Evaluating Onsite Design

RT-163 Topic Summary
RT 163


Almost every project requires some level of field design support during execution. This research examines the results of utilizing increased onsite design instead of remote or home office based design, and presents conclusive evidence that performing design activities onsite will improve project performance. These research findings indicate which project performance measurements benefit most significantly from onsite design efforts. Additionally, this research reports the amount of onsite design effort expended on superior performing projects. Several tools are also included in this research package to help guide others towards realizing the benefits of onsite design on future or current projects.

This research found conclusive evidence that onsite design is beneficial and contributes to project success. Projects in the study utilizing onsite design were more constrained by cost, schedule, and technical complexity than projects not using onsite design. Even so, these projects performed as well as those projects not utilizing onsite design in every performance measure category. Furthermore, effective implementation of an onsite design strategy significantly improved 16 of 29 project performance measures.

The major benefits will improve the interface between design and construction through improved communication, more timely and accurate information exchange, and a positive influence on project performance.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Drivers for Onsite Design

For projects utilizing onsite design, this research identified these top 15 drivers (listed below) as having a moderate to major influence on the design strategy. Overall the research identified a list of 34 Basis for Decision drivers for executing projects. (RS163-1, p. 5)

  • Project type
  • Constructability
  • Composition of design team
  • Technical complexity
  • Amount of design-level submittals, approvals, RFIs, constructability, shop drawings
  • Level of risk
  • Communications interface/use of electronic media
  • Schedule constraints
  • Alliances or partnering
  • Favorable past experience
  • Level of scope definition
  • Scope control procedures – scope creep/freeze
  • Design effectiveness
  • Corrective action required during project execution
  • Existing site team 
Reference: (RS163-1)

2 : Performance Measures Improved with Onsite Design

To identify the benefits that actually accrue from performing design activities on site, previous CII research was referenced to generate a comprehensive list of 29 project performance measure. These performance measures are broadly categorized as being related to Cost, Quality, Schedule, and Safety. The research discovered that the use of onsite design significantly improved 16 of the 29 performance measures evaluated in the research. Four examples of these 16 are shown below, while all project performance measures are detailed in the research. (RS163-1, p. 6)

  • Cost – Value engineering savings
  • Quality – Ease of startup
  • Schedule – Time to process change orders
  • Safety – Safety standards incorporated into design

Reference: (RS163-1)

3 : Top 10 Design Activities Performed on Site by Project Phase

As part of the research process 50 distinct design activities commonly performed on industrial and commercial type projects were identified. For any given project, the decision to perform any of these activities on site varied with the specific project requirements and the detailed plan for project execution. The research identified the top 10 design activities to be performed on site for each project phase. As example, the top 10 activities for the Front End Planning phase are listed below. Details for all project phases can be found in the research. (RS163-1, p. 8)

  • Prepare, monitor, or maintain project scope
  • Process and facility planning
  • Develop environmental scope
  • Prepare/revise preliminary estimates
  • Prepare, monitor, or maintain project execution plan
  • Conduct site evaluation
  • Develop utilities and offsite scope
  • Develop/modify site plan
  • Prepare, monitor, and maintain schedule
  • Develop preliminary design, including PFDs & P&IDs

Reference: (RS163-1)

4 : Onsite Design Tool

This decision support tool was developed to assist project teams in determining which design activities should be performed on site, by project phase to achieve improvement in user-selected performance measures. The tool uses the 34 decision drivers and the 29 project performance measures, identified by the research, as selection criteria by the project team in three steps:

  • Step 1 – Define the "Why" of your project execution strategy by selecting 5 of the 34 decision drivers.
  • Step 2 – Define "What" is critically important to achieve by selecting 5 of the 29 performance measures.
  • Step 3 – The OSD Tool generates a specific list of design activities to be performed on site to improve the criteria selected in Steps 1 and 2.

The OSD Tool is useful during the development of the project execution plan; however the flexibility of the tool allows the user to determine which activities are most likely to improve the selected performance measures during any particular project phase. Details of the OSD Tool:

Reference: (RS163-1)

5 : Implementation Tool #1

IR163-2, Onsite Design Tool for Project Planning

This On-site Design Tool (OSD Tool) is a decision support software tool designed to assist project teams in determining which design activities should be performed on site, by project phase, to achieve improvements in user-selected performance measure(s).

Included in the tool are two case study examples to demonstrate how the tool can be applied to determine which design activities should be executed on site to maximize the performance benefit.

Reference: (IR163-2)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved quality, Improved schedule, Improved safety, Improved design

Research Publications

Onsite Design Tool for Project Planning, Second Edition - IR163-2

Publication Date: 12/2003 Type: Implementation Resource Pages: 58 Status: Tool

Onsite Design - RR163-11

Publication Date: 09/2003 Type: Research Report Pages: 121 Status: Reference

Onsite Design: When and How Much? - RS163-1

Publication Date: 03/2003 Type: Research Summary Pages: 20 Status: Supporting Product

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Onsite Design

Publication Date: 07/2002 Presenter: David Bowlin Number of Slides: 28 Event Code: AC02