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Managing Design Efficiently - Part 2


Creativity and innovation are expected. Design teams emphasize their unique collaborative abilities to bring these to the fore on behalf of facility owners. From an insider’s point of view, great architecture is less about creativity and more about steady discipline as design progresses. No project has the time or budget to constantly reinvent the wheel.

To find the best solutions, even seasoned facility owners can benefit from the insights of professionals concerned with effective design practices. This article is the second of a three-part series combining insights from facility owners, architects, engineers, and contractors experienced in partnering to make the design process more effective. The more effective the design process, the greater the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes and maximizing the return on dollars invested.

Like a funnel, the design process begins by creatively capturing as many ideas and possibilities as participants can generate. The designer refines the possibilities by a process of identifying the best ideas and solutions for the project’s unique purposes and constraints. There is a time established for creativity and artistic ideas, but also a critical time for hard execution and business deadlines. Designers must navigate within these constraints. Therefore, owners need to know what is appropriate at each stage to get the utmost out of the entire design process. It is difficult to predict the hours required for the creative process, but at each stage, the goal of design time management is to gain creative momentum.

Different programming methodologies are available, however, before bidding and construction, most of the design activities or “deliverables” will occur in these three phases:


Schematic Design (SD) is the phase that formally defines owner’s initial concept, goals and requirements. Schematic Design is intentionally the most creative phase of the project, allowing for research and development of alternative concepts for comparative review. Zoning and/or jurisdictional requirements are discovered and addressed. The schematic design is often communicated by a site plan, floor plan, sections, and an elevation, and may be supplemented by renderings and computer images or models.

Design Development (DD) is the phase that engages a team of civil, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural engineering disciplines. At this stage, the consultants work in concert. Drawings establish fixed locations of walls, windows and doors, and allow each consultant to locate their design elements such as ductwork, lighting, columns, and beams within the defined space. Floor plans, sections, and elevations with full dimensions communicate the design intent, which typically includes door and window details, as well as an outline of material specifications. The DD phase ends with formal presentation of the design to, and approval by, the owner, before proceeding with Construction Documents (CD).

Construction Documents (CD) is the phase that produces detailed instructions for bidding and construction. These include head and sill conditions for windows and doors, locations and types of flashings, spacing and patterns of fasteners, door hardware sets, and joinery of millwork. Good design takes time, and cost-effective design intentionally builds sufficient time into the process for quality control during the CD phase.

At the conclusion of each phase, an owner always should be allowed time to consult internal team members and the architect. The amount of time may vary. For example, if a Board must approve the schematic design of a complex project, more time may be needed to respond to concerns and attain consensus before moving to the next design phase. However, timely design approval at the conclusion of each phase is essential and necessary for the project to progress efficiently.

In order for design and preconstruction to proceed smoothly, it is important that key information is provided to continue the process in a timely manner. This information comes from multiple sources including the owner, design team, contractor, city, and utility providers.

Sometimes an owner actually may need to reverse course to make a correction. For example, the footprint of a previously approved schematic design may need to change late in the design development phase. Previously approved wall and ceiling locations may need to be re-arranged during the production of CDs. Occasionally, the scope of the project may change to better suit the owner’s needs. Architects and engineers can be very responsive in meeting the needs of their valued clients, even if unusual changes need to be made.

However, if design time is inordinately spent effecting changes, insufficient time remains for critical detailing and effective document quality control during the CD phase. Budget and timeline pressure is then increased. In extreme situations, designers may have little choice but to request compensation for additional services. A hypothetical case study illustrates the domino effect that occurs when these concepts fail.

Design has taken longer than anticipated after the team has struggled to attain internal consensus and after multiple revisions. Late in the CD phase, a significant change occurs, which should take weeks longer to achieve re-design. The design team considers requesting additional time to revise drawings, but with deadlines looming for starting construction, it is necessary to achieve design completion within the original timeframe.

The design team dedicates additional staff, and extra hours are necessary to meet deadlines for document release. Uncertain of how lack of detail will be received, but cautiously optimistic, the design team releases plans and specifications and prepares to answer bidder questions.

Unfortunately, many of the bidders are not able to study the plans until the day before bidding. In haste, they begin asking last-minute questions, but with insufficient time to respond, many of their questions go unanswered. Uncertain bidders reach their own conclusions.

Some bidders lose confidence and interest. Others notice a decrease of competition. Some review drawings and believe they find opportunities for requesting change orders, while some cautiously build safeguards into their pricing.

On bid day, the prime contractor receives an unusually wide range of bids. Most bids appear much higher than expected, while some of the “outlier” low bids are disconcerting. Anticipating difficulty, the prime contractor weighs whether to increase his fee, or establish or increase available contingencies to enhance problem solving. This only further strains the budget, as remaining problem solving shifts into the construction phase.

Frustrated by the sequence of events, unaware of the domino effect or their contribution, the owner decides to find another “more responsive” team.

If multiple owner-initiated program changes interrupt the flow of design, owners should consider extending the timeframe for production of the Construction Documents and providing reasonable additional compensation if requested by the design team. This is avoidable through building adequate time into the design schedule to allow for realistic progression and management of the design process, coupled with the valuable preconstruction assistance of a reputable builder.

Owners can exercise positive influence on bidder pricing by allowing sufficient time for quality design work, and by realistically and effectively managing each phase of the design process.

Designers can exercise positive influence on bidder pricing by communicating the need for owner approvals at each phase of design, not only order to maintain design schedules, but to build necessary design momentum. This momentum culminates in the release of complete, detailed Construction Documents that clearly communicate the design intent, eliminate uncertainty, and increase bidder confidence that their lowest competitive pricing is clearly consistent with the design intent.

Contractors can exercise positive influence on bidder pricing through early involvement aimed at helping designers and owners reach sound and timely decisions needed to maintain budget and schedule expectations.

For a more detailed treatment of the three phases of design and realistic expectations appropriate to each phase, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Publication “Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice”, and AIA Best Practices documents entitled “Defining the Architect’s Basic Services" will prove helpful.