Monitoring Design – Design Webs

In today’s world, many Architect’s are being asked to take full contractual responsibility on projects. There are a number of reasons for this for which we will not go into here. However what does this mean for the Architect or Lead Consultant? It means that it falls to the Architect to appoint a team of Engineers and Specialist Consultants to help them design a project, usually under considerable fee and programme constraints, and to take full responsibility of that delivery on behalf of every other member of that team. Now, if the Architect is sensible then back-to-back agreements with sub-consultants will be set up so as to minimize risk, but wouldn’t it be easier to avoid the hassle of finger pointing, a blame culture and getting legal with a team who at the outset of the project started with such positive feelings and goodwill? At the end of the day this industry is built on relationships and without the relationship moving to the next project, you end up with nothing.

A more proactive approach is to make sure you catch problems early enough so that 1) you can do something about it and 2) you can do it in such a way that does not alienate other team members and keeps that positive feeling that you witnessed at the outset of the project going throughout.

Managing a Design Team is not easy. Some Architectural practices are comfortable doing, most likely because they are of such a scale that they have a dedicated in-house management team. Other architects a very uncomfortable about taking on the Lead Designer role. But why? Is it because we don’t like to take risk? Maybe, yet when it comes to design and creative risk Architects are prepared to take it all the time? Do Architects have an issue with taking responsibility on behalf of other consultants! I suspect yes. Our argument however is that this need not be such a grave concern if you have the correct management procedures in place.

Many practices do not have in house management support, which is why over the past 10 years the Directors of Schumann Consult have managed to build a successful business and teams delivering a Design Management service that Supports Designers with exactly these issues. One such issue that has become so important over the years has been that of monitoring the performance of an Architects Design Team.

Over the past 25 years, we have been fortunate to work with some of the best and biggest Architectural firms in the world, leading world-class design teams on world-class international projects. However, no matter how big or small the practice or project, knowing where you are in the design process and identifying where your problems lie is absolutely fundamental to achieving a successful outcome, and in that, the monitoring of the design is key.

Monitoring Design – not a Gantt chart please….

Design is not predictable, nor is it as sequential as the construction process which can be scheduled using traditional tools such as Gantt charts, where tasks are linked to provide dependencies between each other, and the building constructed according to the laws of physics.

The process of design is very different to that of building it. Design progress cannot be plotted in a linear pattern, nor should the number of intermediate drawings and reports submitted measure it. In short, it is activity related as opposed to time related. The days have passed where architecture, structure and services work independently to one another and design progress is simply a case of counting drawings.

Architects are also very visual individuals. Having to decipher a bar chart to determine design progress is not something that designers want to be doing. It is because of this, where we found it a constant challenge to be able to schedule and monitor design team activities and progress accurately and meaningfully, that the ‘Design Web’ innovation was born.

Breaking the mould….

The idea behind the ‘Design Web’ was to provide an alternative way for Architects monitor and report design effort and progress by using a method that was easy to understand and implement.

So what is a Design Web?

A ‘Design Web’ is a very simple idea, using fairly simple techniques, but just used in a way that really adds benefits to our Clients. It is a very visual tool that allows us to take a snapshot of the entire design at any time in the project life cycle – which is particularly useful when trying to articulate progress to the architect’s clients. It is something that is used to ensure that all the various pieces of the design jigsaw are being progressed and if not, instantly see where the problems or blockages lie.

design-web

The ‘Design Web’ captures design tasks necessary in any given period and is processed and weighted accordingly to present it in simple graphical and visual form at which can be easily understood by all. A picture tells a thousand words….

The ‘Design Webs’ are used by design teams to assess progress and subsequently target effort and resources into the right areas, allowing them to produce a fully integrated and coordinated design. It enables everyone to clearly see where problems lie and where the team is progressing well. They work on the basis that the web represents the design phase. Work begins in the centre of the web, and progress then ‘grows’ from the centre towards the outer edge that represents 100% completion.

The end of the Gantt Chart…?

Of course not. There is always a need to plot the design stages and key milestones in a linear way in a bar chart form. Everyone needs some form of plan of how to get to the end goal with time in mind. However, thinking that you can plot design on one of these charts to then draw a line down it to reflect the current progress just does not work and is totally inaccurate.

Our advice, keep the Gantt charts detailed enough to be useful by plotting key milestone dates, key decision dates etc., but don’t use them to try to gauge design progress or list each and every design deliverable. If you do, more often than not the Architect will put the design programme straight into the drawer and forget about it.

Mark Schumann

Mark Schumann

Mark Schumann is the Founder and Director of Schumann Consult.
Mark Schumann

Posted on February 5, 2013 in Design Management

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