Who Moved My Scope?

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Chair of the Month

A panel at NEOCON East discussed the current concerns regarding the state of affairs in the design community. I have owned and operated my own design practice for the past 10 years (out of 30). Nearly half of that time, I’ve faced economic challenges.

Exasperating the economic challengers further, design firms are now faced with “scope poaching.” Scope poaching is the transition from traditional design services from inside the design firm to external sources such as owners’ representatives, real-estate organizations, and furniture dealerships.


This transition of traditional services is becoming popular in the Washington, D.C., area. Services that are being transitioned out of the traditional design firm’s fee proposals include programming, space requirement analysis, Workplace, and furniture selection and bidding.

Service providers appear to be competing for the prime position as “expert “in the given service arena to gain much-needed fees and revenue for their organizations.

Is the economy now so challenged that owners’ representatives, real-estate groups, and furniture dealers are shifting the role of these important design segments to build profits in their own companies? Is there a deeper reason? Have we all forgotten why these services were transitioned into the design community’s scope in the first place?

A bit of history

During the   late 70’s, I worked for a design firm called ISD. It was one of many firms to incubate the design concepts preceding the development of open workstations as we know them by today’s definition.

The solution was a result of direct client needs and a direct response to client interaction discovered in the programming phase. The result was innovation and a major market was developed.


This furniture market has employed tens of thousands of people nationwide for decades. Designers are innovators because of who we are as leaders and visionaries for our clients’ goals. We turn the intangible vision into a place to work, live, and commune.

Design firms are in the most significant position to solve spatial, design, cultural, image, and branding problems for our clients. We live for these types of opportunities to innovate and solve mundane problems in unique and pioneering ways.

The advent of teaming in workplace design

Gathering together to solve problems is nothing new, but who owns the privilege of quantifying and qualifying the client’s requirements?

We all own the process in some way, in my opinion. Recently, I was approached by a real-estate broker to help identify his client’s space requirements. His client was leaning heavily toward a “stay in place” lease renewal but also wanted to explore options for relocations.

Relocation Options

The design team identified space needs and prepared plans, brokers identified potential relocation sites, and the client provided necessary quantitative and qualitative information. Project management and contractor provided cost estimates on all scenarios. Analysis complete. Client signs lease and design firm secures full-service architectural services.

It was a perfect orchestration of talent and cooperation. And I am now in the best possible position to drive our client’s business and design goals to reality.

Final Decision for Relocation

We understand the real-estate structure, client goals, and project objectives. If we had not participated in the programming interview, space plans, and goal setting, then as a matter of liability, our firm would need to conduct a program confirmation and possibly interview the client again.

We are held accountable for the result of the new design by our contracts and are insured for omissions and errors. Are the others?

We are our client’s business partner and must communicate our relevance to them including helping them meet their bottom-line business objectives with the entire project team.

The end result is a winning work place where people will want to be — and a place where business can function at peak performance.

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  1. Thanks for an interesting and well-articulated position piece, Jolene. How are GCs figuring into your observations of scope poaching?

  2. Thanks George and good question. It appears to affect the GC primarily in the area of conceptual budgeting. Where traditionally, the design team would
    incorporate conceptual design ideas into the process – the specific input is missing. Traditionally , the qualitative needs of the project are assessed in programming and substantial information can can be conveyed to the contractor for use in budgeting.

    • Thanks for your reply, Jolene. Sorry I’m so tardy in saying so. I forgot to circle back to this post to look for your response.


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