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Sat 23 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Design Development by Stealth

Philip Adams discusses what contractors should keep in mind before handing in their designs in quantities and what to check when it has not been approved.

Design Development by Stealth

I've been feeling a bit nostalgic of late and hankering for the good old days when a client's quantity surveyor would prepare a traditional bill of quantities and utilising his vast experience, accommodate any ‘gaps' in design in quantities.

The result being a diffusion of the budget time-bomb that is usually ignited by the sudden realisation that the design wasn't as ‘final' as everyone thought it was.

Whilst we may no longer have the traditional bill we still have the ‘gaps' in the design, although these days they are described in much more sexier terms such as ‘design development' or ‘design clarification' or my personal favourite ‘end user requirements.' An attempt is still made to include contingencies in the budget however, in the absence of the detailed knowledge gained from a full take-off, such contingencies may be subjective and as a consequence, too often eroded before the budget is finalised.

Nevertheless, the problem of a ‘not so final' design still remains and the ‘gaps' need to be filled. But how is this done? In that Never-Never-Land where everyone is trusting, co-operative and impartial, a contractor will receive detailed revised drawings incorporating extensive revision notes. However, in the real world where most of us construction folk reside, the ubiquitous Shop Drawing inevitably comes to the rescue.

This essential design development tool can appear in many guises such as a fabrication drawing or template.

I have had experience of several situations where shop drawings have been rejected over and over again, until they have become unrecognisable as shop drawings. This protracted rejection and approval process can often result in the transformation of a shop drawing into something resembling a construction drawing. In some more extreme situations the initial ‘For Construction' drawings may be no more than schematics with the result that the majority of the design is actually carried out through the shop drawing approval process.

The main impact of this on the contractor or specialist subcontractor is a huge increase in their design resources and in particular, the requirement for armies of CAD operators. Plus, the receipt of changes and variations by the ‘back door' and last but by no means least, accusations of delay and threats of penalties due to late approval of shop drawings.

In other industries such as rail, oil and gas and telecommunications, design development occurs more often than not, via the design document submittal process. Each design submission prepared by the contractor and submitted for approval, will be returned resplendent with one of several big red stamps such as: ‘Approved', ‘Approved with Comments', ‘Returned for Re-Submittal' or ‘Rejected'.

In practice a contractor is more likely to spot a U-turn signal when driving on Sheikh Zayed Road, than see a nice big red ‘Approved' stamped across his document. Frequently, the document will contain several comments, which will purport to describe some deficiency in the detailed design, but may in fact represent fundamental changes to the concept design or front-end engineering.

So what can a contractor do when faced with these problems? Well, firstly he must implement a process whereby each shop drawing or design submittal returned not approved, is thoroughly checked and verified against the scope of works. If changes have been introduced, these need to be notified, investigated and if necessary, claims submitted including full substantiation of costs. Secondly, he may also develop a robust cost valuation reconciliation system, which could provide an early warning of increased design resources.

Philip Adams is an associate director at Systech in Dubai. He has provided commercial, contractual and dispute resolution advice on projects ranging from high specification offices, data centres and long distance fibre optic networks to major civil engineering projects, multi-storey offices and hotels. He is a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a fellow at the Chartered Institute of Arbitration.

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