How Building Projects Perform

Let’s use performance as the context for how we evaluate our building projects. What does that mean? It depends on who you ask, and likely your answer will be different than mine. It’s no surprise that I look at building performance through a lens of sustainability, so I focus  on environmental performance. But that does not mean that it is the only indicator of performance.

If you ask our CFO, he will likely see the project through the context of financial performance; did the project make money for the firm. If you ask a principal their context might be did the project come in on-time, in-budget, and exceed the client’s expectations. If you ask a project architect their context might be did I design a building that is well-detailed and technically sound in the amount of time assigned. All of these are valid, measurable indicators of performance.

Indeed, the performance of a building project will always be evaluated through multiple lenses. That can be pretty daunting. Success comes down to clarity of intent and how you communicate that intent if you are working with a team. It’s a lot to have to think about. Architecture is a creative, problem-solving profession that requires good thinking skills. If you don’t think about what you are doing and why you are making the decisions you make, then your job is no different than sewing soles on shoes day after day with the only difference being the color or style of shoe. This requires minimum skill, effort, and thought. This is also the type of job that intelligent robots will be performing in the very near future.

How do you know if your project is performing well? The other way to ask this question is how do you measure project success?  What are the performance metrics that the project will be judged on? I may look at a roof replacement and say that we missed an opportunity to improve building energy efficiency and comfort. You may say the project performed well because we efficiently produced a good set of construction documents and the bids came in under budget. The project manager may say that the project team didn’t meet the project deadline. The right answer is all of the above.

I can hear the eye rolling (don’t you love a mixed metaphor). So here is the point: you need to think about the context of your work in terms of performance on many levels, but more importantly you need to define the context of how project performance will be evaluated. You do this at the beginning of the project before you start “designing”. You do this preferably as a team, but if these decisions are made by others, then performance criteria and the project intent need to be clearly communicated. No team should start a project without a discussion and understanding of what the project aims to achieve, and what metrics they will use to measure project performance.

The same is true with running a business. How does the business perform? Through which lens do we measure performance? What are the metrics we should use to measure success? Are your employees paying attention to the right goals and metrics?

We expect all our projects to perform well. How do we know if they do? Are we using the right performance metrics to evaluate project success? Common wisdom says you start with the end in mind, and work towards that desired end state. That is the essence of our design process. We trust that our projects perform well, but we often don’t have a clear idea about what that means. Without a doubt project outcomes are better when there are clearly stated performance goals with relevant metrics that measure project success. How your projects perform should be important to you because it is central to our firm’s success.


Frank Sherman AIA, LEED AP BD+C is Director of Sustainability at Spiezle Architectural Group (, XPRIZE Visioneer, and sustainable rabble-rouser

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