Published in Plumbing Systems and Design by James E. Stenqvist, CPD, LEED AP

View the article in its original PDF format: Design by Phases – Part 1

Most engineers use a six-phase project methodology. In chronological order, the six project phases are pre-design, schematic design, design development, construction documents, bidding and negotiations, and construction administration. It’s important to proceed in the proper order as the project develops. Completing a task during the wrong phase can create a domino effect that will cause extensive rework, time, money, and even embarrassment. A checklist that defines the tasks assigned to each phase can assist in the process. Entry-level engineers should use this index until they know it by heart. Seasoned engineers should use it as tool simply to ensure they are on schedule. It also can be used as an instrument to inform the owner-client of what you’ve produced at each phase and what you’ll need for the next phase. Here is a phase-by-phase summary of the purpose of and tasks to be completed during the first three phases of a project. The last three phases are the subject of the next column, in the November/December issue of Plumbing Systems & Design.

Phase 1. Pre-Design

This phase of the project requires meeting with the owner to define the exact scope of work. Then the engineer prepares a written summary of the anticipated work. Preparation of a project budget and project schedule also are part of this phase. The engineer works jointly with the owner to establish the timeline for the project and the available funds.

Phase 2. Schematic Design

The American Institute of Architects’ owner-architect agreement states, “The Architect [or Engineer] shall provide those services necessary to prepare drawings and other documents illustrating the general scope, scale and relationship of project components for approval by the Owner.” An ancillary purpose of the schematic design phase documents is to prepare an estimate of the probable construction cost so it can be compared with the owner’s budget. To develop a cost estimate with reasonable accuracy and gain the owner’s approval, the engineer must develop documentation sufficient to communicate the design intent to the owner and whoever is responsible for preparing the cost estimate (the architect, an independent cost estimator, or a construction manager). Those in the industry commonly understand two important aspects of the schematic design phase:

• The most far-reaching decisions— those have the most profound effect on the eventual design and cost of the project—are made during the schematic design phase.

•The later in a project the schematic design information is generated, the more likely it is that the team’s efficiency during the later phase, will be adversely affected. Consequently, shortcuts during this phase can have a disproportionately large adverse impact on the project’s success. The schematic design phase tasks and deliverables are even more necessary when, by virtue of the project’s complexity or schedule, the game plan calls for the team to proceed directly into the construction documents phase. Without a design development phase, adequate time and effort must be allocated so this phase’s tasks and deliverables can be fully accomplished.

Phase 3. Design Development

According to the standard American Institute of Architects’ owner-architect agreement, the objective of the design development phase is “to establish and describe the size and character of the project as to architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical systems, materials and such other elements as may be appropriate…for the construction manager’s review [when there is one] and for the owner’s approval.”

Much of the design development phase is spent considering design options for various portions of the project. The final design evolves from this process. The results of the design analysis and development must be adequately documented to communicate the design intent to both the owner and the construction manager, even though the documents will fill different needs for each of them:

• For the owner, documentation should demonstrate that the design was developed in accordance with the owner’s objectives and expectations; and that the specific materials and systems selected for the project, along with the ways in which they will be assembled, are acceptable to the owner.

• For the construction manager, documentation should allow assessment of whether the specific materials and systems proposed for the project are appropriate to achieve the owner’s objectives and should set forth the scope of the work with sufficient clarity to facilitate development of an accurate cost estimate.

Some projects require the team to proceed from the schematic design phase directly into the construction
document phase. This streamlining of the design process is really a false efficiency, because all of the services required in the design development phase must be performed to properly complete the project. They simply are being deferred and combined with the construction document effort.

Combining these inherently different services (design attention and production efficiency) more often than not leads to reduced efficiency. Failure to study design issues
thoughtfully during the design development phase will have an adverse impact on the efficient production of construction documents.