Clients, designers and project managers will all benefit if a designer manager is in place to supervise the team, writes Shyamala Duraisingam
As building and infrastructure projects become ever more complex, with many now requiring a long list of specialist consultants, the demands of managing these designs increase in direct proportion.
The architect has traditionally been charged with design management, and still is on many projects. On large-scale, complex, multidisciplinary building and infrastructure projects, it tends to be the senior, more experienced architects who manage the design and the design team.
Their effective management becomes critical to the success of the project as the exposure to significant financial and reputational risks becomes that much greater. This seems to be a waste of a very valuable resource – senior designers are hard to find and could add a great deal more value guiding and steering the design teams and focusing on delivering great designs.
So what does efficient, timely design management look like? Consultant evaluation and selection; project requirements baselines set-up and monitoring (budget, critical milestones, client and stakeholder requirements, etc); carbon road mapping; detailed design programming; design risk mitigation; design responsibilities matrices; consultant coordination; deliverables coordination; design actions trackers etc etc…
The demands for design management grow exponentially on international joint venture projects, where the size of the team increases dramatically
There is enough scope here to justify design management becoming a discipline in its own right.
The demands for design management grow exponentially on international joint venture projects, where the size of the team increases dramatically, incorporating local designers of record as well as the international design team. The need arises to effectively navigate challenges associated with bilingual communications and deliverables, unfamiliar planning requirements, different time zones, and a multitude of stakeholders as well as supporting the local delivery team in interpreting the concept design correctly – sound familiar?
The management of the design does not only happen during the design phase, it involves the effective co-ordination and communication of the design at all stages of the project and throughout the whole project lifecycle. It is imperative to “tie” the design successfully into specifications, contracts and sub-contracts, construction control and change management procedures – all the way into commissioning and handover, sometimes even into operation where digital twins might be required. It needs to be a constant and continuous thread to ensure that what is designed, is built.
To meet the growing demands of the role, design managers ideally need first-hand experience in the design and delivery of diverse large-scale, complex projects. They are, effectively, designer-managers with diverse international project experience, both in the design studio and on site.
Design managers are usually experienced ex-architects and engineers who, having been designers themselves, are best placed to manage the design
They will be familiar with multidisciplinary design, BIM, buildability and construction means and methods, temporary works, logistics, as well as having cost and quantities awareness, and contracts experience. Because can you really manage it well if you have never done it first?
Design managers are usually experienced ex-architects and engineers who, having been designers themselves, are best placed to manage the design. Design managers have the experience, and importantly, the Professional Indemnity (PI) Insurance cover, to become the thread that is capable of tying all design disciplines together.
They can also tie the design to all stages of the project lifecycle including procurement, construction and even into handover and operation, coherently and seamlessly. Helping to avoid the customary disjoint between these project phases.
I am happy to note that clients, designers and project managers are beginning to notice that a large proportion of the problems that occur on site can be avoided with a closely monitored design process. Perhaps the best outcome of including this new role in our projects is that each entity becomes free to do what they do best.
The designer can concentrate on producing a first-class design, safe in the knowledge that an experienced design manger is there to raise a timely warning should the design begin to deviate from any of the project requirements, and has the capacity to offer design-sympathetic mitigations. The design manager is capable of providing objective evaluation of the change, independent of the interests of both designers and contractors, and can appreciate both technical and commercial ramifications of the change to advise objectively in defence of the project.
The design manager acts as the designer’s safe pair of hands, especially when Value Engineering (VE) and change management is required, providing proper analysis and reporting on the impacts of changes on programme, costs, resourcing and fees, and when a trusted partner is required for international project set-up and management of the local/international Interface.
As such, the designer can consider the design manager as their “design guardian”, endeavouring to manage the design in favour of ensuring, to the greatest possible degree, that what is designed is built.
A well-managed, well-coordinated design is the client’s first line of defence against contractor claims in what has become, a claims-driven industry
The client and project manager can concentrate on the commercial and procurement aspects – keeping an overarching control of the delivery of the project and providing critical reporting and guidance to the client team. They may not have the right PI to guide design decisions and design changes adequately, so they can rest safe in the knowledge that the design manager is their “trusted partner”, joining forces to guide the design in accordance with the requirements and goals as set out with the client.
A well-managed, well-coordinated design is the client’s first line of defence against contractor claims in what has become, a claims-driven industry. And this is where the design manager can add indispensable value to a project. Watch this space!
Shyamala Duraisingam is director of design management at Scott Brownrigg. She plays a critical role in driving improvements in design management, supporting project teams and securing new opportunities in this area. She has 20 years of experience as a civil and structural engineer and 12 as a design and project manager with Santiago Calatrava, Zaha Hadid and Foster+Partners, among others. She is a visiting lecturer on practice and project management at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University of London.