AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

Assigning responsibility on a building project

Paul Sancandi
August 6, 2012

There is a medium to large sized building project which has a project management team working for and representing the owner. The architect is the nominated lead consultant of a team of individual design consultants all directly contracted with the owner. Who should be ultimately responsible to the building project owner to deliver the design related services of the project for the entire design team: the project management team or the lead architectural consultant?

The above question was posed to more than 60 professionals including owners, owners’ representatives, project managers, design managers, architects, design consultants, programmers and quantity surveyors. It was no surprise that there was a variety of responses given the different professional  perspectives.

The overall results of the survey were as follows:

  • Project management team ultimately responsible: 44%
  • Architectural lead consultant ultimately responsible: 26%
  • Shared ultimate responsibility: 29%
  • Owner ultimately responsible: 1%

Architects’ responses
More than 50% of architects believe that the lead architectural consultant should be ultimately responsible. Typical responses from the architectural professionals included:

“The lead architectural consultant should be ultimately responsible to the owner to deliver related services of the project for the entire design team. The project management team appointed by the owner after the architect has finished the design lacks full content of the project. The leader of project management team may not be an architect and so cannot do a better job than the lead architectural consultant.”

“The lead architect should be ultimately responsible for the design service including coordination of the entire consultant team, steering the project through the planning process making sure budgets are met etc. The project managers should be responsible for making sure that things happen when they are supposed to happen.”

Project managers’ responses
More than 58% of project management team and related professionals believe that the project management team is ultimately responsible. Typical responses from project management professionals were:

“As a project manager working for the owner it is the project manager’s ultimate responsibility to play the lead role in delivering the project on budget and on schedule. The project manager can make a project successful or a total failure.”

“The client project management team should be responsible to coordinate, but ultimately design responsibility rests with the relevant design consultant.”

“From my experience and perspective the answer will almost always be the project management team. I say this because I feel the project management team has less limitation on acting on the owner’s behalf than the lead architect.”

“The most important factor in determining good design outcomes is the owner’s ability to understand the relationship of product to business model and the role of design within this. While a consulting project manager can be introduced at a certain stage, the owner should have a basic development, project management and design leadership capability inhouse. Where this is unsustainable, the owner should seek out formal or informal framework agreements with consulting project managers and architects that can be sustained over a series of projects to build the necessary circle of trust.”

Consultants’ responses
More than one in three design and project consultants believe that both the architectural lead consultant and the project management team are jointly ultimately responsible. Typical responses from the design and project consultant professionals were:

“From my experience and perspective the ultimate responsibility to the owner to deliver the design related services of the project for the entire design team is the project management team, the lead architectural consultant normally provides services to the project management team, which in turn takes the accountability from that domain.”

“I’ve found that the architect has a set vision for these buildings including detailed integration of the services into the built form. I would have the architect responsible for the services design delivery to enable coordination of this vision. I would see the role of the project manager to ‘control’ the architect and to ensure that the client’s objectives for the end product/cost/program are delivered.”

One respondent declared that the owner is ultimately responsible for the delivery of the design.

The result of the survey clearly shows that there is a distinctly different perspective from each of the different professional groups surveyed. It is was also clearly expressed in a number of the  responses that the clear definition in contract and scope for this ultimate responsibility is required to ensure that the entire project team and the individual team members clearly understand their roles and ultimate responsibilities to deliver the design to the project owner.

Paul Sancandi
Paul Sancandi is a senior design manager with InfraSol Group. He has a technical background as a structural engineer, owned an architectural and engineering practice and has worked in Australia, Asia and the Middle East on a wide range of small to mega projects over the past 32 years.
Read more

One thought on “Assigning responsibility on a building project

  1. Over the years I’ve worked as a PM for the 3 key players: architect, contractor, and owner. ‘Ultimate responsibility’ translates into who pays for fixing problems usually encountered during the bidding process, or in the field. The owner’s PM is reponsible for making sure that it’s either the architect or the contractor.

    In my view, the most important contract clauses hold the architect responsible for designing to within a certain % of owner’s budget… and the contractor responsible for ensuring that it can be built out that way. Each player must include their own budgetary contingencies based on the complexity of the project and conditions that couldn’t be anticipated, as well as their own internal abilities to actually fulfill these responsibilities.

Comments are closed.