The week that was…22-29 January 2016
Singapore – Jakarta – Singapore
Weekend 30-31 January 2016
This has been a week mostly spent in the office with a quick day trip to Jakarta on Thursday. What I retain most from this week is that running a lighting design practice has very little to do with lighting design. This statement may come as surprise to some people but those who run a design company or are involved in projects will know what I am talking about. I have stated on numerous occasions that the actual act of performing lighting design work, sketching with pen and pencil for the older generation or creating computerised lighting design concepts for the new generation, is a very little part of our daily work. For me it would be less than 10% of my time (if I am lucky!). The rest is a mix of managing people and their expectations, managing time and (administrative) tasks, managing quality both in document deliverables as well in light installation fitting quality and last but not least communicating (big thing!) and networking with existing and potential future clients. I could add more to the list…
This week was very much a reflection of this, managing people’s expectations mostly. We are involved in the early stages of a number of projects with a new project team and that always means “getting to know” each other. One of the projects has a new hot-shot project manager who wants to show the client he is “in charge” which translated into an avalanche of protocols and directives on who to or not contact, who to or not distribute, report…it was so complicated that it created more confusion then clarity. When I quizzed him about these protocols with some references to other projects I was basically told of and threatened that if I did not want to dig in line they could always look at another lighting designer…really? Anyhow I was comforted by the lead consultant and other team members, to just get on as it was obviously show-off exercise designed to impress the client. In my opinion he achieved the opposite and did not make many friends in the process. It will be interesting to see how long he will hold…hopefully we will all gel smoothly back together and get to a successful completion of this project. Developing a deliverables schedule to allow the overall building and construction schedule to be coordinated with all involved is crucial and not surprisingly everyone wants it “yesterday”. A lighting designers input is very much depending on the input from the lead consultants, architects, interior designer or landscape consultant. The reality however is often that it is issued to us as a completed package leaving little room for our inputs other then “adding on” the lighting, which generally results in the worst possible solutions. So a great deal of effort goes into managing the lead consultants and project manager in including the lighting designer in the process. I was surprised to find myself not invited at a major design workshop next week where all key consultants will be present. Obviously we are not seen as being “key” to the client. Their reasoning was that the lights were not yet installed so there was probably no need for me to come. After explaining our role (again!) and the importance of participating in the whole process, they realised the mistake and the flight arrangements were quickly organised.
Managing communications. Another issue that popped up a few times is about communication. Working with a project team means we need to coordinate and not work as a stand-alone. Two of our projects this week had typical examples of that. The first was just a straight forward missing out on the fact that the lighting designer should be copied and consulted on any outgoing package from the lead consultant. The interior designer had apparently issued a full design development package for an area in the project prompting the client’s project manager to ask us about the lighting. We were taken aback as we did not even know it was ready, let alone issued! And that while we had been in their office just a few days albeit discussing the lighting for another project. It surely ws not ill intended and assumingly under pressure just simply forgotten, but it does hurt a bit that we are not at the front of their minds. In another project, which is the start of a brand-new relationship with an architect/interior design group, we encountered a very similar situation, though this was much more due to their inexperience cooperating and consulting with a lighting design practice. We only met the client to presenting and discuss the lighting this week for the first time after that lead consultant had held it off and had had several rounds of design presentations including remote information from us. I had felt very uncomfortable and so was the client apparently. The meeting was a great success, reassured the client completely and will form a renewed based for a close collaboration with the lead consultant. Knowing what to do is one thing but managing it in the right direction is something else. Practice makes perfect they say and with both these lead consultants I think we have still some ways to go but eventually will result in great projects together.
Managing quality in the broadest sense of the word is very much related to time and a big part of our daily activities. Under time pressure often short cuts are made which generally goes at the expense of quality. Quality of documentation (mistakes) and quality of light fixtures (specification choice and alternative “equivalent” approvals). Managing a client’s mind set about what quality is, generally involves a cultural revolution and can be a time consuming (and often frustrating) process. Regardless whether you explained the consequences and benefits of poor versus good quality products, most people think with their wallets and not their minds. A head on clash with the client/ project manager this week erupted in regards to installing as specified lighting in the mock up room. The client insisted they wanted cheaper alternatives, but the allocated budget (less then 1/3 of our already moderate specs) left us scratching our heads. Which part of the basic quality aspects did they not understand?
Keep calm…I m a lighting designer…
Have a great weekend!