How to involve people in design review practices

 

The reason that we undertake design review is to transform a design from being riddled with errors and omissions to a design that has few to no errors contained within it. There are many variations on involving people in the review of road design information. and these can have different levels of effectiveness at different periods within the development of a design.

Here are some of the practices and appropriate explanations that I believe can work to reduce the number of errors and omissions that occur in the design of a project:

1) Have the appropriate skills, knowledge and experience to undertake the design review

Different people will have different levels of skills, knowledge and experience associated with undertaking design review. These will range from no experience through to advanced experience. It is important to have the right people reviewing the right project. There are many different strategies related to the size of the project and who should be looking at these drawings:

  • The quickest way for someone to obtain an extensive breadth of knowledge related to a broad range of projects is to undertake the review on numerous small projects. Small projects can be deceptively tricky and are often more complicated than larger projects due to limited funds being available. The range and number of drawings and documentation are usually restricted due to the smaller scope of the project.
  • Medium sized projects will require a greater number of different drawing types within the drawing set. The accompanying documentation is also likely to cover more topics, and often to a greater level of detail.
  • Large projects will often overwhelm people with the sheer volume of drawing sheets committed to one set of information type. This means that a reviewer can really get into the details and assess a variety of situations associated with each subset of drawing information, that would normally not be possible on smaller projects. The documentation associated with the project will also be extensive, often overwhelming, and often poorly written due to a large number of contributors.

With these project sizes in mind you can have a junior reviewer working on any size project, however the reviewer will generally benefit from transitioning from reviewing smaller projects to medium sized projects, to larger projects. It will also help immensely if a reviewer has worked on a particular sized project before. For example, a reviewer that has only worked on small projects, is unlikely to be skilled in reviewing larger projects, either in terms of what to look for, or how to undertake the review. That said, people are adaptable and given appropriate levels of mentoring will make up for any shortfalls in skills, knowledge and experience.

Ultimately, the responsibility for the review of the design MUST be placed with a reviewer who has advanced levels of experience. It is also the responsibility of that reviewer to appropriately interact with a less experienced reviewer to ensure that not only are errors and omissions are identified, but that less experienced reviewers have their design review capabilities expanded.

2) Encourage the mentoring of junior staff to build their skills, knowledge and experience in undertaking design review

Junior staff must have their skills built up as quickly as possible and with minimal resources. The basic aim for junior staff is to reach a level of ability where they can correct errors and omissions as part of their review to a high standard as soon as possible. I have seen and experienced many ways to mentor staff as I developed my different skill sets and experiences. What I have generally found is that more experienced are often loath to train up new staff, particularly in organisational cultures that are competitive in nature (often, but not necessarily, in private organisations). Some of the reasons why more senior staff may be adverse to putting a large amount of their time into training new staff can include:

  • when staff will only be around for a short duration of time. An example of this situation occurs when a graduate is on a 6 monthly graduate rotation program.
  • when there is a continuous loss of previously mentored staff and there is a feeling of pointlessness in teaching any new arrivals as it is felt that they are just going to leave
  • when organisational change is occurring and people are worried about their future prospects or remaining employed. In this environment, people can be more concerned about their situation and less concerned about trying to help others build their longer term skills, knowledge and experience. In some environments there can even be genuine hostility to newcomers as they can be seen as trying to take existing employees roles.
  • when the mentor is at the top of their skills, knowledge, and experience and they cannot understand or will not tolerate other people not being able to understand the “basic” skills and knowledge and lacking experience to undertake the job.
  • when the mentor feels it is beneath them to assist junior staff  to helping improve people.
  • when a mentor feels that a proactive strategy aimed at junior staff is unfair because the mentor feels that they had to do it tough, so why shouldn’t the junior staff
  • when the mentor is technical proficient, but does not have the necessary skill sets to teach the elements necessary to build skills, knowledge and experience.
  • where there is a perception that they are generation Y and that they are spoilt brats who don’t deserve anyones time. And besides they know everything anyway!

I have been fortunate to have experienced some very patient and involving mentors who allowed me to develop my skills, knowledge and experience quickly. Dealing with the dot points that I have raised above can be tricky. When managing people, you need to have strategies to benefit rather than have negatives for the situations listed above.

3) Review the design in an appropriate manner

Review is a form of quality assurance. There are organisations  who have quality assurance accreditation but who don’t build an effective quality assurance focus. To build that focus you actually need to start with a focus along the lines of Lean Six Sigma in which you try to improve a process through a structured approach to looking to continuously improve. The Lean Six Sigma focuses on

  • define
  • measure
  • analyse
  • improve, and
  • control

There are a number of levels that the Lean Six Sigma could be applied in the design review. My focus is on:

  • building appropriate systems that can be utilised to obtain real and measurable improvement outcomes both in the quality of the review undertaken,
  • as well as in the practical nature of focussing on methodologies to undertake effective design review.

