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What's behind the updates to the 2020 Plan of Work

Dale Sinclair

Sustainability, BIM and procurement have all affected the Plan of Work's latest overhaul. So what has changed?

RIBA Plan of Work 2020 stages
RIBA Plan of Work 2020 stages Credit: RIBA

The RIBA Plan of Work’s most significant update in its 56 year history was undertaken in 2013. That introduced Stage 0, which ensures a building project is the best means of achieving the client requirements, and Stage 7, to acknowledge the life of a building in use until a new Stage 0 – and project – begins. 

Now, after five years of use and feedback from architects and the broader construction industry, including clients and architects, the Plan of Work has again been updated and the 2020 version is now live. The free-to-download guidance now contains comprehensive sections on how each project stage works and an expanded glossary which details how each of the topics underpinning the Plan (defined by bold capitalized terms such as Project Brief or Architectural Concept) contribute to a project’s success. There is also a section on project strategies and how they allow a multitude of topics, from sustainability to health and safety, to be addressed as a project progresses through each stage. The digital version will also be refreshed in 2020.

Value of aftercare
The RIBA Sustainable Futures Group assisted the development of the 2020 Plan. Its project strategy section replaces the Green Overlay to provide advice on sustainability outcomes and show the value of undertaking aftercare activities during Stage 6 – ­including a light touch post occupancy evaluation before the work of the project team ­concludes

Replacing the BIM Overlay is a section looking at the increasing complexity of information requirements. Although the pencil or CAD are still used on many projects, more have matured around UK level 2 BIM processes and are nudging towards the challenges of using next generation digital deliverables. These will require less reliance on 2D and more emphasis on keeping models live, using embedded data to drive evidence-based design processes or for asset and facilities management purposes. A glossary of current BIM terms is also included. 

The 2020 Plan of Work responds to feedback on how Stage 2 works and particularly to different approaches to the timing of planning applications. It acknowledges adjustments required at the Stage 3 and 4 interface, depending on the procurement strategy. 

Industry has adopted terms such as Stage 3 minus or Stage 4 plus, on the basis that information needs to be extracted from the design process outside the main stage gateways. The RIBA does not recommend use of these terms. Caution is required; for example, it might be possible to extract information in the middle of Stage 3 in order to submit a planning application. However, if the stage has not been completed it is unlikely the information will have been fully co-ordinated or includes the appropriate outputs from every member of the design team. Simply, where information is needed at a mid-stage gateway, clarity is needed on both the deliverables and the tasks underpinning them. Also, of course, when the stage is completed in the future, it may require additional rework as a result of splitting the stage into two.

The Plan of Work 2020 has been updated on sustainability in line with the UN sustainable development goals. It is important to get the process right from Stage 0, as Waugh Thistleton Architects’ timber floored offices at Orsman Road, London, show.
The Plan of Work 2020 has been updated on sustainability in line with the UN sustainable development goals. It is important to get the process right from Stage 0, as Waugh Thistleton Architects’ timber floored offices at Orsman Road, London, show. Credit: Tim Crocker

Managing the information

The Plan of Work reinforces the intention that Stage 4 includes all the design information required for manufacturing and construction. Stage 4 is the most complex to navigate because the procurement strategy dictates when information for the design team and specialist subcontractors will be produced. The guidance offers advice on this and looks at the need for early definition of how far the design team information will go at Stage 4: will it be descriptive or prescriptive (a decision influenced by, but independent of, procurement)? Will the information be produced by the same design team? Will Stage 4 information be produced before or after the building contract has been signed? 

The guidance also acknowledges the challenges of embracing modern methods of construction and the fact that these may need to be considered earlier in the process to avoid traditional construction being embedded in the design.

The final core change is ensuring clarity between the Stage 2 and 3 gateways. It acknowledges that Stage 2 is about getting the architectural concept right and having it signed off by the client and key project stakeholders, while incorporating strategic engineering items and closing the brief. Stage 3 is not about changing the concept. It is about design studies for portions of the building, detailed engineering analysis, adding detail to project strategies and getting the cost plan right. Most importantly, it is about the lead designer managing this information until the building is spatially co-ordinated and ready either to be sent for planning permission, and/or for Stage 4 to begin, acknowledging that draw-down from Stage 4 may be required to conclude the building contract.  

Dale Sinclair is director of technical practice at AECOM



The unprecedented level of severe climate events indicates that the pace of climate change is accelerating rapidly. The time for words is over. We must act with urgency and deliver real and significant carbon reductions in our built environment.

In response, the RIBA declared a climate and biodiversity emergency earlier this year, and will launch the 2030 Challenge  – to target net zero carbon for all new and retrofitted buildings, and to lobby the government to make this a mandatory requirement. 

Within this context the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group has been developing a series of sustainability guides to support the new RIBA Plan of Work 2020. These new guides replace previous out of date documents from 2011 and 2013. The overriding aims are to distil and simplify the existing and varied sustainability guidance to create a set of clear measurable sustainable outcomes and targets aligned with the United Nations sustainability development goals. Read the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide here. 

RIBA Plan of Work 2020 includes three major changes from the 2013 version:
Sustainable outcomes

A key change in emphasis is to challenge architects and design teams to design with a focus on sustainable outcomes from the outset of the project. These outcomes and associated targets should be defined and agreed with the client during Stage 1 briefing, reality-checked throughout the design and construction process, and finally verified in Stages 6 and 7 post occupancy evaluation. The definition of sustainable outcomes and associated metrics, together with current tools for measurement and verification, are included in the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide.

Plan for use

The Plan for Use is RIBA’s interpretation of the 2014 Soft Landings Framework produced by BSRIA and the Usable Buildings Trust, and is one of the new sustainability guides. It aims to encourage a more ‘in-use’ approach to design, within both the architectural profession and the wider construction industry. The RIBA sees the role of the architect as central to this outcome-based design approach, with hopes that the process defined by Plan for Use will translate into a positive change within practice, discipline and profession.

Sustainability strategy 

The sustainability strategy is the third key update which maps the sustainable outcomes and plan for use principles through all stages of the Plan of Work 2020. The strategy reinforces the requirement to appoint a sustainability champion and create a context focused sustainability strategy at the outset of the project. Key actions and deliverables are identified at each stage of the plan of work. A major development is to encourage architects to carry out a ‘light-touch’ post occupancy valuation at the end of Stage 6. 

Many of the UK’s leading developers already recognise the holistic benefits of achieving sustainable outcomes, for example reducing carbon emissions, enhancing biodiversity, improving occupants’ health, lowering operational running costs, and adding significant social and economic added value. 

The RIBA believes it is the duty of all architects and the construction industry to lead the transition to a sustainable future that delivers the UN sustainable goals.

Gary Clark is regional leader science and technology at HOK

Visit RIBA Plan of Work 2020. Note the 10th Edition of the RIBA Job Book fully reflects the new Plan. Read how the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership is making its sustainability decisions in our series following the project through the Plan of Work


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