Bulletin to Member: National Study Confirms Broad Benefits Possible from Investment in Quality of Design Documents for Infrastructure Projects

No. 22/04 – March 16, 2022

Research verifies commitments to scheduling, budgets and communication needed to remedy negative project impacts resulting from inadequate supports for scoping, design and delivery

The Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario (CDAO) has published its findings of a comprehensive, 3-year national study examining the relationship between the efficient delivery of major public and private infrastructure projects and owner investment in pre-planning, design, and consulting services. The report was motivated by current market conditions contributing to the negative impacts of significant schedule delays and cost escalations experienced by owners, design consultants, general contractors, and subcontractors. Entitled, Impacts of Pre-Project Investment & Quality of Documents on Project Delivery Efficiencies, the research report is a product of Ryerson University’s, Ryerson Institute for Infrastructure Innovation (RIII). The efforts of the institute were overseen by a CDAO research group, led by ACEC-Ontario’s Executive Director, Bruce Matthews.

Research methodology for the report consisted of a literature review of past research and recent public and private projects agreements, an online survey and in-person interviews. The survey featured four corresponding sets of questions to owners, design consultants, general contractors, and subcontractors. Throughout the report engineers and architects are referenced as the dominant design consultant groups however, the findings are applicable to all design disciplines.

Insufficient Planning and Design Drives Cost

The research findings confirm the importance of project owner commitment to upfront investment in early works during pre-project planning and design stages and the direct cost impact these efforts have on the quality of assignment design documents and subsequent construction performance. The research demonstrates that an error costing $100 to address during project pre-planning could cost $1,000 to remedy during the design phase and $10,000 during construction.

Further Findings and Recommendations

The study also verified a direct and positive correlation between the amount of time and investment owners committed to project pre-planning and the overall quality of design documents in terms of completeness and suitability of purpose. The analysis found:

  1. Owners and stakeholders should spend more time and effort to ensure they adequately scope the project before going to market. The clarity, completeness, and accuracy of the initial information provided in the Request for Proposal was found to have a strong positive correlation with the frequency of client-initiated scope change and the extent of budget change in the design stage, which will further influence the success of bidding and the extent of schedule delay and cost overruns in the construction stage.
  2. There is a need for commitment on the part of owners to allow the time and budget for design reviews, checks, and verifications to be undertaken throughout each phase of the design process. Design documents that are incomplete, unclear, or conflicting from one page to the next impact the efficient delivery of construction projects.
  3. The survey confirmed that design document quality issues are rooted in issues of inadequate time provided, inadequate fees, and inadequate information about existing conditions. These issues frequently result in schedule delays and cost increases during project delivery.

The Way Forward

The study demonstrates that significant opportunities exist for better collaboration and communication among all parties involved in delivering infrastructure projects. This rests in the data demonstrating the view that quality of design documents has been deteriorating over the last 10 years.

The research does not conclude that the quality of design documents is the primary cause of construction project performance issues. However, it does identify a strong correlation between the quality of design documents and construction project delivery as illustrated through particular vehicles such as addenda, RFIs, change orders and directives, and extra service times spent by engineers and architects during construction. To address pre-project planning issues existing condition investigation, clarity of the scope of work, and the accuracy of the initial budget are identified as needing to be improves. To resolve identified construction productivity issues the research shows a strong level of consensus on the need for improving the quality of design documents, improving collaboration and communication, and limiting scope change are the top three recommendations.

For some time, market conditions have been driving a dialogue and search for solutions to make the planning, design, and delivery of infrastructure projects more efficient, less onerous, and ultimately more profitable. Much emphasis has been placed on procurement and management approaches many view to be fueling the conditions that are creating the barriers to the successful completion of these projects. This study has provided some of the first quantitative and qualitative evidence explaining the solutions available and necessary to remedy the sector’s collective frustration. It remains to be seen whether a viable alternative to the current approach to the delivery of infrastructure projects can be realized. ACEC-Ontario is ensuring that this research report is finding its way into the hands of key project owner stakeholders for provincial and municipal infrastructure. It will form an important element of our advocacy efforts going forward.

Should you have any questions about this research report, contact David Zurawel, dzurawel@acecontario.ca.

Members can view resource page here.