Robust approach

Robust approach

Establishing a rigorous design process


GIRI research established that many of the weaknesses in design which lead to errors in construction are rooted in a failure to properly define and agree the design process at the outset, as well as a failure to rigorously apply it throughout the project.

A clearly-defined and well-managed design process should be established at the start of a project with the involvement of all key members of the team. Having agreed the process, the team must then apply it consistently.

Why is it important?

GIRI has identified a series of key issues relating to the design process which, if properly established and maintained, can significantly reduce project error.

The main priorities are to recognise the importance of a rigorous design process, and for the client with the support of the lead designer, to ensure that such a process is established at the start, understood and agreed by all key parties and implemented throughout the project. (See guiding the design team.)

Action to address any issues that arise must be taken promptly; it is crucial that problems are not ignored because they are considered difficult to resolve.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

The following recommendations can significantly reduce design error, but while they are all accepted as good practice, getting them adopted can be a major challenge.

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities

The key to eliminating any misunderstandings from the outset is to kick off the project with a team of people who understand their own scope of services, roles and design responsibilities, and who are also clear on the scope of all other team members and disciplines. (See collaboration, culture and guiding the design team.)

Delivering design to an agreed plan of work

The project team should follow an agreed framework, and the execution of the project should be developed on this basis (see planning the design work). It is important to ensure that all parties are fully aware of the framework within which they are delivering their design, and the requirements of that framework – whether RIBA for building, GRIP for rail, PCF for highways or any other client-specific delivery model.

Setting milestones

Milestones are important management tools that can be used to encourage beneficial behaviour across disciplines by carefully working them into professional appointments. (See planning the design work, opening up and closing down, and design gateways.)

Design leadership

Project success relies not only on process, but also on teams having a common collaborative approach to achieving the design objectives. Key to this is strong leadership, which should come from the individual appointed to manage the design process, and be supported by the client. (See guiding the design team.)

Robust brief

The project brief is an evolving document. As a minimum, a design team cannot progress without an outline that can be developed with the client into a project brief before the start of concept design. The brief must be signed off by the client and key stakeholders at the outset and must be used as a control document to refer back to; any changes must be agreed, recorded and signed off by the client. (See brief)


In establishing the brief it is crucial to set up a process by which the design can be satisfactorily tested against the budget at key milestones. Specialist design input should be obtained at an early stage in order to get robust cost advice; too often this recommendation is ignored because it is commercially sensitive and may be seen as favouring a particular supplier or contractor. However the current practice is simply not working. (See contractor input).

It is crucial to set a realistic budget and employ cost consultants to implement a rigorous benchmarking process.

Change control

Clarity is vital when changes are made to the design or brief; they should be managed in a clear and structured way to ensure all parties have understood and assessed the implications of each change before endorsing it, and with client sign-off.

It is probably unrealistic to implement a change control procedure before technical design commences, unless there is a major change to the project; however all changes that significantly affect cost or programme should be considered at the early stages of a project.

Change control should be an agenda item at all design team meetings. (See opening up & closing down, and design gateways.)

Realistic programming

The time allowed for each design stage must be realistic and recognise the complexities of the project and the procurement route. Activities should be planned and discussed by the key members of a project team, taking account of any programme constraints, and an appropriate period must be built in for client review and approval. The individual appointed to manage the design should prepare a design programme at the start of a project, which must be reviewed and agreed by all parties. (See planning the design work.)

Client review and approval

Client review meetings should be scheduled throughout the design stages to validate the design and for the design team, and cost consultant and contractor if appointed, to obtain clear direction from the client.

Establishing such a schedule ensures consistency of input from particular client individuals, which is important if change is to be avoided through different interpretations of the client brief. It eliminates surprises and misunderstandings when the end-of-design-stage information is issued.

Additionally end-of-stage presentations – and interim-stage presentations if required – should be made to the key decision makers , clearly setting out any design or project issues that need to be resolved. (See stakeholder management).

Peer reviews

At appropriate stages in the project it may be beneficial to facilitate design reviews by external parties to check that the design meets the brief and the correct level of detail has been achieved. This could be provided by one organisation or by individual design consultants. (See guiding the design team).

Consideration should also be given to engaging with other groups, such as end users or the team that will operate and maintain the asset once occupied. (See stakeholder management).

Digital engineering /BIM

With rapid changes in the way design is carried out, digital engineering and the use of digital models is becoming the norm across all sectors. The efficiencies that arise from being able to visualise, understand and resolve coordination issues in this way are now widely recognised. It is GIRI’s view that BIM to Level 2, or equivalent, should be adopted as a minimum, at both the design and construction stages. (See this link for more information about BIM levels).

Designing for construction

Another key finding of GIRI’s research is that buildability is rarely given proper consideration during the design development process. This may be due to designers lacking a full understanding of construction processes, or being given insufficient time to develop the design.

GIRI recommends that for any design beyond the concept stage, buildability should be specifically considered as a project requirement and ideally be reviewed by specialist designers and contractors. This could either be by informal consultation, as part of a pre-construction services agreement or as part of the peer review. (See contractor input).

Design interface management

Design issues often arise due to scope gaps between elements of works. These interfaces may be between different works packages – for example infrastructure works and building works – or between different material types, such as the diverse elements of a façade.

It is important to set out where interfaces arise in the scope of packages (often a contractor’s responsibility) and to define where design responsibilities begin and end. It is also important to allow enough time for subcontractors with design responsibility to further develop the design interface. (See information and planning the design work).

Key goal

A robust design approach involving key members of the project team should be adopted at the beginning of the project.

