Working practices of design offices with owners and contractors in construction projects

Introduction

A construction project is an integrated effort by people of different disciplines and expertise achieved by using the resources available under the constraints of cost, time, and quality. The construction project team consists of three entities: the project owner, the architect/engineer (A/E) or the design office, and the construction contractor.

The design office is the medium through which the owner states his or her requirements and objectives to the contractor. The design office has the triple task of ensuring that it has collected all the information needed for meeting the owner's requirements, has understood and processed the said information correctly into the form of drawings and specifications, and that the contractor is able to clearly understand and implement the owner's requirements through the drawings and specifications (Farooq 1997).

The aim of this study is to investigate the working practices pursued by design offices, for ensuring quality of the project, in the construction project team.

Working Practices in the Construction Project Team

A construction project goes through the following five main phases through its life: the feasibility phase, the design phase, the construction phase, the operation and maintenance phase, and the decommissioning phase. Exhibit 1 shows the five phases and the entities responsible during those phases.

Exhibit 1. The Five Phases of Construction and the Entities Responsible

The Five Phases of Construction and the Entities Responsible

For a design office the construction project team goes through two phases, the design and the construction. In the design phase the project team consists of the owner, while in the construction phase the contractor is also included.

Through literature review (Bubshait & Al-Abdulrazzak 1996; ASCE 1990; Cornick 1991; Motor Colombus et al. 1984; Petrick & Furr 1995), 23 statements (see Exhibit 2) were designed to assess the working relation practices of design offices in the construction project team for ensuring a quality project.

Working Practices (WP)

This section undertakes to describe the importance of the working practices surveyed by this study.

Roles of the project team members are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP1). This practice helps in the definition of roles and responsibilities of the team members. This practice also helps to build in the team members a feeling of empowerment and a greater appreciation of their individual responsibilities toward other team members.

Working procedures and communication lines are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP2). While it helps for project team members to be informal with each other, it is imperative that the proper rules for working with each other be followed. The construction project team consists of individuals from different organizations with varied working styles and expertise. The proper definition of working procedures and communication lines minimizes possible damages due to interorganizational interference, and ensures that the individual authority of any team member is not undermined.

Exhibit 2. Working Practices for Design Offices

Working Practices for Design Offices

Project cost, schedule, and quality are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP3). Every project owner has high expectations from the project. The project team needs to work out the practicalities of these expectations and methods for measuring and ensuring them. This practice also gives the team members a clearer idea of what is required of them and to what purpose.

Contractual requirements and constraints are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP4). Contracts are an inevitable part of any construction project. The clarification of contractual clauses allows the parties to it understand the requirements of them and elimination/minimization of obstacles towards the fulfillment of project objectives. This practice at the initial stage of the project team formation can help in the aversion of any future disputes.

Project requirements are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP5). Who are the direct users, is the project required to represent something, profitability issues, and other possible requirements, are expected to be defined by this working practice. Any impracticality in project requirements could be clarified and alternatives worked out. The clear definition of these requirements is essential for the design office to ensure that their designs and specifications are able to meet them as much as possible.

Methods of testing design correctness are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP6). The method of testing design correctness, through self-review, peer-review, or reviews by experts, should be set out and agreed upon. This practice minimizes later disputes regarding the qualifications of the reviewer in case of design incorrectness.

The complete project brief is developed through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP7). The project brief is the culmination of the above steps. It is the clear summary of what is required of the project and how it is to be achieved.

Space utilization and material appropriateness is defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP8). The requirements of the owner and any requirements/constraints by the regulatory agencies are worked out.

Methods for resolving design conflict are defined through discussion with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP9). Design conflicts sometimes have a way of creeping up despite the best efforts of the design office. Extra care for design conflicts needs to be taken at the project interfaces. Interfacing entities could come from the same organization or even different organization (in case of subcontracting of part of the project). The methods for resolution of design conflicts need to be worked out for ensuring harmony between team members, and to clarify responsibilities and possible liabilities.

