Best Practices

Understanding Why Conventional Review Strategies Fail

Understanding the QA/QC challenges faced by architecture firms and how emerging solutions may offer a more effective solution.
Brian Novello
June 8, 2022

Understanding the need for proper QA/QC in architecture firms

The probability of contract documents being submitted for permit or bid while containing avoidable errors or omissions is significantly higher than most architecture firms (and clients) would consider acceptable. Among the contributing factors are that projects have become more complex while development schedules are being increasingly constrained. With an ever broadening range of consultants and stakeholders, coordination and development logistics are increasingly burdensome. Client fees typically don’t compensate for this level of service and therefore firm’s often don’t budget the necessary time to properly review contract drawings. The intent of a project review is to evaluate the fitness of the instruments of service — the contract documents — would satisfy the client’s stated objectives while conforming to good professional practice. The goal is to provide feedback to reduce the likelihood of claims and to make any filed claims easier to defend. Most firms today struggle with project reviews, as most have either informal, or poorly implemented, QA/QC procedures.

An independent reviewer is unbiased by the project's design development and therefore can recognize gaps in documentation missed by the project team.

How conventional review strategies fail

Project reviews are routinely performed within architecture firms, but often with mixed outcomes. These varied results are driven by many factors, but the most predominant issues are the availability of experienced reviewers and the amount of time allotted to complete the review. As design schedules are customarily short and subject to change, production teams are often still developing the contract documents up to the deadline. As such, project teams can rarely afford to remove a senior architect from the production effort for 3–5 days to perform a dedicated, comprehensive review. This challenge only compounded by the fact that most consultant drawing packages (MEP, structural, civil, landscape, interiors, IT, etc.) typically aren’t available until just prior to submission deadline, making performing a proper discipline coordination review nearly impossible. Architects are too often forced to submit packages they aren’t fully confident in, risking the firm’s reputation as embedded mistakes are later discovered by the contractor and client.

A project review that is performed by an independent team or individual not associated with the design team is the most effective strategy. Whether the review is performed internally or externally, the key is that the assessment be conducted by an entity that did not participate in the original design and is unlikely to miss some deficiency or possible problem because of time or budget constraints. Members of the design team are inherently biased by their involvement in project’s development, and will miss issues that are easily identified by an outside set of critical, independent eyes.

The following are some common tactics firms have employed to alleviate this pervasive problem:

    As firm’s are typically unable to remove senior staff from production efforts, they often expect these individuals to perform reviews “after-hours”, on weeknights and weekends. This self-defeating strategy not only produces incomplete reviews, but leads to staff burnout, which in turn, results in more errors during production hours. Overtime, this overstepping of workplace boundaries can lead to animosity towards the firm on behalf of the reviewer and their families. The effectiveness of these reviews are also is diminished by the reviewers association with the original design team, which leads to blind-spots avoided by an outside perspective.

    Another common strategy is to utilize a project manager or principal from outside the immediate production team, but within the firm. This strategy is subject to the same pitfalls as the “after-hour” reviews as most senior staff within a firm will already have a full schedule with their own project teams. The unfortunate reality is that when a mere few hours is set aside, the reviewer barely has enough time to attain an overview of the project, much less review and understand its intricacies. Senior staff often have different experience backgrounds which can drastically affect their effectiveness in performing a comprehensive project review. Finally, often not considered, but office politics can unfortunately play a role in unexpected ways within the review process.

    Larger firms often have a dedicated reviewer, or team, on staff. While this is a great practice, scheduling conflicts are commonly reported. These individuals are often booked weeks in advance, limiting both their flexibility to accommodate schedule shifts and constraining the duration of the review. Single reviewers are also limited by their individual experience which may not always be the optimal match to the project typology.

Rethinking Traditional QA/QC  -  An Emerging Solution

Increasingly, design firms are using independent, 3rd-party peer reviewers as a way to manage firm exposure by assessing design deliverables before they become final. Having independent experts, or even just another set of experienced eyes, review the contract documents reduces incidents, claims, and costs. These experts are unbiased by the project’s design development and therefore can recognize gaps in documentation missed by the project team. With the proper planning and foresight, firms can avoid many of the common pitfalls associated with issuing deficient contract documents. These mistakes can derail progress or even stop a project in its tracks.

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