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Last edited 23 Dec 2020
Design: a quality management perspective
 Concept > Preliminary > Detail Design
The techniques for quality assurance used tend to be similar at each stage. They are therefore listed here as an overview:
- Design risk assessment
- Design review
- Document & drawing control
- Calculations & computer modelling control
- Checking & approval
- Design change control
- Post-project review (lessons learned)
Primarily, it is the scope of the application of each technique that can vary between design stages, eg as the design increases in complexity, a more in-depth approach to both design review and checking & approval is required.
For the purposes of this article, two or three of the techniques are considered for each design stage but their application is not limited to any stage.
Concept design is an early phase of the design process often used to determine the feasibility of options in order to arrive at solutions which meet the client’s requirements. This could range from proposing refurbishment of an existing asset to demolition and constructing anew.
For the development of its estate, Imperial College London  describes concept design as the stage at which, ‘The design team shall explore all design options/proposals that could meet the requirements of the design brief and develop them into concept design including outline proposals for structural design, services systems, outline specifications, and preliminary cost plan along with environmental, energy, ecology, access or other project strategies‘.
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Planning Guide, 4th Edition  says that the output of concept design stage, is that the designer, ‘should provide a sufficient level of detail so that decision makers may properly evaluate the cost functionality and aesthetics of the proposed system’.
 1. Design risk sssessment
The design risk assessment tool involves identifying risks arising in the design, understanding who will be affected and determining appropriate measures to mitigate any significant risks that cannot be avoided. Design organisations tend to have their own bespoke templates which address the two key aspects of risk identification and mitigation. The Association for Project Safety  offers the ‘Pre construction phase design risk register’ template on its website at: https://www.aps.org.uk/supporting-example-documents-and-templates
Furthermore, risk assessment in a similar way can be used to identify sustainability opportunities and environmental risks. Like health & safety, prevention of pollution in the environment is a legal requirement which is best considered from the very beginning in order to reach the most effective solutions as the output of design. While technically not a legal requirement, good sustainability analysis can bring not just environmental benefits to the project but offer cost savings as well, eg in achieving reduced energy consumption costs through specifying better insulation in buildings.
 2. Design review
Imperial College London mandates that project design reviews shall be held during the concept design stage. These would be a feature of any designer’s management system at all design stages, as it is required by ISO 9001:2015 , art 8.2.3 (Review of the requirements for products and services).
- The reviewer appointed should be a competent and experienced design engineer
- The reviewer should be independent of the project team, if possible, or at least not connected to the day-to-day design activity. This is so that they bring a fresh pair of eyes to the review
- Carry out the review at critical stages in the design process; these should be defined in the quality plan
- Verify that the design being developed is consistent with the design objectives established
- Review drawings, calculations, test requirements etc to identify and correct potential problems (including in the deliverables)
- Standardised approach using an electronic form to provide a template for recording the findings of the review, their acceptance or otherwise by the project principal and the improvement actions taken as a result by the project manager
This is high-level design that takes forward the chosen option(s) in the concept design to create the framework on which to build the later detail design. Preliminary design is about determining how the overall project will be configured for construction.
At this stage, the design team will also do field investigations, eg geotechnical. They will also study the layout of the areas concerned, including building systems and statutory undertakings (location of power cables, broadband lines, drainage, sewers etc). They are seeking to establish the potential impact of the presence of these services and determine how the project will be designed to accommodate them.
It is important that all documentation on the project is controlled so that the correct version is used by the intended recipient. This includes documents and drawings received, eg from the client, as well as the ones the design team produces. Registers are used in this case.
- Originator (incoming information)
- Date item received or issued
- Title of the item
- A unique reference for the document, drawing etc (facilitates traceability)
- Revision status
- Purpose of issue (eg ‘For information’)
- Folder location assigned (Incoming)
- The project manager’s review and approval of all incoming information for use on the project
System software is available for records management such as ‘MS SharePoint’, ‘Livelink’ and ‘Bentley’. A key security feature is the flexibility to be able to restrict access to folders to only those members of the project team who need all or just certain information.
