A tool for working

Dale Sinclair on supporting team work with a good dose of clarity

Architects have been harnessing the design capabilities of specialist subcontractors for many years and some of the most interesting architectural projects in recent times are the result of successful collaborations between these specialists and the relevant architect or design team member. 

Special skills are needed to use companies’ expertise as initial exploratory ideas and discussions are converted into ‘design intent’ drawings that can be used for tender purposes. An understanding of how to design descriptively rather than prescriptively is required, and of course a knowledge of how all this works contractually is essential. JCT introduced contractor design forms of building contracts to its suite of building contracts some time ago, primarily to facilitate design and build projects, although ‘traditional’ building contracts can now incorporate such work using the contractor design portion. Until recently, the RIBA Plan of Work and appointment documents did not address this trend and there was no supporting guidance on this crucial subject.

Personal experience

On a different front, architects often refer to a Stage C or Stage D report. It is remarkable that there is no national guidance to refer to when considering what the detailed contents of such a report might be. The detail would certainly not be gleaned from any RIBA Plan of Work, which is strategic in its nature. If quizzed we would all be able to wax lyrical about what such reports should contain, but in reality our answers are based on the culture and processes of our own practices and a review of responses would reveal a widely varying list of contents. 

A further anomaly is that these reports tend to concentrate on the interests of the design team: are they truly focused on the questions the client might like answered, or indeed do they aim to progress cost or other design management issues? A further complexity is that some clients see the benefits and value of an enhanced service and are happy to pay for extra  information to help the contractor on site (1:2 detailed drawings, for example), while  others may be content to tender on a set of GA drawings backed up by a specification. 

Lead designer

On most building projects the architect will also be the lead designer, and so need to consider both the information that the rest of the design team will produce and the right stage for producing it. The conclusion arising from these diverse points is that it is time this crucial issue was given greater consideration, and the relevant tools and guidance provided.

The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 addresses these important matters for the first time. Of course, it cannot consider the detail of these subjects but it can and does contain the basics so the tools can be developed to provide further clarity on these subjects. The need to consider a design responsibility matrix and information exchanges are Core Stage 1 requirements in the new Plan. This acknowledges that without the right level of detail on these subjects it is difficult to provide an accurate fee proposal. Put another way: at present we are confirming fees without any clarity on what we will design and the level of information we will produce, creating the potential for significant ambiguity, confusion or risk.

Furthermore, how can the project team work collaboratively if we don’t know who is doing what or when and how they will do it?

Assembling the Collaborative Project Team, produced in tandem with the RIBA Plan of Work 2013, aims to bring clarity in relation to these and other subjects by providing templates, schedules of services and other tools to successfully assemble a collaborative project team. Guidance is also provided. The templates included in this publication will also be available online at www.ribaplanofwork.com, allowing them to be prepared at the same time as any appointment documents.

The design responsibility matrix template enables the project lead and lead designer to consider what aspects of the project are likely to require the input of specialist contractors and to schedule this for inclusion in the relevant professional services contracts (appointments) and to ensure they dovetail with the requirements in the building contract. It also allows interfaces between design team members to be addressed. The required information exchanges are also included in this matrix and allow the project lead and lead designer to consider with the client what information needs to be exchanged at each stage and to what level of detail. In the short term this might be framed in an analogue form (scale of drawing); however, it is expected that clarity of digital level of detail will be available by the end of 2014.

Keep it clear

So the Plan of Work 2013 has been developed as a strategic tool that allows thinking on many new subjects to be developed and launched over time. Assembling the Collaborative Project Team will bring clarity to the many subjects that influence the working practices of the project team and will ensure that each team member is appointed on clear and concise schedules of services. Most importantly, considering these aspects early on helps to facilitate a collaborative project team, with the  tools to assist with the day-to-day project and design management of the project.

Dale Sinclair is director at Dyer and author of The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 and Assembling the Collaborative Project Team, published by RIBA Publishing, £39.99.