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Conducting Project Reviews

Executive Summary

This paper identifies an approach to the “high-level” review of on-going projects for senior college managers. The framework is flexible, encouraging managers to begin by identifying objectives or benchmarks relevant to their project. Following these procedures will also be a useful vehicle for college governor participation and prepare colleges for the post-occupancy evaluation process identified by the Skills Funding Agency.

Principal Author; Jonathan Herbert


Holding reviews throughout a design/construction project, and at least once when a building is occupied, is a recognised part of current best practice and increasingly commonplace. All projects require significant amounts of time and money; however just a few additional hours spent on project review can produce real benefits for project process and ultimately for the finished building.

We consider that first and foremost it is useful to conduct methodical reviews of progress toward agreed benchmarks; these benchmarks should be identified with each college’s overall objectives in mind.

On any given project it is usual to retain a group of design and construction professionals who will typically report to an architect or a construction project manager and they, in turn, to a designated college manager. The exact nature of reporting will vary according to project type, scale and overall timescale. This guidance recommends a very high-level analysis separate from these detailed reporting procedures and does not replace them; it is meant to support three objectives:

• consistent senior management and governance oversight as the project progresses;
• ensuring that the finished building is a product of clear thinking around its purpose, and sound decision making around its design;
• to provide the groundwork for the Post-Occupancy Evaluation specified by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

The Skills Funding Agency guidance can be found here SFA Capital Funding; following the guidance in this paper during the course of a project will generate a good proportion of the information required by the SFA process.

Note that for those searching for guidance on the client’s role during a design/construction project, a good starting point is theGood Client Relationships  documentavailable on our website.


How Often Should Reviews Occur?

These are high-level assessments of the project’s overall performance and, as already indicated, should not be confused with other progress meetings and all the other necessary communications and effort necessary to deliver a project.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Work (2013) identifies eight work stages during a project; these stages are well defined, widely acknowledged and understood throughout the design/construction industry. They are listed below:

• Stage 0 Strategic Definition
• Stage 1 Preparation and Brief
• Stage 2 Concept Design
• Stage 3 Developed Design
• Stage 4 Technical Design
• Stage 5 Construction
• Stage 6 Hand-Over & Close Out
• Stage 7 In Use

Colleges can carry out a project review at every RIBA work-stage. However we recommend that project reviews occur at the completion of the following stages:

• Stage 1 Preparation and Brief
• Stage 2 Concept Design
• Pre-Tender for the Construction Contract*
• Stage 6 Hand-Over & Close Out**
• Stage 7 In Use (after a minimum of 12 months: “post-occupancy evaluation”)

Clearly there is little value in conducting interim reviews unless the programme then allows time for any corrective actions. When preparing overall project programmes the precise timing of interim reviews, and suitable response periods, should be borne in mind.

* Some construction procurement solutions may require the contractor, once appointed, to provide all outstanding design work. Therefore construction contracts can be let before stage 5 (Construction) and during Further Education projects this can occur at stages 4, 3 or even upon completion of stage 2. Whatever solution is adopted we recommend that a review occurs prior to tendering the construction contract as this is the college’s last significant opportunity to affect the design without a risk of cost or time consequences.

** Stage 6 can be a stressful time for clients! Furthermore the opportunity for review to positively influence the process has, by definition, passed. It is recommended that review at this stage focus on the more measurable outcomes and only occurs once all activities normally associated with the college’s first occupation of the building are completed.


The Value of Benchmarks or “Metrics”

Formal review is usually undertaken using a set of consistent benchmarks (also known as “metrics”) that can be referenced throughout the lifetime of a project. This guidance identifies easily measurable Common Metrics, alongside some much broader criteria that can be developed into Project Specific Metrics.

Prior to identifying metrics, we considered what their specific purpose in the context of a stage review might be. We found three uses:

• Design/Construction projects can be taxing and participants can loose sight of what a project is actually for; developing metrics at the early stages causes everyone to think about what is important and then keep this in mind.
• Interim reviews examine the design development, project performance and can identify the need for any corrective action/improvements.
• The same metrics can be used to evaluate the overall performance of a project once it is in use; this gives constructive feedback to all participants and also to external funding agencies (Post-Occupancy Evaluation).

Therefore metrics should help us establish:

• what is important;
• review of design and project performance;
• constructive feedback post-completion.


Common Metrics

On most projects certain things can be measured on a largely consistent basis. These include:

1. Targeted/Achieved Key Milestone Dates
2. Targeted/Achieved Revisions to Gross Floor Area
3. Targeted/Achieved Revision to Annual Estates Costs
4. Targeted/Achieved Revision to Condition of Overall Estate
5. Targeted/Achieved Capital Cost of Project
6. Targeted/Achieved Construction Cost Rates
7. Targeted/Achieved Project Funding

This data is generally relatively easy to define and to measure. An analysis of out-turns after completion then allows us to see just how well we did against these specific targets.

