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Managing Design Efficiently - Part 3

Every facility owner depends on the expertise of others to create a new facility. Likewise, architects, engineers, builders, suppliers, and craftsmen depend on each other to drive successful outcomes. When design nears completion, the bidding process introduces the team of craftsmen who will deliver the concept. Owners can help themselves, and everyone involved, by offering effective leadership in the design process, and providing much detail to the bidders.

To find the best solutions, even seasoned facility owners can benefit from the insights of professionals concerned with effective design practices. This article is last in a three-part series combining insights from facility owners, architects, engineers, and contractors experienced in partnering to make the design process more effective. This leveraging of time spent during design helps boost the shared goals of realizing desired outcomes, producing the best possible results for facility owners, and maximizing the return on dollars invested.

Every owner wants to receive a well-designed and well-built project, on time and within budget, meeting the essential needs envisioned at the start, as cost-efficiently as possible.

Owners, architects and builders must depend on each other to achieve this goal. The best teams don’t depend upon the bidding process to boost the quality of the final blueprints. Seasoned teams appreciate that reputable craftsmen ask good questions. Such questions often reveal underlying interest in addressing perceived problems early, providing a comparable and competitive bid amount, or expediting construction.

For some owners, the bidding process can be harrowing, representing the “moment of truth” when project budgets meet firm pricing. Some owners may admit to varying degrees of difficulty reading the final Construction Documents (CDs). Despite this, there are ways for owners to make informed inferences gauging the quality and cost-effectiveness of the CDs.

No set of plans is ever perfect. However, one characteristic of quality blueprints is relatively few clarifications by addenda. Clarifications are normal and expected, and the likelihood increases with the number of participants involved, but in excess can make bidding a project exceedingly more difficult. Even in such instances, helpful clarification and timely responses to bidder questions indicate that an architect is willing to dedicate sufficient design time for rendering a quality set of CDs.

Another indicator of document quality involves comparison of available contractor bids and/or subcontractor bids received for the same scopes of work. Tight groupings with similar bid amounts increase confidence, indicating a clear, common understanding of the requirements. Wide disparities between bids for similar scopes of work might reflect bidder uncertainty or problems within the documents, and may indicate difficulties ahead. Effective negotiation and questioning often reveals differences between bidder assumptions, and affords opportunity to address them before starting work.

Owners recognize a significant return on investment by engaging an experienced contractor early in the design. With earlier input, design teams have invaluable assistance and the resources to find the most economical solutions for the project, including considering cost differences between design alternatives.

Preconstruction services typically include provision of conceptual and detailed estimates appropriate to each phase of design. Contractors provide cost modeling, systems analysis, value engineering and budget optimization, as appropriate, to facilitate the progress of the design. Having the contractor’s assistance to identify and resolve construction and technical concerns helps drive down costs.

If a contractor is hired to provide guaranteed pricing based on a partial progress set of documents (i.e. at any phase prior to full completion of CDs) owners are wise to consult AIA publications for assistance. An owner should understand the actual level of drawing detail required in establishing these expectations with the design team. Understanding the nature of the design activities that have been completed and that are remaining when documents are considered to be “100% Design Development” helps an owner make more informed decisions, issue timely approvals, and importantly, obtain the best pricing.

To be successful, owners should assemble their team early, and ensure team members acquire a working knowledge of the design phases and appreciate the different roles of each team member. Owners need to empower decision makers, adept at dialogue and forming consensus, to help the design proceed efficiently. Design teams deserve timely owner approval at the conclusion of each phase to maintain progress and to appropriately invest design hours and meet deadlines.

Owners can exercise significant influence over their own budget success by managing the design process efficiently, especially by allowing ample time for quality control during the production of Construction Documents. Informed, cost-conscious owners remain sensitive to expenditure of available design time, particularly when level of care and attention to detail is essential to influencing budget.

Through time spent addressing and eliminating bidder uncertainties, effective quality control during the CD stage helps reduce potential for conflicts, delays, and change order requests during construction. Effective document control during the CD phase also inspires greater confidence among bidders and helps narrow the pricing range of competitive bids, securing the best possible bid-day pricing on behalf of the owner.

Engaging an experienced contractor early can provide an owner with a source of helpful advice, and facilitates more efficient design, construction, and decision-making.


For a more detailed treatment of quality control during development of drawings, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Best Practices documents entitled “Schematic design phase quality management”, “Managing quality in the design development phase”, and “Quality Control: Preparation of working drawings” will prove especially helpful.