You need to have an appropriate design review / quality system in place that utilises the five focuses of Lean Sigma Six acting in a continuously improving fashion to get better review outcomes. For example,

  1. by having procedures for undertaking design review that are documented is a good start.
  2. having the documentation written in an easy to understand way by any new reviewer, with limited assistance is an improvement.
  3. sitting with each reviewer as they go through the documentation and ensuring that they understand what is documented, and then correcting the documentation after each interaction with a new reviewer is better. It is particularly important to add “assumed steps” an locations to find information.
  4. Getting more experienced reviewers to systematically review the documentation and to ensure its accuracy on a 6 or 12 monthly basis is vital. Also ensure that the experienced documentation reviewers don’t remove the “simple” or “they should know that knowledge” is important so as to maintain the documentation for all reviewers.

Having an appropriate methodology is also an important factor in undertaking design review. The way I generally undertake design review is as follows:

STEP 1: Undertake a review of the drawings without making reference to any form of checklist.

STEP 2: Review any supporting drawings that are integral to the design.

STEP 3: Undertake a review of the design report and other written documentation associated with the design.

STEP 4: Review the drawings again for consistency with the design report and written documentation

STEP 5: Review the drawing using a checklist that you personally have developed and check that the drawings cover the necessary minimum level of information, identify any missing information, identify incorrect information, identify unnecessary information that will confuse other people using the drawings, conflicting information, etc.

STEP 6: Take copies of good information that you can use on future projects

STEP 7: Review your checklist after each review you undertake and add or clarify elements of your checklist to assist you when undertaking your next review of this project or another project.

STEP 8: Document your review comments and return these to the appropriate parties for incorporation of your comments into the drawings and documentation. This should also include sitting down and going through each comment to understand what the comment actually means rather than what you think it means and what they think you might mean.

By repeatedly cycling through steps 1 to 8 listed above, I am able to achieve a continuous improvement to the review work that I undertake. This would also greatly assist me in undertaking design as well, because it would bring an awareness on design issues in a faster way than slowly churning out designs.

4) Understanding what design elements influence the development of positive and negative elements within the design (the design skeleton)

When you have to conduct 20%, 80%, 100%, issue for tender, issue for constructions, etc drawing sets. Some information will be more critical to be determined at the 20% stage and different elements will be more critical at the later stages of the design process. There will also be strategic, concept, and detail design stages for some of these review stages. Understanding what information is important to the design at the different stages works in a similar fashion to looking at design along the lines of a skeleton.

At the strategic design phase you will need to have:

20% strategic design stage:

This phase of design is focused on coming up with appropriate options early so as to select an macroscopic optimised solution or couple of solutions. These macroscopically optimised solutions can then be evaluated on a fundamental level heading towrds the concept design phase

  • Horizontal alignments: several horizontal alignments are developed based on the design standards are initially investigated. These alignments are then refined down to one or a couple of options. The main carriageway horizontal alignment must meet more than the minimum required by the standards. However to get an appropriate horizontal design generous values above the minimum values prescribed in the standards should be provided for all options carried forward.
  • Vertical alignments: fundamentally only main carriageway alignment options that have below maximum vertical grades should be investigated. Vertical alignments that require bridge or cross drainage culverts should have these locations identified, and the extent to which these structures would affect each option clearly understood.
  • Cross sections: Provide all options with better than the minimum cross sectional dimensions to start off with. This means that you use the standardised dimensions first before you start minimising. You only minimise at constraint locations, and investigate the possibility of removing or negating the constraint before you minimise any cross sectional dimension. Different cross sectional elements will have different orders of importance in maintaining the standard dimensions, and these should be understood before reducing to a level approaching the minimum.
  • Intersections: The selection of a location for an intersection is fundamentally important at the strategic design phase. Ideally pick locations where
    • ensure that the number of intersections interfacing with the main carriageway are rationalised as much as possible.
    • ensure that the location of intersections is suitable to meet the existing and future needs of road users.
    • intersections will be on a suitable grade along the main carriageway (consider something from 0.5% to 5% grade).
    • understanding what the longitudinal section of the side road(s) for the intersection would need to look like will minimise the future shock of extremely steep grades leading off the side roads down to the main carriageway.
  • Details: Start to ask the questions about:
    • where your boundaries are
    • where safety barrier would need to go
    • where you can have batters
    • where there are project constraints
    • where there are structures such as bridges, retaining walls, cross drainage
    • where batters spill over the boundaries
    • how you will stage the construction of the road
    • what time of year, time of day you will need to construct different
    • etc

80% strategic design stage:

