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