Practical steps

The team should adopt some, or ideally all, of the following points:

Practical stepPurposeMore info
Clearly define roles and responsibilitiesTo eliminate misunderstandings from the outsetCulture
Investing in design
Establish an agreed plan of work to which the design will be deliveredTo coordinate design activities in accordance with each contributor’s individual scopePlanning the design
Set and agree milestonesTo encourage beneficial behaviour across disciplinesPlanning the design
Opening up and closing down
Design gateways
Create the environment to support strong leadershipTo encourage a collaborative approachCollaboration
Guiding the design team
Ensure the brief is thorough and well-preparedTo serve as a control document throughout the projectBrief
Seek robust cost adviceTo ensure the project is properly budgeted and costs controlledInvesting in the design
Contractor input
Implement the appropriate change control processTo ensure all parties have understood and assessed the implications of each change before endorsing itOpening up and closing down
Design gateways
Allow sufficient time for design to evolveTo ensure the time allowed for each design stage is realistic and recognises the complexities of the project and the procurement routePlanning the design
Programme in regular client reviewsTo ensure the design is validated, and to allow the design team, cost consultant and contractor, if appointed, to obtain clear direction from the client.Opening up and closing down
Stakeholder management
Commission peer reviews and buildability reviewsTo check that the design meets the brief and the correct level of detail has been achieved; and to ensure that buildability has been given proper considerationContractor input
As a minimum, adopt BIM to Level 2 or equivalent, at both the design and construction stagesTo ensure efficient and accurate coordination and communication of designThe NBS
Ensure design interfaces are properly considered and managedTo eliminate the risk of scope gaps arising between elements of works, and leading to design issuesInformation
Planning the design work



Getting the team culture right


Delivery of construction projects is improved, and the number of errors reduced, when the right working culture exists. The right culture encourages and rewards behaviours such as collaboration, adaptive behaviour, inclusivity, leadership and good communication.

Why is it important?

  • Would you tell your client that you had doubts about delivering something that was within your brief? How confident would you be that they would accept the position and work with you to find the best solution? Or would you be afraid that they would dispense with your services and appoint someone else?
  • If another supplier had problems which were jeopardising progress on the project, would you offer to help even it meant extra time or cost for you?

Such dilemmas are all too prevalent in the construction industry, but they are less likely to arise, and quicker to resolve within an open and transparent team culture. The right culture makes it acceptable to ask questions; to admit that you don’t know something; to criticise (positively) and to make suggestions even if they fall outside your own organisation’s brief.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Establishing and sustaining the right culture

Establishing the appropriate culture is the first challenge. While there is no simple recipe for this, one essential ingredient is clear leadership and the presence of a client who demonstrates a commitment to collaborative working. Choosing people and organisations with similar values helps, as does selection of processes and systems that support the culture.

Sustaining this ethos is also part of the challenge. People work together and build trust if they are in the right environment, but when staff move on, how can all the important cultural facets of transparency, openness and honesty be retained?

It certainly helps if the culture is embedded within each organisation rather than relying on any one individual. But it needs more than this. Every construction project involves a vast number of organisations, so it is important to create a structure that allows all parties to establish a sense of ownership. In this way, the needs of the project subsume those of the individual organisations.

There is no text book way of achieving this. Contracts determine the nature of projects and certain forms are designed to enhance the right culture, which can help. In spite of the fact that most projects are procured using ‘non-collaborative’ forms of contract, some are still able to achieve the right culture.

Recognising the hallmarks of good working culture

In its simplest form, the right culture empowers project team members to make decisions and take actions within their own areas of expertise; these must work in unison with the thousands of other decisions and actions taking place across the project. All parties should have a shared vision of the end-state, but be trusted to take decisions within a clear framework.

A change in mindset is needed so that the outcome is all that matters. However faultless the calculations, or beautiful the drawings, unless every element is built and handed over in working order, the project is a failure. This underlines the link to the real world of construction and delivery, and breaks down some of the organisational and contractual barriers that have been identified.

A clearly-defined intent outlines what the project wants to achieve and why, and is normally expressed in terms of effects and desired outcomes. It should be written in a language that all members of the team, from directors to operatives, will understand. This binds the entire project team together and forms a benchmark for all subsequent decision making.

Improvements in communication and mutual understanding can be achieved by making it standard practice for team members to conduct back-briefing at an agreed time or stage. The individuals receiving information give a synopsis of the information they have just received, allowing the person who gave the information to ensure that their message was properly understood, and clarify it if not.

Key goal

To create and sustain the right working culture.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Establish a clearly-defined intent for what the project wants to achieve and whyTo bind the entire project team together and form the benchmark for all subsequent decision makingGIRI project workshops
Reinforce the focus on outcomesTo underline the link to the real world of construction and delivery, and break down organisational and contractual barriersGIRI project workshops
Adopt the process of back-briefingTo improve communication and mutual understandingBrief

Investing in design

Investing in design

Reducing error by investing in design


Delivery of construction projects is improved, and the number of errors reduced, when the right working culture exists. Providing sufficient resources – both time and fees – to do the design properly is crucial. Early investment in design will more than repay itself by eliminating errors that could create problems later in the project; conversely reducing investment in design will almost certainly increase out-turn costs and result in adverse technical outcomes, leading to even greater costs or legal disputes.

Why is it important?

Research by the Get It Right Initiative established that 21% of project cost is wasted on error and that five of the top ten root causes of error relate to design. This loss is not just the cost of correcting an error, but also the delay that results from the process.