This phase of design is focused on eliminating some of the more obviously inappropriate options and continue to identify additional alternate possibilities that provide other macroscopic optimised solutions. These macroscopically optimised solutions can continue to be evaluated on a fundamental level in the concept design phase

  • Horizontal alignments: several horizontal alignments are developed based on the design standards are initially investigated. These alignments are then refined down to one or a couple of options. The main carriageway horizontal alignment must meet more than the minimum required by the standards. However to get an appropriate horizontal design generous values above the minimum values prescribed in the standards should be provided for all options carried forward.
  • Vertical alignments: fundamentally only main carriageway alignment options that have below maximum vertical grades should be investigated. Vertical alignments that require bridge or cross drainage culverts should have these locations identified, and the extent to which these structures would affect each option clearly understood.
  • Cross sections: Continue to provide all options with better than the minimum cross sectional dimensions to start off with. This means that you use the standardised dimensions first before you start minimising. You only minimise at constraint locations, and investigate the possibility of removing or negating the constraint before you minimise any cross sectional dimension. Different cross sectional elements will have different orders of importance in maintaining the standard dimensions, and these should be understood before reducing to a level approaching the minimum.
  • Intersections: Continue in the selection of a location for an intersection is fundamentally important at the strategic design phase. Ideally pick locations where
      • ensure that the number of intersections interfacing with the main carriageway are rationalised as much as possible.
      • ensure that the location of intersections is suitable to meet the existing and future needs of road users.
      • intersections will be on a suitable grade along the main carriageway (consider something from 0.5% to 5% grade).
      • understanding what the longitudinal section of the side road(s) for the intersection would need to look like will minimise the future shock of extremely steep grades leading off the side roads down to the main carriageway.
  • Details: Continue to ask the questions about:
      • where your boundaries are
      • where safety barrier would need to go
      • where you can have batters
      • where there are project constraints
      • where there are structures such as bridges, retaining walls, cross drainage
      • where batters spill over the boundaries
      • how you will stage the construction of the road
      • what time of year, time of day you will need to construct different
      • etc

100% strategic design stage:

This phase of design is focused on eliminating most of the inappropriate options and confirm that there are no alternate possibilities that provide other macroscopic optimised solutions. Ideally there will be a preferred option, with possibly one or two other macroscopically optimised solutions that can be carried forth into the concept design phase

  • Horizontal alignments: most main carriageway horizontal alignments have been discredited, and those that remain are based on the appropriate design standards. The main carriageway horizontal alignment must meet more than the minimum required by the standards. However to get an appropriate horizontal design generous values above the minimum values prescribed in the standards should be provided for all options carried forward. By now you should also understand where there may be constraints that affect the horizontal geometry of the road.
  • Vertical alignments: fundamentally only main carriageway alignment options that have below maximum vertical grades should be investigated. Vertical alignments that require bridge or cross drainage culverts should have these locations identified, and the extent to which these structures would affect each option clearly understood.
  • Cross sections: All likely road corridors that will go forward to the concept design phase should have better than the minimum cross sectional dimensions to start off with. This means that you use the standardised dimensions first before you start minimising. You only minimise at constraint locations, and investigate the possibility of removing or negating the constraint before you minimise any cross sectional dimension. Different cross sectional elements will have different orders of importance in maintaining the standard dimensions, and these should be understood before reducing to a level approaching the minimum. By now you should start to understand the likely constraints that will affect the cross sectional dimensions
  • Intersections: Critically analyse the location of intersections and define the likely size and configuration of the intersections. Ideally pick locations where
      • ensure that the number of intersections interfacing with the main carriageway are rationalised as much as possible.
      • ensure that the location of intersections is suitable to meet the existing and future needs of road users.
      • intersections will be on a suitable grade along the main carriageway (consider something from 0.5% to 5% grade).
      • understanding what the longitudinal section of the side road(s) for the intersection would need to look like will minimise the future shock of extremely steep grades leading off the side roads down to the main carriageway.
  • Details: Continue to ask the questions about:
      • where your boundaries are
      • where safety barrier would need to go
      • where you can have batters
      • where there are project constraints
      • where there are structures such as bridges, retaining walls, cross drainage
      • where batters spill over the boundaries
      • how you will stage the construction of the road
      • what time of year, time of day you will need to construct different
      • etc

 

At the concept design level you will need to have:

20% concept design stage:

  • Horizontal alignments:
  • Vertical alignments:
  • Cross sections:
  • Intersections:
  • Details:

80% concept design stage:

  • Horizontal alignments:
  • Vertical alignments:
  • Cross sections:
  • Intersections:
  • Details:

100% concept design stage:

  • Horizontal alignments:
  • Vertical alignments:
  • Cross sections:
  • Intersections:
  • Details:

At the detail design level you will need to have:

20% detail design stage:

  • Horizontal alignments:
  • Vertical alignments:
  • Cross sections:
  • Intersections:
  • Details:

80% detail design stage:

  • Horizontal alignments:
  • Vertical alignments:
  • Cross sections:
  • Intersections:
  • Details:

100% detail design stage:

  • Horizontal alignments:
  • Vertical alignments:
  • Cross sections:
  • Intersections:
  • Details:

 

 

5) More reviews by different people can lead to more chance of reducing errors or more delay

The important first point is to have competent and experience reviewers who have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience undertake the review.

