Understanding design management for building projects
The design and construction of buildings has changed significantly over the past 30 years. These days, there is a greater expectation from owners of a high level of performance from their project team, which includes the project managers, design team and the contractors.
During this time the role of the architect has changed from what was the leader and manager of the project to more of a leader and coordinator of the design and the design team. This has more recently resulted in confusion about who is actually leading the project when roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined at the start of the project and in the consultants’ agreement.
Design continues to grow in its complexity as a result of the significant increase in the specialist inputs to the design and the need for continual refinement and exchange of project information.
In their paper Managing the Form, Function, and Fit of Design Angela Dumas and Henry Mintzberg proposed, as one of four management models, co-operative design: interactive functions. This model encourages interaction between the different contributors. Co-operative design is based on teamwork and reflects the ad hoc structure of most ‘creative’ organisations. This approach requires a number of mechanisms, teams, task forces, and integrating managers to promote mutual adjustments among experts, under conditions that are both dynamic and complex.
As a result of the greater demands by owners and the increasing complexity of the design process, project managers have increasingly taken on the responsibility to manage the design as part of the overall management of the project.
Splitting design from the project
Stephen Emmitt in Design Management for Architects (2007) defines project managers as being responsible for the overall management of the project; their primary responsibility is the project.
Project managers are employed by the owner to ensure that the project is delivered within the agreed time, cost and quality parameters. This, however, is a challenging role since the project manager usually has very little control over the organisations and individuals that form the design team. The project manager is also responsible for the smooth running of the project, which requires skills in coordinating the work by others.
The conventional approach to the management of the design is through the project management process whereby the design management is simply considered as a component of the overall project management process, with the design project primarily managed in terms delivery to a program schedule and cost plan. The management of the design itself is generally left to the design team with the lead consultant, typically the architect, taking control of the design coordination process.
As stated earlier, the design of a building is in fact such a critical component of the overall project delivery process that it actually needs dedicated and independent design management to achieve the best results for the owner. This design management process and focus on the design ideally needs to be implemented from the start of the project lifecycle and then undertaken throughout all the critical stages of the design.
Design management, through a dedicated design manager working with the project manager on behalf of the owner, primarily seeks to establish project management practices that are focused on enhancing the design process across the entire design team.
The design manager should ideally have a diverse range of skills to manage the complexity of the design process. These include:
- Diversity of business, creative and design related experience, the will, and the people skills to make things happen;
- Ability to nurture good ideas and deliver them in a way that makes sense;
- Ability to be a diplomat, peacemaker and planner;
- Having a hands on approach, educating by example;
- Being able to manage the design strategy on behalf of the owner;
- Ability to explore a wide range of design disciplines;
- Synergising all the required design disciplines;
- Being aware how to conduct a design project and work with designers;
- Ability to facilitate the design process, enhance quality and quantity of original ideas to fight for the ideas to be implemented; and
- Being a builder of trust and maintaining trust.
For building projects today, the successful implementation of owner focused design management throughout the entire project lifecycle can represent the difference between the success and failure of a building project.