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A beginner’s guide to delivering design on time, to budget and right first time!
Author: Terry O’Dowd – Director at i3Works

Design, by its very nature is an iterative process.

It often involves multidiscipline teams and SME’s (subject matter experts) to coordinate effort seamlessly. This is sometimes delivered by a number of separately engaged consultants and contractors brought together to provide coordination and effective stakeholder engagement. The Principal Designer (PD) will be identified at the outset and this can be part of the Intelligent Customer organisation or through a Client Delivery Partner arrangement.

The design is the most cost-critical component of the project and demands a great deal of cross discipline collaboration and a concerted drive towards developing and maturing the concept design across multiple and interdependent disciplines, simultaneously and within a given time-scale. 

The design phase can be broken down into the following key phases, namely –

1          Front end – this is all about aligning the Cost, Time and Function with a viable Business Case. This will involve concept design, feasibility, options studies and often value management to enable a cost plan which, along with risk and uncertainty, informs the project budget. This is usually where the initial business case is reviewed and validated against a viable design solution before the project submits for investment approval.

2          Scheme design – this should only commence when the concept is sufficiently mature and the project has delivered a robust and comprehensive set of project requirements and associated compliance criteria. This will create the configured ‘baseline’ against which all future change will be measured. This should then be delivered against a logical time-line/schedule that is integrated with known interdependencies and review points; collaboration between all parties being managed by the Principal Designer’s (PD) team and will be centred on a defined BIM strategy and product breakdown structure that supports the required handover strategy.

3          Detailed design – delivered by consultants and/or contractors; this should be founded upon the emerging BIM model (ideally level 2); this will demand and drive the necessary project collaboration across multiple disciplines, whilst establishing a ‘one version of the truth’ for all digital data for the benefit of the team. This will be essential to the effective management of the Project by the PD, but essentially at this stage it will support the efficient management of spatial integration and coordination by the entire team.


It’s also imperative that integration is achieved ‘in time’ as well as ‘in space’, with this best attained through ‘interactive planning’ to establish an integrated and deliverable logic linked time schedule. This is a powerful workshop technique that drives out the interdependencies and logic links, as well as eliciting overall ‘buy-in’ to the timelines by all parties involved.


Most Projects require the construction procurement and implementation phase to proceed ahead of completion of the fully integrated multidiscipline design. So this means it’s essential that the known and emerging Risks are managed well. The BIM model, supported by the PD’s Design Review process helps with understanding the scale of Risk and enables the PD to mitigate such Risk by making bounding Assumptions; for example, instructing flexible or conservative design solutions to allow for uncertainty from immature design inputs. This can be managed via a MDAL (master data and assumptions list) linked to the Risk register.

Failure to manage Risk properly, or progressing against a schedule that isn’t fully integrated will result in significant ‘internal change’ as a result of the emerging design impacting on earlier approved and configured designs. This can be costly and painful for all involved and will result in individual design consultants raising change notes for rework as their configured designs are continuously impacted by evolving designs from their co-consultants.

Change management:

Change management processes should be embedded early and it provides the means of drawing down from management reserve as risks, or mitigation actions, emerge over time.

Change should be supported by good configuration control.


It’s important to capture emerging Requirements from Stakeholders for example and be clear if these are in scope or should be identified as ‘uncertainty’ and thus drawn-down through change control.


This is the management of baselines whether they be contract scopes or the project Requirements; but it’s important that version control is managed with the help of a good document management system to create the point beyond which change control applies.

For advice and support on the setting up and delivery of a PD organisation please consult with i3Works early for maximum benefit. I3works are outstanding leaders of innovation related to the provision of P3m services across sectors as diverse as Nuclear, Infrastructure and Defence.

Should you wish to discuss with our Director please contact us Terry O’Dowd CEng RPP, FICE FIStructE, FAPM on 07799072594, terry.odowd@i3works.co.uk

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