The expression “two heads are better than one” is a fantastic saying. The fact is that two people undertaking review will be better than one person undertaking review. Likewise three people will be better than two people and so on.

All project designs contain errors. Errors range in easy to find through to intricate / difficult to find. If you put a single person in to review a project they will likely find many errors, however it is unlikely that they will find all the errors. If you put a second person on a review, they will also be likely to find many errors. However like a Venn Diagram that shows two overlapping sets of data, there are likely to be some consistent identification of errors by both reviewers, and some identification of errors that one reviewer picked up that the other reviewer did not pick up, and vice versa. Remember that there will be some errors that neither reviewer picked up.

Having a third reviewer is likely to find many of the errors that both of the previous two reviewers found, and then there are also likely to be some additional unique errors that the third reviewer found that the other two did not find. Again there is likely to be some errors that no one has yet picked up, but the number of errors that no one has picked up is likely to be less than just utilising two reviewers.

But there is going to be a point where the marginal rate of finding additional errors becomes very small and the added cost of throwing an additional reviewer onto the review of a design produces minimal benefit. This will vary for each project.

6) Different people spend different amounts of time, and look for different elements of risk as part of a review

When undertaking the review of a projects information you will often have more than one person involved at different levels of seniority. Generally I believe that the amount of time that you spend on the review of a project should be inversely proportional to the seniority of a person. The more senior a person, the less time they should spend undertaking review. This makes sense as more senior people will need to spread themselves out over a broader number of projects and rely on their subordinates to provide the more indepth review checks.

Establishing who will need to be involved in the review at the startup of the project, when that review is likely to be required, and what is likely to be the necessary amount of review required by each will allow for a firmer schedule of works and review to be undertaken.

7) When something looks wrong, it probably is wrong, don’t be afraid to find out why it could be wrong

I have been involved in many design road designs and many road design reviews. My experience has been that if my senses tell me that something is wrong with the current situation, then chances are something actually is wrong. Often I can’t even tell you what is wrong, I just know that something doesn’t look right.

If something doesn’t look right then note it down if you are undertaking a review and complete the review. Then return to the undefined issue and begin to research why it might be wrong. Often due to the complexity of design, a feeling can be traced to a combination of design standards that do not work well together.

Keeping it simple is another approach to getting the situation resolved once you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t correct. Start with the larger impact elements of design and work through these until you get to the lease impact elements.

8) Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions, when you think there is a problem

I am often amazed at the number of people who will:

a) At best not have a full understanding of what they are required to do or have spent little time understanding the project requirements; or

b) At worst try to bluff their way through situations in order to lead a design to the outcomes that they desire (sometimes these aren’t even realistic outcomes).

The most important thing to do in this situation is to “ask the dumb question(s) that everyone else is afraid to ask. The point is that you might feel dumb for asking what you think are dumb questions, but the reality is that you might save the project from failing at some point in the future or lead to the development of a better solution. The criteria that you should use as the basis for the “dumb” question include:

a) Have an idea, or at least have a generalised feeling about what the design outcome is likely to be before you ask the question. It is good if you can have a good understanding of the basic design parameters associated with the issue to add weight to your question.

b) Have the right people around to ask the question. Having other people around who have limited design experience or even biased opinions about design situations can be problematic. Try and have highly experienced people who you know have the skills, knowledge and experience to back up whatever they say.

c) Play the devils advocate. Ask what happens if the design situation goes wrong as it stands now. Ask what happens if the design situation is changed is this a positive effect. If the design situation is changed what knock on effects does this have for other elements of the design, or just outside the limit of works, etc.

d) Understand that the best situation may already exist and this may be good enough. Or the situation may be unacceptable no matter what happens and a completely new design direction needs to be found.

I have to admit that sometimes I have walked away feeling like I have asked a dumb question, but this has often been rare. What I have found is that often the questions that I have asked have led to a dramatic improvement in the projects outcomes. This may be through me asking the correct “dumb” question that allows the project to change its design parameters and improve, sometimes dramatically. Or it may mean that the design situation remains but a number of complimentary design elements are identified that require further design consideration (this is the more common situation).

Generally I have a positive outcome from the majority of my “dumb” situations.