Location drawings and physical models are made for review (WP10). Location drawings and physical models help the owner and also other team members to get a clear idea of what the final project is expected to look like and how it is progressing toward that stage.

The correctness of the scheme design with regard to the project brief is checked with the owner and/or owner's representative (WP11). The scheme design is expected to meet all the requirements of the project brief. The involvement of the owner at this stage is vital to ensure his or her approval of the scheme design and subsequent follow-up of the project design details.

Constructability of the detail design is checked with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP12). The construction contractor needs the detailed design to work out the shop-drawings for subsequent construction. The lack of expertise for the construction of a particular design area, or an error in the practicality could cause problems in meeting the owner's requirements. The working together of the design office, owner, and contractor could eliminate this difficulty or the team could work out an alternative.

Specification classification is worked out with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP13). This practice ensures that all the team members agree upon and the same specification classification standard.

Contractual details for construction are worked out with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP14). The contractual responsibilities of the parties and constraints during the construction phase need to be worked out to avoid disputes. The design office has a contract with the owner, and as part of that contract it has to interact with the contractor. Similarly the contractor has a contract with the owner, and interacts with the design office. This situation can lead to a lot of confusion that could adversely affect the project, which needs to be averted.

Requirements for temporary works are worked out with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP15). A good design addresses the requirements of temporary works during the construction and works to ensure that these works do not create a burden on the owner, either by assimilating them partly/fully into the project or minimizing their impact. The input of the owner and the contractor is important for ensuring this step.

Degree of accuracy of the drawings and the detail required is established with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP16). The degree of accuracy and the detail required of the design to meet the requirements of the contractor should be established to ensure that each party understands the requirements expected of it in this aspect. A higher degree of detail in design than the standard in the industry could lead to extra effort and cost on the design office, and the owner should be made to realize this aspect.

Practicality of the design drawings is verified with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP17). The verification of the design practicality is a major step in ensuring that all the team members are satisfied by the design. This step also helps in minimizing any future possible liabilities on the design office.

Material and workmanship requirements are established with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP18). The quality requirements of the materials and their workmanship that meet the requirements of the owner need to be established to inform the contracting organization of what is required of them.

Exhibit 3. Response Statistics for Working Practices of Design Offices

Response Statistics for Working Practices of Design Offices

Appropriate specifications and their details are worked out with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP19). This practice ensures that the contractor understands the quality and cost of the project specifications.

Procedures for communicating design inconsistencies and their correction is established with the owner and/or owner's representative, and the construction contractor (WP20). Construction sometimes reveals hidden design inconsistencies; it is imperative that the proper procedures for communicating and correcting them are established. This step ensures that the communication is passed through the correct channels as soon as possible and to the correct place.

There is regular review of the work performed by the construction contractor to help in any possible design changes required by the owner and/or to improve project cost, schedule, and quality (WP21). As part of its contract most design offices are expected to perform a regular review of the construction work. This practice requires the design to ensure that any possible design changes positively affect the project cost, schedule, and quality.

An evaluation by the owner regarding the services provided is requested at the end of each project (WP22). An evaluation at the end of the project from the owner ensures that the design office knows the strengths and weaknesses of their working relation style. This evaluation is of high importance as it helps the design office to better compete in the industry.

An evaluation by the construction contractor regarding the working relationship is requested at the end of each project (WP23). While the design office does not have any contractual relationship with the contractor, this practice helps the design office to improve their working relationship with the contractor, which in effect increases the benefit to the project owner by ensuring a smooth project.

Research Methodology

The study aims to determine the working relation practices of the local design offices. Questionnaires were sent to the all the local design offices. Out of a total population of one hundred and forty offices, 25 participated in the study and four offices officially declined to participate, giving a response rate of about twenty-one percent.

The questionnaire was designed to gauge the prevalence of the working relation practices (see Exhibit 2) by requiring the respondents to indicate the extent of prevalence by marking “Always,” “Mostly,” “Sometimes,” “Rarely,” or “Never” For the purpose of analysis the following scale was used:

Always 100% Mostly 75%
Sometimes 50% Rarely 25%
Never 0%

Study Results

The responses of the surveyed working relation practices are tabulated in Exhibit 3. The working practices are arranged in the general order of their required occurrence during the project phase. The working practices to be followed initially during the formation of the construction project team are mentioned first and the practices to be followed at the end of the construction project team's life last.

