Three Steps to a Stronger Master Plan

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This quote is attributed to one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin, who was a proponent for intentional planning. A simple plan is a good start, but a strategic plan achieves greater aspirations. Strategic planning doesn’t just happen — you have to plan to plan⁠. The concept is equivalent to building your house on a solid foundation. If you only plan to build a beautiful home, but don’t plan location or anticipate weather conditions and flood patterns, your beautiful home could collapse. Strategic-thinking and details are critical to a plan’s success.

For campus leaders embarking on a master planning initiative, it’s important to focus your efforts on understanding objectives and institutional vision. You need to understand what you’re capable of doing programmatically, but most importantly, financially. A master plan absent financial context is reckless. If the institution’s mission is clear, you’ll have control over the process and not subject it to the planner’s perspective exclusively. You need to be able to plan on your terms.

These three steps can help build a stronger foundation for and help prioritize your master planning process:

1. Know What You Need

The first step in this process is to have a firm grasp on the strategic objectives for the institution. Evaluate what’s been done in the past, analyze the results of those efforts and make sure everyone is clear about the institution’s financial position. What resources do you have and what’s your investment capacity? Understand the political forces that could potentially influence the plan and settle on an approach for how to incorporate and manage those influences. Finally, identify all the data points you’ll need to help guide the master planning process and pinpoint data weaknesses.

2. Gather Data and Determine Gaps

After step one, you have a long list of everything you need to provide your master planning team. Gather all the existing information and determine what you don’t yet have. Often times within a facilities organization, the most critical missing component in the “planning to plan” phase is an objective assessment of current conditions and financial capabilities. A successful, well-informed master plan begins with this exploration. It can form the basis of a strategic project plan that identifies institutional priorities and the greatest areas of need to provide a truly useful resource to the master planning process. A master plan absent this context becomes markedly more difficult to realize and will be constructed on a shaky foundation.

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3. Assessment & Planning

Initiate an assessment process that provides a thorough understanding of current campus conditions and needs. This process may include:

  • Collecting data on deferred maintenance, including any existing deferred maintenance studies.
  • Performing a field assessment that involves walking through all buildings and taking an inventory of what’s there as well as the general condition of all equipment types, interior finishes, exterior facades and other relevant systems.
  • Engaging with the facilities staff and other people in charge of maintaining the campus to understand their priorities and capture their knowledge of the conditions as a result of living with them day in and day out.
  • Conducting interviews with IT, Security, Residential Life and other designated department heads or institutional leaders to gather a complete picture of how the existing campus facilities are performing.

The information that comes out of these steps should be used to prioritize project needs. From there, it is essential to apply a strategy and a funding plan to support the project selection process. This understanding can then be used to channel the planners’ creativity into the areas that need to be addressed in the plan, whether that’s reinvesting in existing needs, removing certain buildings or building new.

A campus master plan should serve as a strategic roadmap that guides an institution toward aligning its physical campus with its long-term goals. But as with every journey, it’s important to know precisely where you’re starting from to reach your target destination. By getting a solid picture of where the institution stands today, leaders can channel the innovation and ingenuity typical of the planning process to create the most powerful and financially-responsible impact upon the campus.

Download our Facilities Master Planning Guide for more information.