GIRI Design Guide Preview: A robust approach

15 Sep 22

A rigorous design process involving key members of the project team should be adopted at the beginning of a project to avoid costly errors. This is the central message of GIRI’s revised Design Guide and the backbone of its recommendations to the industry.

GIRI research established that many of the errors in construction can be traced back to a failure to properly define and agree the design process at the outset. There is a collective responsibility on all parties to ensure that the process is not only defined, but that it is also applied rigorously throughout the project.

GIRI has identified a series of key issues relating to the design process which, if properly established and maintained, can significantly reduce project error. The overriding requirement is to recognise the importance of a rigorous design process, and for the client with the support of the lead designer, to ensure that such a process is established, understood and agreed by all key parties at the start of the project and implemented throughout its duration. It is also essential that any problems are addressed promptly.

The following recommendations can significantly reduce the likelihood of issues at the design stage impacting on later stages of the project.

Clearly define roles and responsibilities
The key to eliminating misunderstandings from the outset is to start the project with a team of people who understand their own scope of services, roles and design responsibilities, and who are clear on the scope of all other team members and disciplines.

Deliver the design to an agreed plan of work
Establish an agreed plan of work to which the design will be delivered to coordinate design activities in accordance with each contributor’s individual scope. All parties should be aware of and follow the agreed framework whether that is RIBA for building, GRIP for rail, PCF for highways or any other client-specific delivery model.

Set milestones
Agree milestones to encourage beneficial behaviour across disciplines and work these into professional appointments.

Design leadership
Create the environment to support leadership that encourages a collaborative approach. Project success relies not only on process, but also on teams having a common collaborative approach to achieving the design objectives. Strong leadership is key and should be supported by the client.

Robust brief
Ensure the brief is thorough and well-prepared as this will serve as a control document throughout the project. The project brief is an evolving document and must be signed off by the client and key stakeholders at the outset. Any changes must be agreed, recorded, and signed off by the client.

Seek robust cost advice to ensure the project is properly budgeted and costs are controlled. It is crucial to set a realistic budget and employ cost consultants to implement a rigorous benchmarking process. In the brief, set up a process by which the design can be tested against the budget at key milestones. Specialist design input should be obtained at an early stage to get robust cost advice; too often this recommendation is ignored because it is deemed commercially sensitive, however, the current practice is simply not working.

Change control
Implement an appropriate change control process to ensure all parties have understood and assessed the implications of each change before endorsing it. Clarity is vital when changes are made to the design or brief; they should be managed in a clear and structured way with client sign-off. Change control should be an agenda item at all design team meetings.

Realistic programming
Allow sufficient time for design to evolve to ensure the time allowed for each stage is realistic and recognises the complexities of the project and the procurement route. Activities should be planned and discussed by key team members, taking account of programme constraints and the time required for client review and approval. The individual appointed to manage the design should prepare a design programme at the start of a project, which must be reviewed and agreed by all parties.

Client review and approval
Programme in regular client reviews to ensure the design is validated and allow the design team, cost consultant and contractor, if appointed, to obtain clear direction from the client and ensure consistent input. This can avoid changes that result from different interpretations of the brief and eliminates misunderstandings when the end-of-design-stage information is issued. End-of-stage and interim-stage presentations should be made to key decision makers, clearly setting out any issues that need to be resolved.

Peer reviews
Commission peer reviews and buildability reviews to check that the design meets the brief, and the correct level of detail has been achieved, and to ensure that buildability has been given proper consideration. This could be provided by one organisation or by individual design consultants. Consideration should also be given to engaging with other groups, such as end users or the team that will operate and maintain the asset once occupied.

Digital engineering /BIM
As a minimum, adopt BIM to Level 2 or equivalent, at both the design and construction stages, to ensure efficient and accurate coordination and communication of design.

Design for construction
Ensure design interfaces are properly considered and managed to eliminate the risk of scope gaps arising between elements of works. GIRI’s research found that buildability is rarely given proper consideration during early design development. GIRI recommends that for any design beyond the concept stage, buildability should be specifically considered as a project requirement and reviewed by specialist designers and contractors.

Design interface management
Set out where interfaces arise in the scope of packages (often a contractor’s responsibility) and define where design responsibilities begin and end. Design issues often arise due to interfaces between different works or between different material types. It is also important to allow enough time for subcontractors with design responsibility to further develop the design interface.

A more detailed version of this overview chapter is available in the revised GIRI Design Guide, which will be published later this year. Sign up to our newsletter to be notified once the guide is published.

Other previews

The briefing process



Investing in design

Contractor input

Planning the design work


Design gateways

Guiding the design process

Stakeholder management

Opening up and closing down


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