Allowing a design error to go uncorrected may eliminate direct costs, but at best it will inflate costs elsewhere on the project or impact on the performance of the completed scheme. At worst, it could lead to a serious failure.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Design is not only about the project as a finished entity, it is the foundation of every sub-element and component that will be incorporated into the final product. A huge web of inter-related design issues contributes to the overall design of a scheme, so a failure in the design of any component, however small, can have a major impact on the project as a whole.

Avoid late changes

GIRI’s research report concluded that late changes to design are a fundamental root cause of error. Further analysis suggests that changes are made for one of a number of reasons:

• The designers based the design on incorrect assumptions, made errors in the design itself, or changes were made to the design approach so that the initial design has to be amended.

• The client has changed the requirements, either because the design was not meeting expectations, or for political, value or legal reasons.

With sufficient, early investment of time and fees in design, the likelihood of such issues arising will be significantly reduced, and the only justification for late design changes would be political, value or legal reasons.

It is important to emphasise that changes during the development of the design are not errors as such, they are part of an iterative process. Designers must be given adequate time and fee to allow effective design development and ensure designs are buildable ahead of the procurement process. Without this process, the risk of error during the construction process is increased.

Design development versus design change is a key aspect to address and must be managed robustly by the authorised design management individual. (See guiding the design team).

Invest at the right stage

The preparation of a design appointment strategy is encouraged – relevant design consultants and specialist suppliers should be consulted/appointed at the early stages to enable designs to be developed sufficiently with the minimum of error.

A key step to reducing the volume of design-related errors which are creating such large additional costs on construction projects is to invest sufficient resources in the design process.

In almost every case, this means providing sufficient time and resource to get the design right before construction, and allocating more money to the design process.

Benefit from the multiplier effect

Suppose that 15% of the cost of a project is spent on design; the cost of error to the same project, according to GIRI’s research, will be 21%. The research also showed that a significant proportion of this cost can be traced back to decisions made at the design stage.

If the investment in design was uplifted by just 10% – to 16.5% of the total cost – and this resulted in a 10% reduction in the cost of error – or 2.1% of the total cost – then it would have more than paid for itself.    

In reality the improvement would probably be much greater, producing a return several times the level of the initial investment. This is the multiplier effect.

Key goal

To reduce error by appropriate investment of time and fees in design.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Discourage late changes to designTo eliminate a fundamental root cause of errorPlanning the design
Do not allow design error to go uncorrectedTo minimise additional costs and delays elsewhere on the project, or at a later stage
Invest time and fees at the early stagesTo get the design correct before construction starts, maximising the return on investment
Create and implement a design appointment strategyTo ensure all parties are clear on the scope of the design and all necessary appointments are madeGuiding the design team



Working with partners transparently, cooperatively and collaboratively


A collaborative working environment establishes a teamwork approach to getting things right, and is inextricably linked to culture. Team members do their best to help others to fulfil their responsibilities, and are open about areas where they themselves need help. Every project benefits from collaboration, and collaborative working helps to reduce errors.

Why is it important?

Conventional procurement and its predominantly transactional approach has consistently struggled to deliver satisfactory outcomes; as a result, efficiency and quality of work in the construction industry compare poorly with other industries. This is largely because each party is more focused on protecting its own interests than on the success of the project as a whole.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Establishing a common objective

Collaboration implies that all parties share a common objective. This requires alignment of project objectives to ensure that successful outcomes for each party will result in a successful project.

All parties should also seek to ensure that they have alignment within their own organisations, to eliminate any prospect of conflict between different internal departments.

More often than not, participants have different criteria for success, and therefore the client’s brief should clearly set out the requirements and constraints which will define a successful project. All participants, including third party stakeholders, designers and contractors need to be equally clear as to their measures of success and how they relate to the brief. (See brief and culture).

It does not necessarily follow that parties should be in complete alignment across all areas – as long as it is fully understood how and where objectives differ. Being open and clear about any non-alignment will support the collaborative process.

Participants should discuss and agree how the various success criteria can be aligned if possible. This is where collaboration differs from traditional procurement and it demands a level of trust that is uncommon in hard price, lowest cost contracts.

The alignment process requires a careful analysis of the individual motivations and identification of positive incentives to encourage unity. Again, due to the individual success criteria, the motivations and incentives will be different for each party.

Working collaboratively

Successful collaboration requires, first of all, an appreciation by all parties of the benefits of working collaboratively. Active leadership is the second vital component, and this ideally comes from the client or agents working on behalf of the client. It should be consistent across the supply chain and maintained throughout the project.

There are various ways in which collaborative working may be encouraged, such as the one described below, but all rely on clear and effective communication between all parties. (See information and culture).

Partnering is an approach to the management of construction contracts that encourages collaboration between the parties. The core rationale is to generate co-operation and collaboration so as to engender trust rather than competition between the parties. Partnering arrangements can be put in place so as to impact positively on all parties involved in a project, including the client, contractor, sub-contractors and consultants.

Partnering is sometimes criticised due to the difficulty of establishing common interest between the client and the contractor and other suppliers. While there is some truth in this, it overstates the inevitability of commercial conflict and fails to recognise the behavioural benefits that partnering, and therefore collaborative arrangements can leverage.

The key aspiration is that parties act in the common interests of the project and of each other, discouraging selfish behaviour. At its best, collaboration achieves a result that would not be possible through contract arrangements that characterise projects as a zero-sum game, where one party’s gain is another’s loss.

It is possible to agree some partnering obligations that are binding, whilst other provisions may be aspirational. Whatever type of contract is adopted, pre-project workshops between senior representatives as part of the alignment process can establish measures to support partnering – for example a ‘project charter’ or ‘pledge’.

Once in place, the behaviours of the project participants should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure the desired collaborative culture is being established and is being instilled in new project team members, as well as the supply chain.

