RT-008 Topic Summary
RT 008


Design is a central activity of the project, and design effectiveness is one of the major determinants of project success. Design is a complex and creative process in which the interplay of numerous factors, including physical, financial, and environmental constraints and technical and managerial knowledge, harmonize and result in plans, specifications, and models that are aimed at satisfying the owner’s project needs. Effective design is the product of effective teamwork among the owner, the designer, and the construction contractor. In most projects, decisions made in the early project phases, including scope definition, selection of the designer, and basic engineering have the highest influence on the project.

The owner, by far, is the major contributor of design input variables. Owners should carefully identify project objectives and priorities so design outcome parameters will not compete and thereby reduce design effectiveness. If early input variables are handled properly, other variables later in the project are positively impacted. Therefore, input variables must be properly managed as early as possible.

Design is a complex process involving the reconciliation of competing objectives and constraints, and is a major determinant of project success. Nonetheless, it provides a project’s central point of translation of ideas into specific instructions. Design effectiveness, however, does not apply to evaluating the design process itself but in how close the design comes to meeting the stated objectives. Design effectiveness is one of the major determinants of project success.

A key observation of this research indicates that a potential reduction of up to 10 percent in design costs can be realized if the design process follows suggestions identified in this research. To emphasize an earlier statement, the biggest factor influencing any project is the degree of completeness in scope definition.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Design Evaluation Matrix

The research identified the following seven criteria as most suited for an initial evaluation of design effectiveness. These criteria can be evaluated both during and after completion of project construction, but before the project team disperses. Detailed discussions for each of these criteria are included in the research. The seven criteria are further developed as a “Design Evaluation Matrix” where scores and weights for each criteria may be provided by the project team to create an overall design performance value. The Design Evaluation Matrix can be used for any project type or area of a project. (RS8-1, p. 5)

  • Accuracy of Design Documents
  • Usability of Design Documents
  • Cost of Design
  • Constructability
  • Economy of Design
  • Performance against Schedule
  • Ease of Start-Up

This research indicates that projects may be divided into seven phases:

  1. The Conceptual/Preliminary Analysis
  2. Project Initiation and Organization
  3. Basic Engineering
  4. Detail Planning
  5. Production Engineering and Procurement
  6. Construction
  7. Commissioning

Input variables occur in the first five phases, but those having a major influence occur primarily during Phases I and II.

Source Documents SD-16 and SD-22 provide supporting research details for Key Finding #1.

Reference: (RS8-1)

2 : Guidelines for Design Effectiveness

Over 40 input variables that may impact design effectiveness were identified during the research, while the 10 input variables, listed below, were identified as having the greatest impact on design effectiveness. The magnitudes of the impact of each of these input variables are identified in the research along with recommendations for each of these 10 input variables. Overall failure to manage design input could increase total project cost by 25 percent or more. (RS8-2, p. 11)

  • Scope Definition
  • Owner Profile and Participation
  • Project Objectives and Priorities
  • Pre-Project Planning
  • Basic Design Data
  • Designer Qualification and Selection
  • Project Manager Qualifications
  • Construction Input
  • Type of Contract
  • Equipment Sources

Further design effectiveness is measured by design outcome parameters and the research identified 25 outcome parameters. These seven outcome parameters were selected as the key outcomes to measure the effects of the above 10 input variables on design effectiveness.

  • Final Project Schedule
  • Constructability
  • Quality of Design
  • Final Project Cost
  • Plant Start-Up
  • Performance
  • Safety

Source Documents, SD-19 and SD-26, provide supporting research details for Key Finding # 2.

Reference: (RS8-2)

3 : Project Control in Design Engineering

This collection of research on design includes CII’s initial research on project control in design engineering. A very important concern in project controls is that of scope definition. The research suggests four key elements for project success: (SD-12, p. 94)

  1. Organization – Two basic project control approaches to organization; a strong matrix or task-force organization
  2. Progress Measurement – How to determine if work is progressing at the planned rate
  3. Schedule – Developing a schedule of the work to be performed is a key element in the planning process.
  4. Project Control System – To be able to control a project, a system must be developed that provides a framework for collecting, storing, and retrieving all project-related data.

The research identified 21 findings that comprise preliminary indications concerning the effectiveness of project controls related techniques and procedures. Contractors identified 16 of these findings while owners identified five. Details of all 21 can be found in the research materials. A few examples of the findings are listed below.

  • Owner – There is a trend to break projects down into several small project elements.
  • Owner – The amount of up front planning and information provided in the bid package differs dramatically from firm to firm.
  • Contractor – There is an increasing emphasis being placed upon educating project personnel in project controls and on decentralizing project control groups.
  • Contractor – There is a trend to controlling work by work packages.
  • Contractor – Small computers are the next technological step in project control.

Another key observation from the research is that the lack of project controls is one of the leading factors of an unsuccessful project as identified by contractors. Factors influencing a project are shown below.

Successful Projects

  • Well-defined scope
  • Early extensive planning
  • Good leadership, management, and first line supervision
  • Involved positive client relationship
  • Project team chemistry
  • Quick resolution to changes
  • Engineering managers concerned with the total project, not just engineering

Unsuccessful Projects

  • Ill-defined scope
  • Poor management
  • Poor planning
  • Communication breakdown between engineering and construction
  • Unrealistic scope, schedule, and budget
  • Poor quality of project team members
  • Many changes
  • Lack of good project controls

Reference: (SD-12)

4 : Implementation Tool #1

RS8-1, Design Evaluation Matrix

This evaluation matrix is a composite indicator of total performance during a measurement period(s). It can be used to track and compare performance over time, including trends while design is in progress. An example of the use of this matrix is included in the research material. (RS8-1, p. 9)
Reference: (RS8-1)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved schedule, Improved quality, Improved safety, Improved startup

Research Publications

Input Variables Impacting Design Effectiveness - RS8-2

Publication Date: 07/1987 Type: Research Summary Pages: 36 Status: Supporting Product

Input Variables Impacting Design Effectiveness - SD-26

Publication Date: 04/1987 Type: Source Document Pages: 253 Status: Reference

Objectives Matrix Values for Evaluation of Design Effectiveness - SD-22

Publication Date: 11/1986 Type: Source Document Pages: 235 Status: Reference

Evaluation of Design Effectiveness - RS8-1

Publication Date: 07/1986 Type: Research Summary Pages: 25 Status: Tool

Evaluation of Design Effectiveness - SD-16

Publication Date: 07/1986 Type: Source Document Pages: 118 Status: Reference

Defining and Evaluating Input Variables Impacting Design Effectiveness: Research Phase I - SD-19

Publication Date: 01/1986 Type: Source Document Pages: 182 Status: Reference