Lessons Learned From Our Home Renovation

Every project, large and small, long and short, personal and professional, needs to be managed carefully. 
Every project, large and small, long and short, personal and professional, needs to be managed carefully. 
Every project, large and small, long and short, personal and professional, needs to be managed carefully. 

My wife, Karen, and I are days away from the completion of a home renovation in Collingwood, Ontario. Someone asked me this morning about the experience and the answer was an unequivocal ‘great’.  That, in my mind, is one notch below ‘really great’ and two notches below ’awesome’.

It was not always smooth sailing.  We had two major ‘mistakes’, a few moments of frayed nerves and a stress level that we were not really prepared for. But in the end, we got it done on time, reasonably within budget and we got a product that we absolutely love.

There were some lessons learned and here they are with our score card (1-5):

1 – Find a great general contractor/project manager/project lead. This relationship is critical. Our ‘Richard’ was a delight to work with.  For us, that meant he always had a positive attitude and he was flexible, responsive and understanding of our needs.  Certainly not everything went smoothly but the real mark of a great relationship was one that was able to get through those tough times and we did.  Our score: 5

2 – Standardize Your Communication. Establish a rhythm and methodology to the flow of communication throughout the project. In our case, we did not do well here. Messages were flying back and forth with no pattern and worse, in my opinion, we were using too many vehicles: phone, email, face-to-face and text messages for important decisions and discussions.  We should have established a regular day, every week, where we submitted comments, issues and decisions that had been requested of us, in one format: email. In return, we would’ve then been able to expect a response from Richard with more comments, confirmations and typically more requests. Good communicating and better history tracking. Our score: 1. 

3 – Keep good records. Karen established a binder from the start with sections on each area of the project with research notes, photos, calculations and more. One tab, for instance, was all about the new kitchen, another contained every invoice and receipt for the project. Another contained the various versions of the budget. This binder was a really important tool for us. Our Score: 5

4 – Be nice. When nerves started to fray and the stress level went up a notch, we were all very careful to respect each other and to understand each other’s positions. There were no heated words in front of each other (and that goes for all parties concerned) and we were careful to allow at least 24 hours before reacting to something topical. In the end, keeping our relationship between contractor and client and suppliers cordial, polite and respectful was critical to our success. It also certainly helped when we needed a favour! Our Score: 5.

5 – Watch out for the details. We were warned, and we knew it was coming so there really was no shock, but the details almost killed us. Nothing much more to add here other than be prepared and leave yourself time to make the hundreds of decisions that are required.  Our Score: 3

Most of us are used to the struggles of timelines, budgets and scope but this project highlights the importance of the other stuff: communication, relationship management, record-keeping, and certainly managing stress.

How would you score yourself on your last project? 

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2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From Our Home Renovation”

  1. Something that is not considered on most projects that we do at work is the overall experience. You said yours was unequivocally great. A solid rating for sure. Most project managers do not consider the experience they are providing the sponsor when they lead the project. You also said you were reasonably within budget 🙂 probably a nice way of saying over by an acceptable amount and that you received or will receive value for the things that put you over. The old adage of on time, on budget = success is gone or it should be. I’ve seen your place, its fantastic! Once the family is visiting and your all back from a day of skiing having around the fireplace, the cost and timelines will melt away and all that will be left is the experience you had doing the project and wonderful times (value) you will get from the project. As a project management community, we need to focus more on the last 2 things and less on the first 2.

  2. Thanks David for your open dialogue and perspective on a personal initiative. I know this quite well. My wife and I lived ‘on-site’ through a major renovation on our home not to mention numerous smaller projects over the years where I was “paying myself” to complete work, especially now that I am retired. I have always relied on my relationship skills to work through the many challenges. Ed 🙂

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