As well as helping to achieve a successful project, collaboration enables the formation of strong and long-lasting professional relationships throughout the project and beyond; establishes good practice for future bids; contributes to an organisation’s own corporate goals including sustainability and net zero carbon, and above all, helps to reduce site error and improve productivity.

Key goal

Establish a commitment to collaborative working.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Adopt an appropriate form of contract or consider partnering or a project charter/pledgeTo instil the values of collaboration throughout the life of the project
Introduce pre-stage workshops for senior representatives at the design and construction stagesTo align success criteria and reinforce the requirements of the brief and projectBrief
Introduce behavioural reviews at key project milestonesTo ensure success criteria are being followed and respected



Establishing a well-prepared brief


A well-prepared brief minimises design changes, and so reduces the knock-on construction errors and the associated cost increases and delays which follow.

An effective brief defines project objectives and aspirations and should be supported by a vision statement. The person setting the brief must share all the relevant information they hold, whilst ensuring it remains a strategic document with only sufficient detail to address the key issues and objectives related to the scale and complexity of the project.

Why is it important?

The project brief should set out the client’s needs and expectations and inform the design team of the project requirements; in this regard it is the most crucial part of the project process. If the brief does not reflect these considerations then misunderstandings can lead to unnecessary design changes being made further down the line.

Even if the number of items overlooked or not clearly defined in a brief is minimal, these omissions can still lead to errors in the design, with much greater impact on cost and programme at the construction stage because they are often discovered late in the project.

The development and delivery of the brief needs to be appropriately planned, with sufficient time allowed for the client’s needs and expectations to be defined in collaboration with all relevant parties. The project team should ensure that the deliverables of the brief reflect, and can adhere to, corporate governance requirements.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

The brief should define project objectives and aspirations and be clearly communicated to the project team. The briefing process is fundamental in defining the needs and expectations of the client, and requires sufficient time to be completed in collaboration with all relevant parties.

Define the project requirements

The client brief is the question the project has to answer. It should clearly define the project requirements considering all aspects – including for example the use or uses of the project, sustainability goals, or futureproofing considerations – and not be limited to purely cost-focussed targets.

Clients need to accept that the brief will adapt and develop as the project progresses. The designer should assist in the development of the brief to help balance the competing objectives of cost and aspiration to deliver best value.

Agree who will lead the briefing process

On major projects with experienced clients, the client should initiate and lead the briefing process: in other cases the client should encourage the lead designer to do so. In the latter scenario the client will be assisted by the designer’s experience, and continuity will be maintained throughout the briefing and design stages.

It is also important at the early stage to define how the brief will be developed, which again will depend on the client organisation. Larger organisations may have a number of stakeholders, and hence require a longer consultation process. It is imperative that the requirements of all parties are recorded and their relevance assessed. Stakeholders need to be identified and engaged in the process of stakeholder management. It is equally important to determine the key individuals and identify who makes the decisions; these should be consistent throughout the briefing and design stages as far as possible. All stakeholders should record a commitment to the brief. (See stakeholder management).

Consider defining a vision statement

It can be useful to define a vision statement at the outset, clearly stating objectives and aspirations. This will ensure that everyone involved in the project understands its goals in culture and collaboration.

Develop the brief

There is a difference between briefing and the product of that process – the former is just as important as the latter, and should unite the client and design team, giving form and structure to what the client wants to achieve.

Unless there is a comprehensive evaluation of the client’s requirements – not just the project itself but also how it will subsequently operate – then the brief will not reflect client expectations. Therefore, it is vital that sufficient time is provided for briefing and the associated evaluation. Input from all parties can help to support a collaborative mindset and collective project ownership.

Do not rely on standard model forms – but use them for guidance

Standard model forms should be used as guidance for developing the brief documents, with a bespoke version created for each project. This reduces the risk that some aspects of the brief may be overlooked.

Regularly review the brief

The brief should be presented to the client at the end of each stage to avoid misinterpretation and make sure expectations are met. It is also an opportunity for the client to reassess their requirements. At the end of the process the client should present the brief back to the project team to ensure that the content is fully understood and correct. (See opening up and closing down).

Test designs against the brief

Design teams have a responsibility to regularly review their designs against the brief and provide constructive input to the briefing process as outlined above. A competent design consultant should have internal processes in place to independently review their understanding of the brief, service provided and value added to the project. If design teams regularly test and review themselves against these considerations, this can help to improve the quality of the work produced in accordance with the client’s expectations as well as reinforce relationships. Clients should seek evidence of these processes when selecting members of the design team.

Key goal

To establish a well-defined brief, and ensure the briefing process is carried out comprehensively, within an adequate timeframe and with the involvement of the key members of the project team.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Define the project requirements, and consider if a vision statement is necessaryTo ensure all aspects of the project have been considered and defined, including for example the future use of the project, sustainability goals, or futureproofing considerations – and not limiting the brief to cost-focussed targets.Culture
Agree who will lead the briefing process and the form it will take.To determine the key individuals in the project team and ensure decision-making is consistent throughout the briefing and design stages as far as possible.Collaboration
Develop the brief, using standard model forms for guidance as appropriateTo ensure that all requirements have been considered and described in the briefVision statement model form

Consultation meeting model form

Briefing contents model form
Regularly review the briefTo confirm that the client’s expectations are met and that the brief is clearly communicated and understood.Opening up and closing down
Test designs against the briefTo improve the quality of the work produced in accordance with the client’s expectations, and to strengthen project team relationships.Opening up and closing down
Guiding the design team

A well-defined brief and comprehensive briefing process are essential for every project. How these are established will be influenced by a number of factors, but the following example can be adapted for any type of project:

  1. Initial engagement: determine key individuals within client team and agree consultation process
  2. Develop strategic brief: define scope of project which should involve relevant members of the project team
  3. Initial project brief: consider and define spatial requirements, project outcomes, site information and budget
  4. Final project brief: revisit the brief during this stage of work, update as necessary and sign it off.
  5. Project brief update: there may be benefit in revisiting the brief after planning consent, as associated conditions may require changes to the scheme.



