The top 7 sources of uncertainty in building design
What keeps owners and project teams up at night? Discover their greatest fears, along with best practices for managing those risks, in a new project planning guide from AIA and its industry partners.
Even the most experienced owners and project teams run into complications as they go through the design and construction process. Some are easy to anticipate while others are unforeseeable, but all can be managed with the right strategies. To help highlight those strategies, AIA—along with the Large Firm Roundtable, Dodge Data & Analytics, and other industry partners—sponsored the research that led to this project planning guide.
It not only identifies the top sources of uncertainty but offers expert recommendations and leadership lessons that can help the entire team plan for problems and achieve the best possible outcomes. Based on responses from more than 300 owners, architects, and construction contractors, these are the seven challenges that keep project teams up at night:
- Owner-driven changes: Whether the owner’s requirements were unclear initially or modified during the lengthy planning process, changes in needs often result in added costs and are the number-one source of project uncertainty.
- Design omissions and communication gaps: Builders are not mind readers, and not every piece of essential hardware is outlined or included in the details provided by architects and engineers. If both sides aren’t asking questions during construction, this could be an issue.
- Construction coordination: When you’re responsible for procuring and assembling thousands of components, as the construction team is, there’s a chance you’ll miss something. Unique or customized designs will also inevitably require modifications during construction.
- Unknown site or building conditions: Rock or unstable soil during excavation, along with previously unidentified underground utilities or structural problems during a renovation, are just a few of the surprises that could pop up early in a project.
- Design or documentation mistakes: Nobody’s perfect, not even architects. More than 90 percent of the owners surveyed in this research believe it is impossible to achieve immaculate design documents, and 80 percent expect to absorb additional cost from minor mistakes.
- Accelerated design and construction schedules: An owner may want to hurry his or her project to completion, for reasons both rational and selfish, but rushing can often lead to additional mistakes and coordination issues.
- Delays in procurement, fabrication or assembly: There are numerous reasons for delays, including labor or material shortages and “acts of God,” and they can all wreak havoc on deadlines and the bottom line.
As for managing these challenges, the project planning guide comes with a list of detailed recommendations. They include:
- Clear and direct leadership from within the owner's organization
- Early assembly of the entire project team
- Strong and open communication, especially amongst large teams
The guide also offers a contingency calculator that architects can use to review cost impacts, determine how long each risk will be present, and find the total recommended contingency amount. More than anything, the key to managing uncertainty is early budget planning across the entire team: owner, architect, engineers, and builder. Establishing scope and expectations at the start can pay dividends down the line.
For more, including a summary checklist with key project planning recommendations, download the full project planning guide. An AIAU course on managing uncertainty is also available, with a $15 discount for AIA members and 1.25 LUs upon completion.
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