Practices in the Design Phase

There is a low level of prevalence with the working practices defining the role of team members (WP1) and working procedures (WP2). The possible reasons for this situation could be the following:

• Owner does not give much importance to these practices

• Design office believes that its way of doing these things is justified and it does not need any input from others.

Working practices, WP3 to WP5, are highly prevalent, as these details need to be worked out with the owner for the sake of the project and they are performed at the start of the relationship. Working practices, WP7 to WP9, and WP12, are also prevalent but to a slightly lower degree than the above-mentioned practices.

Among the less prevalent working practices during the design phase of the project team are definition of methods for testing design correctness (WP6), which has a lower prevalence than definition of methods for resolving design conflicts (WP10), as most design offices leave it up to the owner to test design correctness. Owners sometimes choose to test the correctness of the design by giving it to another design office for peer review, and ensure that the other design office remains anonymous. Location drawings and physical models (WP11) are made mostly upon the direct request of the owner and charged extra unless specified in the contract.

Practices in the Construction Phase

Interestingly as the contractor comes into the picture there is a decline in the prevalence of these working relation practices. Some of the respondents indicated that in a few instances they would prefer not to deal with the contractor but only with the owner, and how the owner deals with the contractor is none of their concern. This trend could be attributed to the traditional animosity between the design professionals and the contractors.

The traditional animosity and reluctance to interact with the contractor is the cause of low prevalence of the working practices in the construction phase of the construction project team. The working practices showing an exception to this low prevalence trend in this phase are establishment of material and workmanship requirements (WP18), working out of specification details (WP19), regular review of construction work (WP21). The reasons for these exceptions by the design offices are as follows:

• The fulfillment of these practices is more prominently related to their contract with the owner

• The belief that the correct fulfillment of the activities associated with these practices increases their reputation

• The belief that deficiencies in the activities associated with these practices will be linked negatively to their qualifications in the industry.

Practices at the End of the Construction Phase

Two statements (WP22 and WP23) measured the evaluation practices of the design offices at the end of the construction phase. The very low prevalence of these practices could be attributed to lack of knowledge of these practices among both the design offices, and the owners. There is a need for educating the owners to recommend the design professional to undertake these evaluations contractually.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The overall study results reveal some interesting conclusions and trends:

• There is a higher degree of contact by the design office with the project team in the beginning of the project than in later stages

• Cooperation by the design office is mainly in areas vital for the successful completion of the contract, especially so when the contractor is involved

• Design office prefer to remain aloof from the contractors as compared with the owners

• End-of-project evaluation requests are the lowest prevalent practices by the design offices.

• Some of the ways that can increase the proper working relationship of the construction project team are as follows:

• Increased education regarding team management

• Increased education of owner's regarding their responsibilities and rights

• Promotion of techniques like partnering for building greater cooperation and trust between the design offices and the contractors.

Acknowledgment

The authors would like to acknowledge the support of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) and the Research Institute, KFUPM during the course of this study. Acknowledgment is also due to the design offices that participated in this study.

References

Farooq, Gulam. 1997. Quality Management Practices Among A/E Organizations. MS Thesis, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Bubshait, A.A., and Al-Abdulrazzak, A. 1996. Design Quality Management Activities. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 122 (3), 104–106.

ASCE. 1990. Quality in the Constructed Project. New York: Manual of Professional Practice.

Cornick, Tim. 1991. Quality management for Building Design. Great Britain: Butterworth-Heinmann Ltd.

Motor Colombus, Spie Batignolles, and Socotec. 1984. Quality Management Standard for Civil Works. London and Baginstoke: The Macmillan Press Limited.

Petrick, J.A., and Furr, D.S. 1995. Total Quality in Managing Human Resources. Delray Beach, FL: St. Lucie Press.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA

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