Principles of being a good client

Successful building projects are underpinned by strong, organised client teams. What does it take to be a good client - and what are the downsides of not following those principles?

Leadership, organisation and sound advice are key to client success. Download this diagram as a printable PDF.

For building projects, the skills you will need as a client fall into three categories:

Here we set out the principles that a good client should follow for each of these categories – and we explain the pitfalls of not following them.

While being a good client does not guarantee a successful project, an absence of leadership, lack of clarity, and poor decision-making processes make a successful project less likely.

Strong leadership

1. Own a clear, ambitious vision…
Translate your vision into a clear and simple brief, which your partners support, and continually test your project against it.

…or the full potential won’t be realised.
The aims and objectives of the project will keep moving, and your project will be driven by targets rather than outcomes.

2. Be clear about long-term goals…
Harness the full potential of your project by focusing on agreed long-term outcomes.

…or only short-term gains will be delivered.
These will damage your reputation and require more to be spent in the long term on fixes, such as ongoing management or energy consumption.

3. Know who to involve and when…
Talk to different people to build and maintain support for high aspirations. Understand the strengths, weaknesses, knowledge gaps, needs and concerns of your client team, project partners and the local community.

…or you risk not securing support.
Your plans may not meet the needs of the community and project partners, which makes it more difficult to secure support.

4. Learn from other projects…
Visit other places to understand how they succeeded. Aim to deliver a project that others will want to visit and learn from in the future.

…or you run the risk of repeating others’ mistakes.
You may set your aspirations too low for your project, and miss opportunities to improve the environment and build your reputation.

Good organisation

5. Understand and respond to the project context…
Ensure that your project team understands the full political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental context.

…otherwise your project will miss opportunities to enhance existing places.
Without an understanding of the opportunities beyond your site or area, your project could fail to maximise the benefits that could otherwise improve its surroundings, and be wasteful.

6. Focus on the priorities…
Recognise which parts of a project are critical at each stage. Plan enough time within your client team to ensure successful delivery of those priorities.

…or you risk wasting effort.
Spreading yourself too thinly or drifting from the vision will mean the project team will not work to its strengths, and you will not be flexible enough to change with circumstances.

7. Stand up for quality throughout…
Maintain a focus on quality through all stages, all outputs and the activities of all partners.

…or you risk making an unwise investment.
Increasing pressure to move a project from one stage to the next, or responding to a range of competing priorities, can mean that compromise on quality creeps in.

8. Balance time, cost, quality and risk…
Manage the budget and programme to achieve the desired quality, without letting any one aspect dominate the process. Manage risk as part of the process rather than allowing risk aversion to take over.

…or you may over-run and over-spend.
When tough decisions have to be made to get a project back on track, quality often suffers.

Sound advice and informed decision-making

9. Use procurement to achieve quality…
Establish relationships between your chosen delivery partners, your client team and your project team. Put in place decision-making structures that support individual roles and responsibilities in relation to your project.

…or process can become an obstacle.
Practical and legal problems can result if procurement is not handled properly. Significant additional costs can be incurred, and detract from quality.

10. Be informed…
Invest in your client team to ensure it has the knowledge, abilities, capacity and the right advice to deliver a quality outcome.

…or hidden agendas can hinder progress.
Neglecting, mismanaging or failing to build on in-house expertise can lead to conflict, and is a missed opportunity to build a strong resource for the future.

11. Build a strong project team…
Augment the capacity of your core team with additional skills and expertise from partners who support your aspirations for quality, and can cope with the demands of the project.

…or your project vision may not be shared.
Over-reliance on external consultants – or managing them poorly – can be wasteful, and can lead to partners that do not share your vision, or do not have the necessary skills.

12. Sign-off key stages…
Make decisions and monitor progress at pre-determined stages.

…or you risk wasting resources.
Reputational damage can come about through overspend or over-optimism about completion.

Examples of being a good client

The best clients understand what they want, and how to articulate it.
Experienced client