Coherent and well-communicated design information


Research by GIRI found that missing, wrong, irrelevant or poorly-communicated design information was a major cause of error, compounded by the wide range of sources that are used in the industry today. Simple errors such as a hidden drawing layer, a mis-typed number in a spreadsheet or an ambiguous instruction in a hastily-written email can have a disproportionate impact later down the line.

Therefore, good quality design information together with the clear communication of this information between the project team is an integral part of any successful project.

Why is it important?

No construction project can be completed without reliable and timely access to accurate design information; effective communication of this information between all parties is an essential contributor to the success of a project .

Drawings and models may be the standard method of communicating design intent or documenting a design for other project team members, but the many other ways in which information is conveyed are just as important. The compilation and distribution of reports, specifications, notes, emails, text messages and software for managing programmes must all be executed and controlled with similar rigour.

Where the size and complexity of a project merits, the client should consider mandating the use of a digital environment because of the benefits it offers in terms of collaboration and coordination – as long as every party involved in the design process is appointed on this basis. Not only should all parties be involved, but the digital environment and process should meet relevant industry standards.

Ensuring all design information is correct and clear is a challenge not to be underestimated. Design information must be appropriate for different audiences with different needs.

As a design evolves, multiple updates or revisions will be issued. The planning, production and checking of such information does not always receive the careful attention it deserves, and a more rigorous and methodical approach is recommended. This approach should be agreed at the outset of the project for each stage of planning the design work.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Make a plan at the outset

A four-step plan – agree, communicate, produce and check – should be introduced at the outset. This will ensure that all design outputs have a strong user focus and will maximise the opportunity to spot design errors in the office or on site before they become construction errors, Designers should seek feedback from clients and construction teams about what works well and adapt their plans and guidelines accordingly.

Agree what information is necessary and when it is required

To establish what information is necessary, identify the audience for that information, confirm why they need it, when it is needed and when it will be issued, as well as where and how the audience will view and interpret the information – in an office or on site, for example.

Establish a protocol for sharing design information

Design information will be shared for different purposes at different stages in the design process and it is important that this is understood by the project team, to ensure that relevant information is produced.

For example, it must be clear whether information is issued for client feedback, procurement, coordination to assess buildability, or for contractors to build from. If information is not correct, or is misused, it has the potential to be a cause of error.

Update design information at key stages

Information must be updated as the design develops and should always be coordinated and correct, both at the end of each stage and at other agreed milestones. A record should be made of any outstanding design issues. Any amendments should be undertaken cautiously to ensure that all related information is reviewed and corresponding amendments carried out.

Communicate the correct information clearly

Design information should be clearly communicated in a way that is easy to understand, easy to check and hard to misinterpret. Feedback should be sought from those receiving design information to check its clarity. The project team will find it helpful to refer to ‘benchmark’ drawings, for example those produced by BSRIA (Building Services Research & Information Association) or previous projects to ensure there is a consensus about what is the ‘right’ level of information at each stage of the design process. This can aid discussions about how to ensure clarity.

Produce the outputs while spotting potential errors/refining the design

Production is an opportunity to spot errors: the process of producing design outputs offers a chance to refine the design and spot potential errors.

When designers produce their own drawings, there is likely to be a deeper understanding of the design intent. Therefore, when technicians perform this role, it is important that they are part of the team rather than a resource shared between projects. Technicians should be briefed carefully and should have the ability to spot potential errors through training, site visits or their experience.

Sufficient fee must be budgeted for designers to undertake full checks covering coordination, interfaces, annotation and so on.

Check that the outputs are coherent with the first two steps

All design team members should agree a checking process as part of the project plan. They should ensure that the information produced matches what was agreed, and has been communicated effectively. Key deliverables at the end of stages or at agreed milestones should be subject to rigorous in-house checking: this may comprise both internal reviews by those part of or removed from the project and external peer-reviews by members of another organisation. (See contractor input and design gateways).

The implementation of digital engineering should make it easier to detect some potential errors, although it is unlikely to be effective at the early stages when the design is not as well-resolved. Finally, the team should agree a definition of ‘complete’ and ensure everyone understands it.

Key goal

To establish and implement a rigorous process for the production and communication of design information.

Table of practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Agree the correct information (what, who, why, where, when).To ensure that the right information is issued to the right people at the right time.
Establish a protocol for issuing information and checking that the recipient understands it.So that information is communicated clearly and without the risk of misinterpretation.
Review outputs before they are sent and check that they follow the processes agreed for creating and communicating information.To create an opportunity for picking up potential errors and/or to refine the design.

Stakeholder management

Stakeholder management

Managing and informing everyone involved


Stakeholder management is the continuous, iterative process of identifying, analysing and engaging those with an interest in the project. It is integral to the design and delivery of all projects and many researchers have cited inadequate stakeholder management as a cause of project failures in other industries as well as construction.

Why is it important?

Successful stakeholder management will build and maintain support for a project provided that the outcomes are clearly explained to, and understood by, the stakeholders. In particular, it will help to eliminate late interventions by stakeholders which are frequently the cause of design changes and associated errors. Time invested in understanding stakeholder needs, as well as the client’s sign-off and approval process, is never wasted.

