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Why is it Important to Have a Good Master Plan for Your Project?

by Kevin F. on April 25, 2014

As designers, I think we’ve all been involved in those projects that seem to go on and on with no rhyme or reason.  One week you get a call from your owner or client and they want this; a month later they call you again to change their mind or add something to the project.  And this continues for months, sometimes years.  There is never really a focus on what the ultimate goal is, but a patchwork approach to solving their needs.  It could be a new site with hundreds of acres, a building or a campus, or a small urban site somewhere.
We understand as designers that it’s important to have a master plan for a project, a vision that is established early on in the beginning stages of a project.  This gets everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction on the project.  Even a set of goals of what the project will ultimately be is better than nothing at all.  The master plan or vision sets the expectation for everything that is done from that point forward on a design project. 
However, there are some clients that simply don’t see the value in this.  Especially in these tougher economic times, everyone is looking at the bottom line dollar or ways to cut money.  Many clients look at this as a luxury, not a necessity.  Especially as it relates to planning and not construction drawings or design build work.  I completely understand their view and where they are coming from; however, as a true consultant it is our job to remind clients why a good master plan is critical to any long term project.
Here are some reasons I think a good master plan is critical:

  • Master Planning provides a road map for all future development decisions on a project.  Many project budgets are trimmed to the bare minimum and end up sacrificing land usage in the end, because there is not a good plan.
  • Master Planning can actually save the client money in the long run.  A well master planned site can save money on things like utilities, earthwork, materials, and even design.
  • It allows input from all involved parties up front and sets expectations for how things will develop over a number of months or years.
  • The approval of a Master Plan creates “buy-in” from key stakeholders in a project.  If everyone has a chance to give their blessing in the beginning, there is much less opportunity for questioning later.
  • It allows for cost estimating to be done before construction ever starts on a project so everyone understands the ultimate costs involved.  This also allows for money to be raised over a longer period of time to fund the project.
  • Master Planning can build visibility and credibility for a project.  If a vision for the project can be shown to its potential users, it often generates excitement about its potential.  This often builds momentum for a project and helps it to happen sooner.
  • Master Planned projects have a higher rate of completion that non-planned projects.

Ultimately, any decision about a master plan is up to the owner/client.  After all, their dollars are paying for it.  However, as designers and consultants it’s our job to give our clients all of the facts.  When it comes to master planning, there are many reasons why it pays off in the future.  If we take the time to sit with our clients and inform them of the benefits up front, it leads to better end results for everyone.