Most good things don’t just happen by chance; they generally happen as a result of careful planning and are built on experience. The same is true for landscape installation projects. Let’s talk about the importance of clear communication as key to a successful landscape installation project.
The first step in clear communication happens in the very first meeting with a new client when the visions for the new space are described in order to be designed on a plan. The designer will step-in with how the wish list can be best executed based on site conditions and limitations, budgets, and project phasing, if applicable. The building and zoning offices of the client’s township are always contacted during the design process to learn what restrictions may apply to the project that may influence permitting. The design drawing that follows is in and of itself is a form of communication and illustrates, in a scaled form, all the aspects of the project and include, usually in plan-view, volumes of patio, locations for trees and plants, and other large elements such as swimming pools and outdoor kitchens. Dimensions are noted that correspond to the positions of the specified elements within the limits of the space, including the heights of certain features like steps and columns. Most design processes communicate first in a concept form first, then move to more detailed drawings as the process moves closer to construction. During the design process, lots of questions are good thing and help to clarify for the client how the project will be built from start to finish. Clearly communicated installation contracts should outline the steps of how the project work areas will be built in order–from the site work that prepares the area for construction, all the way through to the lawn repair at the end.
After all the drawings are finished, the next step in the construction process is often the permitting phase. Depending on the scope of work, the permit process may be lengthy. It’s very helpful for a client to have a landscape professional who will manage all aspects of the permits. Building and zoning ordinances vary and if the township is small, the building and zoning officers may work only part time. Added to this are any requirements of HOAs (home owner associations) that must be met even before plans may be submitted for township permits. Clear communication in this area would be an understanding of how and when the landscape office will update the client during the permit phase.
During the construction process, it is important that the client designate a point person for the project to avoid loss of important information. For some clients, the preferred mode of communication is by email; for others, it is by phone. It’s important to know that in larger design/build firms, the designer is not always the point person for the project once construction begins: the “baton” is usually handed to the production team, which may include a site manager or field manager in addition to the project foreman. Clear communications include knowing who the players are and who to turn to for questions and how often and when information about the on-going project will be disseminated.
It’s also good for clients to know the overall time-line of a project and how the project will unfold. Some components of projects take longer than others and may involve different crews. For example, structural components of projects are constructed first by a carpentry team—decks, roof structures, cabanas, or porches. When they leave, a hardscape team will follow and after that, a landscape team for plants, irrigation and sod. Depending on your contractor, the hardscape team may or may not install the plantings that would follow. Sometimes teams can work in tandem: this would depend on the size of the space in which all the teams are working. It’s not always efficient to have too many crewmembers on a site at the same time.
Another important aspect to a successful landscape installation lies in communicating aspects of the project in a timely fashion. This is both for the installer and the client. Installers need to communicate to clients in a consistent way as topics arise, whether it is an update on a township permits or if crews have a rain day or won’t be coming to a site for some other reason during the project. Clients need to communicate if there are days when there may not be access to the home as certain inspections require access. Clients should also communicate concerns as the project unfolds so they can be addressed right away.
The end of a project is also a very important time. A project that may have taken months to design and install has now come to life. It’s important for the client to know when the final inspections will take place, when the final walk-through will occur, and when the final payments are due. Payment schedules are usually stated in a contract, but if the project is lengthy, certain aspects of the contract may not be remembered. If there are punch-list items to be performed, the time line for this work should be communicated as these are often finishing touches.
While not a tangible or visible part of a project, excellent communication between the design/build company and the client will influence the project outcome. If communication is clear and non-threatening, the project is a home run for both client and installer.