The On-boarding Process: Institutions and Corporate Clients

The on-boarding process is a critical time for real estate project managers and owner’s representatives. This is when a project is set-up for success: the goals and priorities of the project are established, the lines of communication are made clear; the approval process is flushed out and most importantly, the project management team comes to understand and integrate into the client culture. We’ve outlined the steps that we take to on-board an institution or a corporate client.


Create Program Charter

A program charter delineates who is responsible for which aspects of the project: approvals, signatures, the reporting structure, deliverables, etc. The program charter creates the blueprint and outline for the rest of the project. It will consist of:

  • The program (or project overview)
  • Program charter statement
    • Simple statement that captures the goals and priorities of the end project
  • Program background and history
    • Any information that will provide more context for the project. What work has been done before? By whom?
  • Program scope, budget and schedule
  • Project sponsorship and major stakeholders
    • A list and description of all of the contributors, investors, and backers of the project. It is important to understand who are the major stakeholders, what role they play and how they should be involved in the project. 

Integrate Into Culture

Integrating into the culture of an institution is critical. Your project management team should be able to do this seamlessly, to ensure a strong working relationship. In order to do this, all systems should be set-up appropriately:

  • Security set-up
    • Register with any necessary systems or networks
  • If using a client email address, establish an in-network email account
  • Set-up IDs and access codes for all buildings, offices, etc.
  • Meet as much as the staff as possible
    • Even if you wont be working with some of the staff, take the time to become familiar with faces, teams and names. You never know when you might need to bring in another opinion.
  • Determine project responsibilities matrix
    • This is a matrix that establishes who is responsible for which aspects of the project. This should be communicated as widely as appropriate so that everyone knows who is doing what.

Procurement Download

Every institution has their own set of procurement policies and procedures. It’s important to understand what those are, by taking the following steps:

  • Meet with a procurement contact and review all procurement policies and procedures
  • Review and familiarize with standard RFPs and RFQs
  • Familiarize with list of approved vendors and learn the process for utilizing MSAs
  • Learn the approval process and expected durations to factor into overall schedule

Operations Download

In order to become part of the culture of an institution, understanding the operation side of an institution must be part of the on-boarding process.

  • Meet and familiarize with different departments and supervisors
  • Learn the system of shutdowns/safe-offs and how and when to request them
  • Become familiar with central plants and what is generated on campus/in office
  • Learn the design review process and be sure to integrate necessary groups into the review of design documents

Standard/Design Process Download

The project manager must come to understand the standard design process during the on-boarding phase, so as to facilitate this process in a way that best suits the institution:

  • Understand design standards and where they are stored
  • Learn the design review process.
    • Is there a campus architect?
    • Are there internal space planners?
  • Establish as-built requirements and who will manage them after the project is complete
  • Establish a process for the hand-off of all drawings
  • Obtain sign-offs and approvals by necessary stakeholders


The on-boarding process may seem lengthy, but it truly takes all of these steps to set-up a project for success.

Katie Craven
Katie Craven is Marketing, Communication and Brand Manager at Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers, a real-estate consulting firm that provides owner’s representation and project management services. More about Watchdog Real Estate Project Managers as well as additional blog posts can be found here.
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