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I do feel the need to add context to her side of the story.
Our design process has two phases: The first phase is to develop the schematic design, represented in sketched floorplans only. The second phase includes full permit and construction drawings, including exterior elevations, electrical drawings, working with a structural engineer, etc. This two-part process was well explained at the outset of the project (I thought) and the contract that Molly signed lists in detail the scope of our services for phase 1, which do not include the permit or construction drawings. We never got to that point in our design work.
So why did we go over budget? The original scope of work was to master plan a conversion of two units into one, mainly focused on the kitchens of each unit and combining the entryway. Beyond doing that work, we spent many rounds doing refinements after discussions with Molly, we added a full basement level design into the scope after realizing that the foundation needed replacing, we did extra research with the planning department because the project is historic, and we eventually included a design review permit submittal set of drawings that included drawings full exterior elevations of the building. We explained that the initial extra work we took on – the basement design - would increase our fee beyond the estimate and she was OK with that because it made sense to do that exploration.
I’ll admit that we should have stopped the design work much earlier to reset Molly’s expectations around the original estimate and our expanding scope of services. We didn’t hit her with one huge, unexpected invoice – our services were billed monthly over 8 months - and she paid every invoice without questioning the amount, even after we were well over the original estimate. We felt that since she was directing us on every design iteration and paying our invoices without question, she was aware of and it was ok with her that we were over the original estimate. We mis-read this silence as validation that we were on the right track, even though we were well over the original estimate of fees (and beyond the original scope of services). In retrospect, we should have paused as we were exceeding the original estimate, explained that we were doing more design exploration than originally estimated, and make sure she was OK moving forward. That’s our mistake and we have made it a point to be more deliberate at doing that in the future.
It’s also clear that Molly didn’t realize that our original scope of services did not include generating permit drawings or submitting for permit. That was our mistake in not recognizing our client was unclear on the whole process.
To the point that we billed additional fee after the design work was complete, that was for preparing permit documents and shepherding them through the planning department. This was explained to Molly as out of our normal sequence of services, but she wanted to get the permit submitted as soon as possible so we did the work prior to getting into a phase 2 contract.
We clearly had a fundamental miscommunication with Molly on this project and I take the blame for that. We made assumptions we shouldn’t have. We have already taken steps and put processes in place that ensure our clients are very clear at every step where we are with the fee and where we are in the overall design process. We take our customer service very seriously and are disappointed that we let Molly down. One of our core values is “constant improvement” - we have learned from this and will be better in the future.