A good stakeholder management procedure is key to ensuring project objectives are achieved. In construction, the full benefits of stakeholder management have yet to be felt, simply because the industry’s processes struggle to address issues such as the impact of procurement, internal stakeholder collaboration, responsibility for stakeholder management and project life-cycle.

Even attempting to compile a simple list of construction project stakeholders is challenging, and attempts to do so have been criticised for producing lists which are either too short or too long.

Too long, and the process can become unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome. Too short, and stakeholders are missed out and may ‘appear’ late in the process with the potential to adversely affect design or construction. If anyone with an interest, real or perceived, is considered an important stakeholder then their involvement should be carefully reviewed and agreed.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Identification of all internal and external stakeholders

In the early stages of a construction project, it is appropriate to start by considering internal and external stakeholders according to the established definitions.

  • Internal stakeholders are part of the client organisation or in legal contract with the client – potentially sub-divided by whether they are demand-side or supply-side. Examples include the client’s parent body (if the client is a subsidiary); tenants; members of the organisation’s board or department heads.
  • External stakeholders have a direct interest in the project though do not necessarily have a contract with the client, and they may be subdivided into public and private sector. These include planning authorities, neighbours, amenity societies and so on.

It is also important to identify all stakeholders in the client’s approval process so that someone who must sign off a particular project or element is not forgotten.

Analyse, map/group and prioritise stakeholders

Assess the ‘status’ of all stakeholders, their concerns, and the associated risks and mitigation actions which might be required. Highlight those stakeholders with less experience of construction projects who may need to be closely managed.

Tools such as a power/interest matrix or a responsibility matrix (RACI or its variants) may be useful. Understand the process used by each stakeholder to review and approve proposals, the level of detail each stakeholder requires, and the time it takes them to reach a decision.

It is particularly important to identify the accountable person who will make a final decision or grant approvals within each organisation.

Design and deliver an engagement plan

Communication and consultation plans informed by analysis, mapping/grouping and hierarchy of individuals or organisations should be produced. Templates and guides linking categories of stakeholders to a method of engagement should be considered, and a single point of contact for each stakeholder should be assigned.

Start early and revise regularly

The three steps set out above must be started early enough to ensure communication and consultation is conducted when it is most useful to decision makers. The stakeholder map must be revisited and updated periodically, both to respond to changes to a stakeholder’s role as a project proceeds, and to capture personnel changes.

Any external stakeholders with approval rights for specific issues – for example a local authority planning department – should be treated in the same way as internal stakeholders, to ensure appropriate consultation can be facilitated.

Establishing and agreeing a stakeholder management process

Illustrating and agreeing the process with the client should be mandatory at the beginning of a project to ensure that it can be clearly communicated to the whole project team and properly integrated: for example, collaborative planning should be considered. It is also essential to revisit the stakeholder management process as design and construction progress.

A universal process for all construction projects is hard to imagine; hence if a ‘standard’ process is proposed, it must be applied intelligently. For smaller, simpler projects a less formal, less rigorously documented stakeholder management process led by the design team is likely to be the norm.

In the case of large or complex projects, professional third-party managers or facilitators may be appointed to focus on stakeholder engagement.

The engagement plan needs to be clear on who manages which stakeholders. Too often there is an assumption that the contractor will manage them all when in fact the contractor may not have the authority or influence to do so.

Key goal

To identify, map and prioritise all internal and external stakeholders in a project, and to establish a process for effectively managing and communicating with them.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Identify all internal and external stakeholders relevant to the project.To eliminate the likelihood of other stakeholders ‘appearing’ later down the line.Brief
Analyse, group and prioritise stakeholders against appropriate criteria.Identify those who have the greatest influence on the project, and those who may need additional support.
Produce an engagement plan to facilitate communication and consultation.Assign a single point of contact for each stakeholder, and identify an appropriate method of communication.
Review the management process regularly and update as necessary.To reflect changes in personnel and changes in stakeholder input as the project progresses.
Identify the accountable person within each organisation who will make the final decision or grant approvals.To ensure sign-offs are made promptly and by all necessary stakeholders.Brief

Opening up and closing down

Opening up and closing down

The value of not rushing ahead


Changes often become necessary because the important thinking and decision-making processes have not been rigorously applied at the early stages of the design process.

The concept of ‘opening up’ and ‘closing down’ a design enables all creative thinking and key decision-making to be completed in good time ahead of preparation of production information. This reduces the necessity for change and hence the opportunity for error.

Why is it important?

GIRI research has indicated that in many instances design changes – which can subsequently lead to errors – become necessary because thought processes and decision-making processes have not been rigorously applied at the appropriate stage.

The nature of design is that it evolves as a project progresses. It starts with an idea or concept, followed by an intense period of creative thought by a small design team working closely with the client. This process, which we describe as ‘opening up’, generates issues for the team to resolve.

The options are then examined and the design honed into a workable solution. Finally, the chosen solution is turned into production information – the ‘closing down’ process.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Identify and define the two stages

The difference between the opening up and closing down stages should be recognised and identified. Sufficient time, resources and priority should be attached to each, particularly to the stage of creative thought.

Opening up

At the start of the opening up process, the client typically assembles a group of experts to prepare a business plan for the proposed scheme. This plan establishes both qualitatively and quantitatively what the client wants to achieve, the aspirations, key risks/opportunities and any high-level assumptions about the proposed scheme.

It should contain sufficient detail to enable executive review, comment and sign-off; it should also demonstrate that it has been tested against the key visions of the project. The business plan will be used to inform the appointment of designers and project team, at which point it can be developed into a suitable design brief.