Note that targets should not be set arbitrarily but keep in mind the particular objectives of the college. For example it would be appropriate to set a maximum level of capital spend whilst at the same time using the project to rationalise the overall quantity of floor space and hence reduce annual estates costs; we could also target an improvement in the overall condition of the estate. Therefore measurable targets have the ability to ensure that the project is financially sustainable (by balancing capital expenditure with long-term savings) and reflect broader key objectives (improving estate condition). By the same token targets must be sensible and realistic and never overly aggressive. For example setting too low a budget will adversely affect quality; it is important to take professional advice here.



Project Specific Metrics

The following identifies broader criteria from which additional Project Specific Metrics can be developed. Not all will be applicable to every project; it is for the college to decide which are most relevant. By the same token the list is not exhaustive and colleges may identify new criteria. The term “metrics” can seem rather dry. However if college managers and the consultant team respond thoughtfully and imaginatively to the questions set out below then there is an opportunity to articulate a vision that encourages positive action – we can create a real sense of purpose!

We have classified these under three headings (3Ps):

• Purpose: why are we investing in this project?
• Process: how will we deliver the project?
• Product: describe the building’s design and how this responds to the above.

In summary: Purpose triggers a Process that yields a suitable Product.


What is the declared Purpose of the project? Of the three above headings Purpose is king – it’s why the project exists. In business terms, there is no benefit in a superficially well-run project delivering a beautiful building if the original objectives are largely forgotten. This is not to say that an attractive environment is not extremely important, it almost always is, but project participants must maximise benefit to the college by keeping in mind all the identified purposes of the investment.

At the start of the project it should be possible to identify a variety of purposes. Obviously these may simply relate to the day-to-day use of the space. However they should also relate to learning outcomes, local economic growth or other additional benefits to the institution.

Potential Project Specific Metrics (Purpose)

At the start of the project, and absolutely no later than RIBA stage 1, consider the following questions. The answers to these questions may then form a strategic brief, in effect key Project Specific Metrics, for the consultant team. Try to be as precise as possible.

1. Identify/Quantify targeted key learning-outcomes
(that would not reasonably be achieved without the project).
2. What are the broad economic and social benefits?
3. What is the contribution to the Local Enterprise Partnership’s (or other funding organisations’) economic growth priorities? Particular reference should be made to targets identified within any capital support/grant applications.
4. How will the project contribute to more innovative learning on specific programmes or generally across the institution?
5. How will the project encourage and motivate learners by improving the overall student experience?
6. Does the institution expect the project to make a difference to the way the wider community perceives its brand/identity?
7. How will the project improve the institution’s progress towards acting in an environmentally sustainable manner?

Potential Project Specific Metrics (Process)

Process is a means to an end. There are a large number of interconnected activities crucial to the smooth running of the project (for example selecting appropriate construction contracts and tendering procedures); the college’s professional team will advise and lead on these matters. We have therefore restricted the Process Metrics to those key matters over which college managers will need to make early key policy decisions.

At the start of the project, and absolutely no later than RIBA stage 1, consider the following questions:

1. What is the College’s internal communications strategy? Crucially how will key stakeholders who will use the facilities (or manage them) be consulted, kept up to speed with design development, and inducted in to their eventual use?

Colleges may wish to consider a “soft-landings” strategy. This term is increasingly used within the property industry, reflecting the need for a smoother transition between the design, construction and operational phases. In formal terms Soft Landings is the BSRIA-led process (Building Services Research and Information Association) designed to close the gap between design intentions and operational outcomes. This process incorporates the best practice already exhibited by many design and construction companies. However the formal BSRIA process requires designers and constructors to remain closely involved beyond practical completion, offering aftercare for up to three years. For further advice see: https://www.bsria.co.uk/services/design/soft-landings

2. The client may require the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM essentially involves a range of property professionals collaborating through the entire lifecycle of an asset from design concept to decommission; it is underpinned by recent developments in technology that allow the co-creation of 3D models with useful data “attached” to the virtual building elements that make up the design. A model is normally initiated by the design team ensuring a high degree of coordination between architects and engineers; however the information may also be used and developed by the contractor to schedule materials, establish costs and plan safe and efficient construction. Ultimately facilities management tools can make use of the same data, presenting building managers with detailed models of their buildings and information on the specification of materials and components. This then very much supports the aforementioned “soft-landings” process. What are the college’s requirements in relation to BIM? BIM is relatively new to the industry and there are many websites; a good place to start is: http://www.buildingsmart.org.uk; alternatively for a consultant’s perspective see: http://bimblog.bondbryan.com.

3. What internal college management resources need to be dedicated to the project and what external professional disciplines are required to make up the project team? It is important to take professional advice on this and ideally from more than one source; construction project managers are particularly able to help. List participating individuals/companies and review the overall scope of their services to ensure compatibility and completeness.