For calculations, a ‘Calculations cover sheet’ is commonly used to administer each set. It serves to provide a records trail of the development of the calculations from the inputs, through checking & approval to where the outputs will ultimately be used (eg refer to drawing numbers).
Where more than one set of calculations is performed, they are registered using a simple ‘Calculations index’.
Computer modelling and demand forecasting can be foremost in customers’ minds in that mistakes can be expensive for them. For example, should the demand forecasted for the public use of a toll road as designed exceed the actual experience in operation, this would leave a gap in the highway operator’s financial expectations which had been derived from those forecasts.
The applicable quality assurance principles can be distilled to three activities:
- Carry out a ‘peer assist’ at the beginning of the project where a more experienced modeller sits down with the project team and mentors the planning and direction of the work
- Produce a checking plan
- Review that the work is being carried out in accordance with that checking plan
Detail design provides definition for the project. IEEE , the technical professional organisation for the advancement of technology, describes detail design as, ‘The process of refining and expanding the preliminary design phase of a system or component to the extent that the design is sufficiently complete to be implemented’.
This approach is used on major infrastructure projects.
All information produced must be verified for its suitability for the intended purpose before it is issued. In essence, the checker(s) must have the competence to check the design output (documents, drawings, calculations specifications etc) and thereafter the approver satisfies themselves that an effective check was performed.
Checkers and approvers should be nominated in the quality plan for the project. They should have been assessed as competent for their role. Typically, in an engineering discipline, checkers can be of chartered status with five years or more experience. The approver is usually more senior with greater experience.
 6. Design change control
ISO 9001:2015  art 8.3.6 requires design and development changes to be controlled, to record what the changes are and how they came about (ie through design review). It is especially the impact the change is expected to have that must be understood.
Where the need for a change is identified by a member of the design team, the design lead determines any necessary action and ensures that the reason for the change is recorded. Internal authorization should be obtained, eg from the project principal, before formal submission of the change to the client, eg in the form of an ‘Early warning notice’.
Where a design or scope change is required in response to an alteration in the client’s requirements, the design lead must obtain a written instruction from the client, eg by way of a ‘Compensation event’ notification.
Any design change resulting in a variation to the project budget needs to be reported by the project manager to the client for their approval. This is the case whether the change is instigated by the project team or one of its partners or sub-consultants.
As the project completes, there is unlikely to be an opportunity to make significant changes to it now but lessons can be identified for future projects; not just ‘Things gone wrong’ but success factors as well.
A database to record these ideas at all stages of the project lifecycle is beneficial. The information stored can then be searched at any time when inspiration is sought but this is particularly effective before starting new projects. Studying what has gone before can save time and money in setting the direction of the new project.
Nevertheless, this can be condensed into two questions:
- What worked well?
- What could have been done differently?
-  Imperial College London, Estates – Project Management. Project procedures. http://www.imperial.ac.uk/estates-projects/project-procedures/processes/design-management/prepare-stage-2-report/
-  Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Planning Guide, 4th Edition. https://brtguide.itdp.org/branch/master/guide/infrastructure-management-and-costing/infrastructure-design-process
-  Association for Project Safety, documents and templates. https://www.aps.org.uk/supporting-example-documents-and-templates
-  Mott MacDonald, design, engineering and management consultants. www.mottmac.com
-  IEEE. “IEEE Standard Glossary of Software Engineering Terminology.” IEEE, 1990, p.34. https://www.ieee.org/
-  ISO 9001:2015 – Quality management systems – Requirements.
-  ISO 10005:2005 – Quality management systems – Guidelines for quality plans.
Original article written by Kevin Rogers and reviewed by Keith Hamlyn and Tony Hoyle on behalf of the Chartered Quality Institute, Construction Special Interest Group; approved for publication on 17 September 2018
--ConSIG CWG 13:44, 05 Jan 2019 (BST)
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