Ensure options are tested and challenged

It is important that the team has regular dialogue meetings as options are developed. These meetings should test and challenge the brief through positive exchanges and discussion, and the behaviours at dialogue meetings are therefore critical to the success of this process. Participants need to be positive, open minded, appreciative, free-flowing with ideas, questioning, challenging, innovative, explorative and encouraging – reflecting the appropriate team culture.

Closing down

As options are fine-tuned, it is appropriate to begin the process of closing down in order to prepare a robust, buildable and affordable design for submission to planning authorities and the preparation of production information.

Failure to properly carry out and complete these critical stages can, and frequently does, lead to design changes down the line. It can be caused by allocating too little time, money and importance to the early design stages, or not properly concluding and signing off each stage before moving to the next.

For example, during the ‘creative thought’ phase it is quite natural for unconventional ideas to be generated, most of which will be quickly rejected; but if a bad idea is signed off and its unsuitability is only discovered at detailed design stage, then the scale of change required can be massive.

Key goal

To acknowledge and define the opening up and closing down stages of a project, and ensure they are properly conducted.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Provide sufficient time, resources and priority for the ‘opening up’ stage.To ensure that a concept is sufficiently developed before detailed design begins.Investing in design
Test the developed design brief against the key visions.To confirm its suitability before ‘closing down’.
Foster a working culture that enables participants to be positive and open minded.To encourage concepts to be challenged and questions raised.Culture

Contractor input

Contractor input

A sense check from the contractor’s perspective


All projects benefit from tapping into a contractor’s knowledge of delivery, buildability and construction techniques before design options are closed down. But this process is often prevented by commercial rules, particularly those that govern the tender process, leading to design changes after tender award, and resulting in avoidable errors as well as unnecessary waste.

Why is it important?

The design process involves the identification and exploration of different options in order to reach the best solution. But often design teams waste time working up options that are subsequently revealed to have fundamental flaws in terms of buildability, delivery or construction.

This issue has been exacerbated by the use of computational design tools. Although digital design makes it easier to explore multiple options, it does not require the designer to establish how the design will be built before committing to a particular solution.

Moreover, fewer designers these days have sufficient experience of construction to make judgements about buildability – partly due to the wider use of design and build procurement and the fact that designers are not always novated. Because of this, time and effort may be wasted on pursuing design options that are subsequently shown to be slow, expensive or impossible to build.

However it can be very difficult to obtain contractor input at the early stage of the design process. If a contractor is appointed early through some form of ‘early contractor involvement’ then it can be difficult to ensure that the contractor’s price is competitive; and there are concerns that consulting a contractor before tender could create an unfair or uncompetitive tender process.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Contractors, with their knowledge and experience of delivery, buildability and performance, should be involved in all projects at an early design stage, regardless of the form of procurement. This may involve appointing the main contractor early, to harness their knowledge of construction during the development and refinement of the design, or alternatively appointing a contractor or specialist subcontractor on a consultancy basis to assist the design team.

GIRI recommends that as a minimum the client should appoint a suitable contractor or specialist subcontractor on an informal basis with the appropriate caveats, to consult with as the design develops. The role could include reviewing the design to verify that all designers have fulfilled their duties, in particular in meeting the client’s requirements and supplying the specified level of design information. (See planning the design).

Designers’ duties as described in their scope of services should be made available to the contractor in order to allow the design to be challenged if it fails to satisfy the agreed requirements at a particular project stage. Whilst this might be controversial, over time it could help regulate the quality of designs, and hence reduce errors. (See guiding the design team).

Key goal

To ensure that concept designs are tested against delivery, buildability and construction techniques in the early stages.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Appoint a contractor on a consultancy basis to assist the design team.To ensure the team benefits from those with a detailed knowledge of construction.
Assess designs against delivery, buildability and construction considerations.To reduce the likelihood of redesigns for buildability at a later stage.

Design gateways

Design gateways

Passing the baton forward successfully


Failure to communicate design intent adequately to specialist designers, contractors and sub-contractors can have major consequences. If a comprehensive set of information is produced at each design gateway, and reviewed and communicated effectively, then the design is less likely to be misinterpreted and the potential for errors reduced.

Why is it important?

Even a minor error can have far-reaching consequences at a design gateway stage; whether the information that is being handed over is drawings, specifications, digital models or schedules, designers must ensure that it is both appropriate and correct.

Information is sometimes produced without proper consideration of the intended audience, and without any prior consultation. For example, a drawing to illustrate a design option to a client will not be the same as one for a worker on site.

There needs to be a common understanding within a team about what they are expected to deliver at each stage. Missing, withheld, hard-to-access or difficult-to-interpret information slows down design and delivery, as requests for information – or RFIs – are issued and replied to. This can, and frequently does, result in errors. One of the most valuable resources on a project is time, and wasting time is not only inefficient, it also has a knock-on impact on the programme.

For example, on a design and build contract, digital models are rarely a contractual deliverable and may not be handed over to the contractor, who will then have to recreate the same model from scratch.

There are several reasons why this might happen:

  • the consultant’s model does not always align with the specification. As specifications take precedence over drawings, the contractor may prefer to start again to ensure the model is correct
  • the consultant passes design duties on to the contractor, which requires changes to the design model
  • consultants’ designs are not coordinated across the various disciplines
  • tender designs that are issued for construction may not have been updated with changes that have come about during the negotiation period
  • the risk exchange at contractor appointment is such that the responsibility for the design that has already been completed requires an entirely contractor-created model

Any deficiencies are likely to prompt the issue of a series of RFIs. But by this time in the project, the design team has often been scaled down, or the design fee is depleted, so the time it takes to resolve the issues is further extended, and the opportunities for error increased.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Ensure handover information is appropriate and accurate.

