Why is design management becoming a client requirement in the higher education sector?

Higher education clients are increasingly asking for design management to be provided within the scope of services when appointing the design team for a new project.

At Plan A Consultants we are working across several higher education projects, including the LSE Firoz Lalji Global Hub, 35 Lincoln’s Inn Fields project with David Chipperfield Architects.

As design managers, working with architects who are leading higher education projects, we believe defining and managing the design process is a key part of successful design delivery.  Particularly given this is a sector increasingly process driven and risk averse.

As universities are finding it harder to secure funding and are building less, heads of estates also see our services as highly beneficial. They are reassured from the outset that the project will progress with a dedicated resource overseeing the process that enables the architect to prioritise design, coordination and delivery.

Every architect we work with understands the value of our design management tools and respect our progress reporting and programme management. We not only document progress in real time but are crucially always looking ahead and providing advice in anticipation of project demands and challenges.

We believe the key to getting this right is involvement at the very outset of a project during team assembly. Where possible we get involved at the RFP stage and work with the architect in setting out the design management approach and help to define the scope of services and responsibilities within the design team.

During the often, compressed period of time to respond to an opportunity, we are able to share the load with the architect’s bid team and take ownership of key delivery elements of the bid. In many cases we attend the interviews and provide essential input on how the design teams outputs will be managed to programme.

For the LSE Firoz Lalji Global Hub project the client took this one step further, we were part of the client team pre-competition and helped with the development of the project brief and wider design management requirements in advance of the RIBA design competition being launched.

Plan A had previously worked with Grafton Architects on the LSE’s Marshall Building and the client had seen at first hand the benefits that design management brought to the project.

This time the LSE client wanted design management to be included at the outset by the bidders and built into their methodologies, rather than added later.

The services we are providing are typical across our higher education projects and include:

  • Appointments & scope – we review and comment on the terms of the architect’s appointment to the client and, if not executed, often assist the architect in negotiating their appointment with the client. We also review the fee and scope proposals received from sub-consultants, ensure no scope gaps (Scope Responsibility Matrix), and define the level of design responsibility for each element of the works (Design Responsibility Matrix).
  • Design team deliverables – in parallel with oversight of the scope we identify the design deliverables with the design team and prepare and agree the deliverables schedule. We then align the deliverables with the key milestones in the project programme and set out the process for client approval and sign-off.
  • Design programme – we typically review the project programme prepared by the client for validation of design periods and prepare, co-ordinate, agree and issue a design programme that demonstrates the project design strategy. Where possible we avoid complex Gantt charts when describing the granular coordination during the design stages and use our own graphic routemaps that are easier for the design team to understand and follow.
  • Master design programme – we prepare and use Gantt style design programmes as a master design programme. These track the progress of the critical path activities and illustrate progress against a baseline programme.
  • Progress reporting – to keep the client team informed on the progress of the design we prepare and distribute monthly progress reports and weekly dashboards. The weekly dashboard is a snapshot of progress made over the previous week and a look ahead to the next week.
  • Meetings & workshops – at the outset of the project we establish the strategy for meetings and workshops and maintain a monthly meeting schedule.
  • Design Management Plan – our documents and tools then form part of the design management plan for the project that sets out the essential procedures we implement at each work stage including client approvals, change management and requests for information.
Projects Practice