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Alternative ways of procuring a building project

Once you’ve made the decision to go ahead with your building project, the next step is to decide how to make it happen – to procure it. There are a number of alternatives and the choice of which to use will depend on the your priorities in terms of matters such as price certainty, timescale, ability to make changes to the design during construction and technical complexity.

The “traditional” method of procurement is to appoint an architect or designer to design and communicate your ideas into a set of drawings and written specifications. A number of suitably experienced builders are then asked to prepare a quotation based on this information and the lowest quotation or tender is usually selected to carry out the building work.

This approach has a number of advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, the design should theoretically be complete and there shouldn’t be any surprises. In other words it should be relatively low on risk. On the negative side, it is rare for the design to be finalised and it often evolves during the construction period. This causes disruption and inevitably an increased final cost. On larger projects, the costs will be valued by the client’s quantity surveyor.

Furthermore it is a long process in terms of time and the Client is one of 3 main members of the contract triangle along with the builder and the designer. The three parties often end up warring as a result of the evolving nature of the design. In fairness, it is rarely possible to be certain about a number of elements of the design, for example unforeseen ground conditions. Furthermore, client may reserve the choice of many of the items that will be on display within the building, including kitchen and bathroom fittings, colours and ironmongery. This can make the traditional method unsatisfactory.

As a consequence of the shortcomings of the “traditional” method a number of alternatives have developed over the years. Within these, attempts to make one organisation responsible for the design and construction process have become popular. In the “design and build” system as it is commonly known, the employer, or his agent, outline their requirements in a written document and invite a number of organisations to prepare proposals. The proposals will address everything required to provide a completed building including the design, construction and often fitting out of the building.

It is a complete package from start to finish. The design and build contractor liaises with the client or his agent and completes the work in accordance with the original requirements. There are no opportunities for increased costs or claims for extra time. This process often results in a lower overall cost and a faster completion time. It does, however, require the client make up his mind about what he wants at an early stage. He does not have the opportunity to make changes and if he does they will have a dramatic effect on time and cost.

The ability to reduce the length of time a project takes to complete, is dependent on the ability for design and construction activities to proceed concurrently. In the “traditional” method, this is not possible because the design should be complete prior to tenders being obtained, though it often isn’t as has already been mentioned. The “design and build” system enables design to develop and to a certain extent construction work can be quoted for and planned at the same time. The certainty of the client’s requirements helps a lot. Fittings and finishes can be considered at the earliest stage. But, as already referred to, the Client’s requirements must be know at the outset.

When the Client is unable to determine his requirements at the earliest stage but is looking for a fast-track build, other procurement systems may be more appropriate. A typical scenario is limited time, often a finite completion date. A total cost budget is known by the Client as is the amount of space required. In such circumstances, neither the “traditional” or the “design and build” systems are suitable. What is required is a team approach which enables design and construction to be progressed consecutively and efficiently. In these circumstances, the “construction management” approach can be used effectively.

“Construction management” is a system whereby the Client appoints a designer and a construction manager to work alongside each other. The construction manager provides advice about the buildability of the design, cost effective methods and materials. The project is broken down into trade element “packages”, for example groundworks, steelwork and electrical work. Whilst the design is progressing, the construction manager obtains quotes for each package, so that they can start work at the earliest opportunity. The construction manager is paid a fee by the client and acts as a member of the Client’s professional team. He will supervise the quality of the work.

Cost control is performed by the clients cost consultant. At the start of the project this will be a broad assessment of the project cost, based on experience and similar projects. This becomes the cost parameter. As the design proceeds, the costs are revised with reference to the cost plan and the specification modified if necessary.

The Client has been mentioned many times and plays a key role in the process. Not least of all because it is the Client who chooses the procurement route which determines the way the project will develop. Projects need managing. Sometimes this is carried out within the Client’s organisation and on other occasions it is beneficial to employ a project manager.





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We are a UK based consultancy providing building design and project management services in connection with residential, commercial, industrial and leisure property.



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