Great care must be taken at design gateways to ensure that the information being communicated is clear, accurate and appropriate for the intended audience.

Clarify responsibilities.

All parties must be clear on what they are expected to do at each design gateway. A project-specific plan of work for each discipline should be developed before any design commences.

Clarity and a shared understanding of the design responsibilities of the contractor, subcontractors and specialist designers can remove ambiguity. Gaps or duplication can create confusion and generate unnecessary effort. The use of standard forms, such as the BSRIA BG6 matrix for building services, goes some way to preventing such problems.

Design review workshop.

To ensure a successful handover at a design gateway, a design review workshop with those receiving the information, including the supply chain, can assist the effective ‘passing of the baton’. It can help to define any outstanding work to be undertaken by the designers to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to complete the duties stipulated.

Key goal

To ensure that appropriate design information is efficiently supplied in a clear form at each design gateway.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Be clear about the purpose of design information when it is issuedTo ensure that the information that is issued is suitable for the recipient.Information
Carefully and clearly define design responsibilities for all partiesTo reduce the chance of duplication or gaps in handover information.Planning the design work
Ensure that information is relevant, complete and comprehensiveTo eliminate errors caused by omission of necessary information, or inclusion of inaccurate or incorrect information.
Organise design reviews with specialist designers and subcontractorsTo enable an effective handover and identify any outstanding design work

Guiding the design team

Guiding the design team

Value provided by a structured design management approach


Adopting a structured approach for the design process, from start to finish of the project, greatly reduces the risk of design errors. An individual who has the authority to make informed decisions based on and aligned with cost and programme considerations should be identified and assigned to manage the design process – this role should not be confused with the lead designer, who is responsible for controlling the design and maintaining design quality.

Why is it important?

Design is typically an iterative process involving a range of communication processes, be they verbal, written, digital or illustrative. While they may be clear to the communicator, they are often open to misinterpretation, and the greater the number of participants or interfaces, the more complex a process becomes. With greater complexity, the probability of misinterpretation increases, and can lead to flawed decisions being made by participants or stakeholders.

It is therefore essential that design decisions are clear, transparent and well-considered; incorrect decisions can lead to adoption of sub-optimal and/or unsafe design solutions.

Design decisions must be validated, particularly those with the potential to have a significant  impact, and omissions must be addressed and coordinated.

Control of design and of changes to design were once the responsibility of the lead designer. However, changing roles, increases in complexity and the number of parties involved, and the widespread adoption of design and build contracts in the building sector in particular, means that the lead designer is not always able to exercise clear overall responsibility throughout the whole process. An alternative approach would support the team at the early project stages and help reduce the number of design issues which may lead to errors and which may only be discovered at the construction stage.

Too often poor management, or lack of experience or resources by key members of the project team allow decisions to be delayed, never made, or be badly-conceived, consequently leading to error.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Introduction of a design management plan

It is imperative that the many contributions to and interfaces in the design process are properly managed in order to avoid error.

The adoption of a structured design management approach, typically via a design management plan for larger or more complicated projects, can be used to ensure that design-related information and communications are robust, coordinated, and controlled. Such a structure would also identify gateways or milestones beyond which the design cannot proceed until all of the appropriate checks have been made and decisions have been resolved.

At the briefing stage the design management plan would typically comprise:

  • a design responsibility matrix setting out the scope of design responsibility
  • definitions of specific gateways and milestones
  • gateway programme
  • brief

The adopted design management plan would also ensure clear accountability to make sure that the right communications have happened, been demonstrably understood, assumptions have been resolved, and that there are no gaps. This should reduce a very significant risk.

Appointing someone to manage the design

The initial step in implementing the plan is to appoint someone to be responsible for ensuring the design management plan is properly applied. If it is a complex or sizeable project, consideration should be given to making this appointment at the outset. It is critical that the individual has the requisite design management skills and experience to undertake the role and should ideally have the authority to make informed decisions based on and aligned with cost and programme considerations to manage the design process.

Initially a consultant may be appointed to take on the role, with responsibility being assigned to the main contractor later in the process. One of the benefits of early contractor involvement is that a more consistent and effective approach to design management can be achieved.     

From the start of the project, the person in this role must have the confidence of the client, the design team, and the main contractor, when appointed, and must be given sufficient authority to act in the best interest of the project. The role should not be confused with the lead designer. The lead designer is responsible for controlling the design and the quality of the design.

This structured approach to managing the design process may be challenged by some, clients included, especially if extra fees are necessary to achieve it. However following this route increases the likelihood that all the other recommendations in this document will be implemented. Project risks associated with design error will also be reduced, leading to the potential for lower preliminary costs at the construction tender stage.

Key goal

Introduction of a structured design management plan, overseen by a named individual or team of people with the authority necessary to ensure it is followed.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Develop a structured design management approach for design development.To reduce the number of design errors and mitigate their consequences at the early design stages.Planning the design
Implement the design management process.To ensure that designs do not proceed beyond a milestone until all relevant checks have been carried out, the right communications have happened and been understood, and there are no gaps.Design gateways
Appoint an individual or team to manage the design.To oversee the design management process, and ensure that all other relevant recommendations in this document are followed.
Reassess the design manager  appointment when the main contractor is appointed.To ensure the appropriate person or team is appointed for that stage, and that they have the necessary authority and confidence of the other parties.
Verify that designs meet the requirements of a particular stage or that designers have fulfilled their duties as described in their scope of services.To prevent changes being necessary during the construction phase.