Constructability Reviews: Project Risk Management for Owners

Design and construction of a new building is a rewarding but risky process for an owner. A “Constructabilty Review” is one tool an owner can use to minimize the risks of unexpected construction cost. The owner starts a building project with definitive expectations regarding the attractiveness, size, functionality, quality, and especially cost. Owners rely on architects, engineers, and contractors to provide the realization of their new building dream with a quality project delivered on schedule for the expected contract price. Owners manage the design and construction process to control financial risks associated with a new building. When owners lack the resources to effectively manage their construction projects and financial risk, they often rely on design professionals to ensure both the integrity of the design and overall cost of the project.

Problems can occur when unexpected changes happen involving any or all of three key building project variables: scope, schedule, or budget. The variables are interdependent: changes to one affect the other two.

A common problem that can be minimized involves the unexpected cost(s) and delays associated with errors, omissions, or a lack of coordination in the contract documents, including the architect’s designs (drawings and specifications). An independent “Constructability Review” of the architect’s design can provide a sanity check for an owner and help ensure the plans and specifications are suitable for budgeting, bidding, and construction.

When owners provide an architect’s design to general contractors that rely on the design to price and construct a building, they provide an “implied warranty” of suitability to the contractors. A longstanding construction law precedent called the “Spearin Doctrine” indicates that the contractor is not responsible or liable for defects in the architect’s design (drawings and specifications). Under this doctrine, the owner must pay the contractor for changes caused by errors, omissions, and lack of coordination in the design affecting scope, schedule, or budget. A Constructability Review is a cost-effective risk management process that an owner can employ to control one aspect of risk by minimizing impacts, costs, and inefficiencies caused by a flawed or incomplete design.

An effective Constructability Review must analyze the same drawings and specifications that the contractor will use to procure and construct the project. Although CAD and BIM are great tools, the limitations of a computer screen will not allow effective checking or coordination of the documents by simply viewing. Hard copies identical to the drawings prepared for issue to the contractor must be used as the basis for quality assurance and coordination reviews.

A properly executed Constructability Review evaluates every drawing and specification in a project’s design documents and can be time consuming. If time is insufficient for a complete review, an abbreviated but thorough review to assess the integrity of the design drawings is better than no independent confirmation. An experienced professional can prepare an abbreviated review of the most complex part of a building across all engineering disciplines for the design. The results of this abbreviated review can reveal the design is complete, coordinated, and suitable for purpose; conversely, results can document problems indicating the need for a more complete and thorough review.

Both specifications and drawings must be analyzed to a level of detail that includes dimensioning systems and the details of construction to ensure the design is fully developed and consistent. Completed designs should include practical industry tolerances that allow workmanlike installations. The final work product of a Constructability Review will document a detailed inventory of potential conflicts, errors, and/or omissions or inconsistencies in the design documents. The completed review can be treated as a barometer documenting the completion level, coordination, and constructability of the entire design and should be forwarded to both the designers and owner for discussion, coordination, and implementation. The inventory of potential defects included in the review should be used as the basis of final coordination between the owner and design professional. Implementation of the review occurs after discussions between the owner and architect, with each item being discussed, evaluated, and implemented in the design documents as appropriate.

This risk management process is not merely a peer review. A Constructability Review performed by experienced design and construction professionals independent of the design team can be an effective risk management tool to allow an owner to control unexpected construction costs caused by defective designs, errors, and omissions. The review will provide independent confirmation for the level of completion, coordination, functionality, bidability, and constructability of the design documents.

Constructability Reviews are just one project risk management service provided by the BRG Global Construction practice. Please contact a BRG professional to discuss how we can help you improve your project development, design, and construction administration processes to minimize risk and optimize performance.

David Zion, AIA, is a director in BRG’s Atlanta office and has years of practical experience as an architect, design-builder, and construction expert. He specializes in providing project risk management and expert consulting services to design and construction industry clients.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of Berkeley Research Group, LLC or its other employees and affiliates.