You know the kind of thing. The design team agrees to the project manager's programme, with an issue date on a Friday. Mentally, the architect is allowing the weekend to finish off the drawings, reasoning that missing Friday's post is a plausible excuse and unpunishable offence. The drawings don't get finished and, by the time all the copies have been printed, the issue sheets have been completed correctly and the post room has found enough A3 envelopes, the vital drawings don't reach their intended destination until the following Thursday – nearly a week later than indicated by that blob on the project manager's sophisticated programme.
The same drawings arrive at the engineer's office, prompting the hassled engineer to call and ask for digital copies. By the time these have been successfully transferred, unzipped, translated into the right format and imported as base layers, it's 10 days since the deadline. Then, guess what? The engineer's drawings are late, too, as it bleats to an unsympathetic client, because the architect didn't get its act together early enough. Then the cost report is late because the QS was waiting for drawings …
This is not an unusual procedure in construction. So why can't we deliver on the dates agreed? I suspect that the reason for failing on some occasions is because of a mismatch between those making the promises and those delivering them. The "concept team" allocated to a project will often be the big cheeses, the articulate, graphically talented, creative types who successfully convince the client that they've got the right firm for the job. Sure, this is probably the interesting part of the design process, drawing on inspiration and coming up with the "big idea". There's no doubt that some extraordinarily elegant solutions have emerged from broad-brush sketches on the back of napkins. However, as the concept develops, this team is also required to create an outline plan for delivery, agree a budget and set some programme milestones. Is this the same team that will be churning out the drawings during the production stage? Unlikely. If not, then the handover between the concept and the delivery team needs to be a transfer of information – not just about the materials, the appearance, the floor plan, but also the practicalities of when, where, how and why.
It’s common sense to resolve problems early rather than wait until the deadline is missed, but this rarely happens
If the delivery team is faced with a budget or a programme that is unrealistic, it's best to resolve it earlier rather than wait until the deadline is missed or the funding is spent. It sounds like common sense, but it rarely happens, leaving the client with a huge headache and the design team shuffling its feet.
Contractors have the same problem in spades. The estimating team prices the job; the commercial director says all the right things in the interview; and then the delivery team comes on board. Faced with high expectations, any suggestion that budget or programme is under threat can result in bitter internal wrangles to the detriment of the job.
One supplier, for example, has demonstrated all the bad things that I'm talking about here. Asked to advise on a cladding solution for a modest new building, the masonry supplier suggested a highly innovative technique to the ambitious design team. The technique was sold as labour-saving and sustainable, and the design team incorporated it into the design. With a contractor on board, the supplier suddenly changes its tune. No, its system won't work in those conditions, can't be done before November and, by the way, it's going to cost £30,000 more than originally quoted. Aghast, the design team tries to contact the personable sales director. Weeks of frustrated phone calls and inscrutable messages leave design team, client and contractor in despair and resolved never to use the same supplier again.
Tanya Ross is an associate of Buro Happold.