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Business Basis of Design

The challenge

Large capital construction projects in all sectors are challenged to improve the capital efficiency of the project – this considers both first costs as well as life-cycle costs.

This insight article focuses on achieving improved capital efficiency in large capital asset projects through the adoption of an expanded basis of design that considers all aspects of a capital asset’s life cycle.

 The idea

In many projects today the basis of design (BOD) largely encompasses the engineering parameters which are required to meet the owner’s project requirements.

Constructability and maintainability are often treated as review items to confirm that the developed design is both constructible and maintainable and to suggest improvements at the margins. Effective constructability and maintainability reviews add value to the project but do not fundamentally act to shape the design itself in most instances.

 The premise here is that more, much more, is required to develop effective designs with construction and maintenance as fundamental project requirements. In this sense, construction and maintenance considerations are not items to be reviewed but rather fundamental requirements to be satisfied together with other project requirements established by the owner. The change suggested is about a shift in mindset and perspective as well as in our design work processes.

The Business Basis of design or expanded basis of design (BODX) is focused on improving the quality and cost effectiveness of the developed design throughout the full life cycle. Specifically it:

  • Ensures all project participants are aligned on strategic business objectives as reflected in the owner’s project requirements
  • Ensures owner, construction management and O&M are clear on wants and needs
  • Ensures designer is focused on supporting an efficient construction execution strategy which reflects project construction considerations, opportunities and constraints
  • Informs the process for identification, evaluation and selection of design solutions to meet functional or performance specifications.
  • Provides expanded criteria to evaluate and validate design solutions and submissions
  • Provides clear acceptance criteria verified during construction, commissioning and initial operation
  • Informs decisions on equipment selection, layout, installation, operation, maintenance and replacement until requirements change
  • Delivers a more effective asset management database at startup
  • Improves construction efficiency and effectiveness
  • Enhances construction safety
  • Improves O&M efficiency and effectiveness
  • Supports optioneering – considering all life cycle costs

The BODX encompasses the traditional “engineering” basis of design as well as an expanded basis of design encompassing construction, operations and maintenance considerations. This can be seen through the lenses of two other bases of design – a Construction Basis of Design (CBOD) and an O&M Basis of Design (O&MBOD).

The CBOD seeks to further actualize CII Constructability Concepts I-1 and I-5.

  • CII Constructability Concept I-1 states “Constructability Programme is an integral part of the Project Execution Plan.”
  • CII Constructability Concept I-5 states “Basic design approaches consider major construction methods.”

Specific elements that an effective construction basis of design will consider include:

  • Comprehensive identification of required or preferred construction strategies, tactics, techniques and tools to be incorporated in the construction process that influence project management and design
  • Construction labour, skills, equipment, materials of construction, logistical constraints to be reflected in basis of design
  • Construction Basis of Design addresses unique requirements to be incorporated in design development that reflects owner or contractor preferences for achieving the owner’s project requirements (OPR).

These requirements may reflect:

  • Prior experience of the owner
  • Unique risks, opportunities or constraints associated with the project
  • Contractor capabilities and experience
  • Special tools uniquely available to the project
  • Broader programmatic objectives required of the owner or independently committed to by the owner that influences construction execution.
  • Applicable safety programme to be used on project

CBOD considerations may be broadly grouped as basis of design requirements related to:

  • Labour
  • Equipment
  • Materials
  • Means and methods
  • Management processes and practices

Similarly, operating and maintenance costs often represent over half of life-cycle costs of a capital asset on a present worth basis. Development of an effective O&M basis of design should as a minimum encompass:

  • Comprehensive identification of required or preferred construction strategies, tactics, techniques and tools to be incorporated in the operations and maintenance (O&M) process that influence design
  • O&M labour, skills, equipment, materials (including consumables), temporary provisions for maintenance to be reflected in basis of design
  • O&M Basis of Design addresses unique requirements to be incorporated in design development that reflects owner or contractor preferences for achieving the owner’s project requirements (OPR).

These requirements may reflect:

  • Prior experience of the owner
  • Unique constraints associated with the project location; environmental setting; process operations; and labour availability, cost and skills level
  • Contracting community capabilities and experience
  • Special tools required for major maintenance
  • Broader programmatic objectives required of the owner or independently committed to by the owner that influences maintenance execution.
  • Applicable safety programme to be used during facility operation

 The impact

The development of an expanded basis of design at the outset of the design development process opens the door to more efficient construction execution and the delivery of more efficient and effective life cycle assets. BODX drives the need for tighter integration of design, construction and facility O&M experts and is in line with many of the alternative delivery models that are increasingly being used. The adoption of a BODX is not limited to these models but rather can bring increased value across even more traditional design-bid-build approaches.

The barriers to innovation – and the solutions

The barrier to adoption of a BODX is primarily one of education but others exist. For example, codes and standards do not always emphasize the life cycle aspects of an asset. Design processes do not give adequate attention to construction and O&M requirements up front and the owner’s own project requirements do not always emphasize these aspects, concentrating on facility function versus delivery and performance.

Solutions exist.

Our education of engineers, project managers and construction managers needs to increase not only emphasis on the various aspects that BODX addresses but drive cross-functional education. Licensure must ensure adequate awareness of these important basics of design aspects. Codes and standards must migrate to a life cycle performance basis from what is currently a largely prescriptive basis.

 The way forward

The engineering education “industry” needs to more closely engage with asset owners and deliverers to shape the education programmes that the industry requires for tomorrow. Professional societies and standards setting life cycle need to strengthen up-front considerations related to construction and adjust standards to be life cycle-based performance standards to encourage innovation.