling without updating the walls? If an effort doesn’t seem to be creating an optimal output, it’s probably better to wait until the project has the funding and momentum to do all of it, rather than retrofitting items that are hard to match to the existing ones.

Keep the communication lines open. A few years ago, when the building redid its residence hallways, the board made several mockup units to display the proposed designs. Some of this process was disastrous; unsurprisingly, no one could come to an agreement on what designs worked, and the board ultimately had to push through the least-controversial design. For the lobbies, the board, figuring no good could come of it, decided not to post a design for comment, which has added fuel to the fire. At least if residents had seen the designs before construction began, they’d know what to expect, and any disappointment would be somewhat mitigated.

Don’t grant and then remove access. As noted above, the board lessened its transparency from the last project to the current one. This is a bad move: no one happily endures a power shift from democracy to oligarchy. People used to being in-the-know expect, rightfully, to stay that way. The building also went from great explanatory signage, updated weekly, to three weeks without notices. The longer the community goes without information, the more unrest generates.

Open forums solve nothing. The only thing that has come out of the mailing list posts has been aggravation. An organized dialogue, with questions sent to and answered by the board, would serve a far better purpose than the virtual graffiti that we’re currently enduring.

Imagine if the board president had done the following instead:

1. Announce that a renovation design has been tentatively approved.

2. Post the design and solicit feedback.

3. Create a revised design and present it back to the community as “finalized using your input.”

4. Give a weekly status report, including any bad news with explanations.

5. Midway through the project, hold an open-forum meeting with all interested residents.

With a little project management, my lobbies would have a cleaner, more universally accepted design and a lot less bickering. (Simply put, any side griping could have been politely deferred with, “I wish you had come to the meeting,” “Did you see the initial design?” etc.) Instead, my in-box is like a soap opera: entertaining but tiresome with no end in sight.