Potential Project Specific Metrics (Product)

We consider that Product should be a response to Purpose. What kind of building (Product) do we wish to create in response to the Purposes identified earlier? How will it look, feel and work? When answering these questions at the early stages we are defining our design objectives (or product metrics). The Architect may also recognise the term “Design Quality Indicators” (DQIs) meaning a series of declared design goals against which the increasingly developed design proposals can be tested.

Design, particularly at the early stages, is normally a highly fluid thought process as the designer tests out a range of often quite divergent ideas. Essentially the designer is searching, often quite intuitively, for a concept capable of development into an appropriate overall response. This should trigger a highly productive dialogue with the client. It is for these reasons that we recommend delaying confirmation of these project specific metrics until RIBA stage 2 (Concept Design).

Once a concept has been agreed with the client then it should it be possible for the design team to answer the questions set out below. In doing so we are now forming a design manifesto for the detailed work that still lies ahead, therefore it is important that the client understands and agrees to the answers – some or all can be then be selected as Project Specific Metrics. Manager may also wish to refer to other approaches to DQIs including the comprehensive approach to be found at: http://www.dqi.org.uk

1. Estates Strategy/Masterplan: Understanding the bigger picture is vital. Crucially the project should respond to any long-term vision and never stymie future development. Is there a wider estates strategy or design masterplan and how does the project fit in?
2. Context/Site Plan: External spaces made for people have a ‘sense of place’. Properly considered routes plus views in and out of the site allow people to make sense of their surroundings. Also, whether to build upon aesthetic themes established by neighbouring structures and spaces or take a different direction should be a carefully considered decision. How does the overall site design respond to these issues and how will we make positive use of external space?
3. Coherence/Legibility: Education buildings should be easy to understand and therefore to use. A hierarchy of spaces and appropriate functional adjacencies connected by straightforward circulation patterns provides clarity and efficiency. How will this be achieved by the project?
4. Sustainable Design: The position of a building, its orientation, form, structure, fabric and servicing arrangements should be all part of a clear strategy founded on sustainable principles. Consider what active systems might also be employed to reduce energy use. How will the building be maintained? How will waste and recycled materials be processed and removed? Is the project targeting a recognised sustainability standard (such as BREEAM) and how will this be achieved?
5. Agility/Flexibility: The inherent flexibility of a building invariably determines its useful lifespan. The building’s primary structure, its shell, its staircase and services cores should be capable of accommodating change. Furthermore consider how the spaces under development can be designed so that they can be shared by the greatest possible variety of present-day users.



What Form Should the Reviews Take?

Crucially meetings should be about motivating the team as much as holding participants to account; emphasise the positive by reminding everyone of the College’s vision and purpose for the project. Key representatives of the client and consultant team should work together to identify, and then assess progress towards, the set of common and project specific metrics.

It is best to have a single person appointed to lead and develop the process – this can be someone internal or external to the college. Meetings should be carefully chaired and be as concise as reasonably possible. They should not be part of other meetings but stand-alone. All projects are different, but it is hard to envisage an effective review taking much less than two hours, yet more than four hours is unlikely to be very productive! Interim reviews may be carried out in a relatively simple and succinct way; the greatest tasks will be to define and confirm the metrics in the early stages and then to carry out the final review once the building has been occupied.

It’s recommended that whoever leads the process does an amount of research prior to the meetings; this may involve receiving reports from others. Following each meeting, the leader’s report should be issued to all attendees for comment and then final issue to all (including those college governors tasked with project oversight).

At interim review meetings, should progress against a metric appear insufficient, it will not always be possible to identify corrective actions instantly. Consultants may require time and space to think through what changes are for the best. Indeed there is a risk that project collaboration will be stifled if participants feel that they are subject to micro-management within the meetings. It maybe better to record any perceived shortfall and participants can discuss actions after the meeting and report back; ultimately the Construction Project Manager or Architect is likely to be best placed to resolve on-going concerns.


In Summary

• Keep reviews high-level. There are other meetings and management tools that can drill down into fine detail.
• Purpose is king! Choose all metrics carefully to develop a comprehensive yet clear vision as well as setting performance expectations for the project.
• Use the review process to emphasise the vision. It’s important to deliver a positive outcome – few projects are as important as education projects!


Appendix: The Project Evaluation Sheet

Colleges may wish to use our Project Evaluation Sheet also available from this website: (projectevaluationsheet.xls).

This Project Evaluation Sheet is designed to provide a summary of progress and has a separate worksheet tab for each recommended project review stage. Text or Data can be entered into any green shaded cell on any of the sheets.

At each work stage the “Measurable Common Metrics” data can be inputted and the sheet will generate bar charts bar comparing capital cost and funding sources. Note that green shaded cells may already contain sample data (or data from the previous review stage) but this can be overwritten.

Under the headings of Purpose, Process and Product, there is also an opportunity on the first sheet to confirm or redefine the broad criteria (Column B) together with space on every stage sheet to define Project Specific Metrics or comment on progress towards these Metrics (Columns C-G).

Note that cells are limited to around 100 words visibility. This is deliberate in order to encourage a summarised approach, but these summaries can reference additional documentation where necessary.