Why Your Projects Should Lock Down Roles & Responsibilities & What Can Happen When They Don’t

If there’s one thing that a hotel owner can do to best protect and guide a project it’s this – nail down the roles and responsibilities of your project team members before your next project begins.   By doing this, everyone (including yourself) has a clear understanding of what exactly is expected from whom and when and which budget it’s coming out of.

OK, I’m certainly no different than you.  I can’t stand seemingly mundane or dull work assignments.  I loathe having to drill down into the details of a project too early on, if at all.  And there are few places in the world where being a control-freak is tolerable for me – but this one ranks pretty highly.  At the outset of any hotel design project there are really only five variables you need to have clarity on and control over.

  1. The project team members; who they are, what they are providing (deliverables), when they’re providing it and which section of the overall project budget their work is related to.
  2. The project areas; the main areas as well as any and all sub-areas and components within the overall project scope.
  3. The project phases; the milestone points at which the above pieces are due.
  4. The project budget; not the lump-sum, fuzzy nonsense, but the specific categories broken down in detail.
  5. Project Purchasing & Installation; defining who is responsible for procurement of the specific materials for the project as well as assigning who is responsible for installing the various materials and components.

That’s it.  Just five simple variables, right?

Well, here’s the thing – for over 30 years, I’ve witnessed and have been involved in projects, actually many projects, in which these very steps aren’t done, and to a project, they never turn out as well as those which do make these five points an integral part of the project knowledge base.

What if I could show you a new format and a new structure which guarantees that you’ve got all your bases covered?  Is there actually a way of organizing your project so that you are aware of who you really need on your team, what specific deliverables they’ll provide and when, and allocate the work they give you to the correct budget?  You bet.  And here it is.

The document is known as a Differentiation Document or the Diff Doc. for short.  It’s also sometimes called a Responsibilties Matrix, but I’ll just stick with Diff Doc.  This is the document that identifies and organizes all those five key variables in one beautiful seamless, wonderful document that says exactly what you need it to.  It’s preferable to create this Diff Doc early in the project as is reasonably possible.

The first variable to define is the project team members.  For sorting ease, I like to alphabetize each possible team member.  When I start a Diff Doc, I include every potential discipline which could be involved on a project; this acts as a master consultant list.  It’s easy to edit out unnecessary team members, but mostly I like the mental prompt which a comprehensive list provides.  This prompt will often make an Owner say, “Oh yeah, we’ll need an elevator consultant,” or “No, we don’t need a water feature consultant because our project scope doesn’t include this.”  On my master consultant list I go from ADA consultant, architect, acoustical consultant, art consultant, all the way down to water feature/pool consultant.  Use these as a check for your project. If you know or have already assigned a specific individual or firm, state that as well.

The second step is to figure out how big and how many areas there are.  This is the time to drill down into the nitty gritty of your project areas, whatever the real, budgeted scope areas are.  The more accurately you state the areas, the better off you are.

It helps to consolidate like areas together, either in terms of their variables and constraints, or in terms of their similarities, such as grouping all public areas, or all F&B areas.  Grouping project areas like this really streamlines this process.  However, if there’s something unique or different about a space, it should have its own category or at least you should consider if being in its own category will clarify an otherwise unknown or ambiguous area. By grouping like areas together, such as public areas or guest areas, you’ll keep better track of what appear to be minor details.

I’ve seen a project slip off the rails with a seemingly minor thing like the Vending and Ice Room in a guestroom tower renovation being accidentally excluded.  The missing scope of new flooring, wallcovering, ceiling treatment, plumbing, electrical and lighting became a Change Order for the consultants as well as the General Contractor for two sets of these rooms over 18 floors.  All told, a very expensive and unanticipated avoidable omission. 

However, in another project in which we did have a Diff Doc, the Diff Doc identified that blocking was to be provided by the GC for all Art and Mirrors in the public areas.  This sounds so minor; however, the project had a very significant art program, so it was no small thing.

Additionally, we also had general notes that said, “General contractor is to provide blocking for millwork as well as all artwork and mirrors.” We were well into construction, things were framed, and the GC announced in an on-site meeting, “We don’t have a budget number for blocking. We’re not carrying any cost for that. For us to do the blocking is a $1.5 million for the millwork and all the artwork and the framing.” The Owner was looking at me in despair. Very luckily for the Owner, I was able to refer back to the Diff Doc where it was indicated that the GC was to provide it within his responsibilities and therefore his base bid. So no Change Order, no extra cost.

The third step to consider are the phases of work needed for the overall project and any milestone delivery points within the Design, Documentation, and Administration Phases.

The point here is determining who is responsible for the deliverables or actions necessary at each of these three phases.  Knowing this (and it will almost certainly vary from project-to-project and from area-to-area, will accurately assign responsibility to the correct consultant or party.  This is especially important because this assignment of responsibility is related to fees or cost of services.  From an Owner’s position, it’s also super beneficial because it removes all ambiguity of who thought who was going to provide a given set of deliverables or perform an action.  You instantly remove the finger-pointing.  Accountability is the name of the game here, and these assignments are golden.

The fourth variable is of course the Project Budget.  Start with the overall budget, but then break it down into its subcategories: the general construction budget (the bricks and mortar, the drywall, etc.) and the FF&E budget, broken into the loose FF&E and the OS&E (owner supplies and equipment).  Most operators carry additional breakdowns of various categories as they relate to different departments.  Having these pre-identified gives you a benchmark against which you can measure each consultant’s deliverables.

The fifth and final step to determine is who specifically is responsible for the project procurement.  Purchasing of both the general construction materials (the GC-side) and the breadth of the FF&E as procured by the Purchasing Agent.  Below is an excerpt which shows an example of the items and the procurement assignment.

The finite details of items even such as light bulbs for the GC installed light fixtures should be clearly assigned.  We had a project in which during installation of the downlights in the ceilings throughout an entire new-build hotel project, the General Contractor stated that they weren’t carrying the associated necessary light bulbs for any of the fixtures.  There were literally hundreds of fixtures and many different types were needed.  Again, the Diff Doc stated quite clearly that it was the GC’s responsibility to purchase all lamping for the GC-related light fixtures.  The GC had to come up with all the light bulbs for each and every fixture.  Once again, no change order, the owner was protected by the Diff Doc.

When I can, I request to have a Diff Doc as an exhibit to a contract because it not only protects me, but it protects the Owner and all other consultants because everybody knows not only what they’re doing but what everyone else is doing as well.  As you’ve seen, this little bit of time invested in creating the Diff Doc can literally save a project in so many ways.

If you’d like to get a clean version of this Diff Doc template for your own use, just contact Carl at Clear on Black (carlr@clearonblack.com).