Lead consultant and lead designer - myths and realities


architect's drawings - Pixabay

Grabbing the Leadership Role


When employed directly by Architects on a project, one of the first questions that we will ask in our role of Design Manager relates to how an Architect will be employed by the Client. Plan A Consultants is employed by Architects to define and manage a design strategy that reflects multiple project configurations including how the Architect will be employed. The most important issue is that the Architect is aware of the do’s and don’ts in relation to grabbing the leadership role within the Project Team irrespective of how they will be appointed, project location or sector.


An Architect will typically be appointed directly by a Client to carry out either a Lead Consultant or Lead Designer role during the design stages. Each route is different and there is often a misconception regarding the definitions and responsibilities for each.


In a Lead Consultant arrangement, there will be a single appointment between Architect and the ultimate Client. It will then be the responsibility of the Architect to then appoint and manage the sub-consultants necessary to progress the design (engineers, specialists etc). Most importantly, the Architect will own the single point of responsibility for all sub-consultant performance including making sure the project is correctly resourced. With responsibility for the appointment and management of sub-consultants, there is an implied leadership role with a Lead Consultant set-up and this should come with a fee premium for the Architect. The ability to control the payment process between Architect and sub-consultants also allows the Architect some leverage in the leadership role but it’s important that the Architect has the necessary ‘infrastructure’ in place to manage their sub-consultants – preparation of sub-consultancy appointments, communications strategy, alignment of scope, reporting etc.


One of the biggest miscomprehensions that we come across in our role as Design Manager under a Lead Designer set-up is the role and responsibility for design leadership. Under a Lead Designer route, the Client appoints Architect, engineers, specialists etc separately. However, the Lead Designer (typically the Architect) is still responsible for defining, managing and leading the design process. This is not just co-ordination of the actual drawn design, but co-ordination of design activities and design programme. It is important that the Architect continues to grab this leadership role. We have seen from experience this role being delegated (either actively or passively) to third parties such as Project Managers for example. Something as important as design vision and responsibility for its delivery should be in the hands of those best placed to deliver it.


‘Under a Lead Designer route, the Client appoints Architect, engineers, specialists etc separately. However, the Lead Designer (typically the Architect) is still responsible for defining, managing and leading the design process.’


Likewise, responsibility for co-ordinating and aligning appointments and scopes for all designers sits firmly with the Client or its appointed Project Manager. There are numerous other issues to be aware of when approaching either a Lead Consultant and Lead Designer role in relation to design leadership. The table below highlights approaches to roles and duties under the two scenarios. Plan A Consultants is employed by multiple Architects and Designers across all sectors and we would be delighted to have a conversation with you to understand how we can support you on your projects.

Lead designer

Lead consultant

Summary

The Architect and other consultants are appointed separately by the Client. The Architect scope includes the Lead Designer role.

The Architect is appointed by the Client as a Lead Consultant who then appoints all the other sub-consultants.

Design Leadership

The Lead Designer is responsible for co-ordinating the drawn design and design activities even though consultants are appointed separately.

The Lead Consultant is contractually responsible for the performance of all the sub-consultants that they've appointed.

​Cost management

The Lead Designer has a responsibility to assist the Cost Consultant. The Cost Consultant is responsible for performance and cost reporting, and reports directly to the Client.

If the Cost Consultant is part of the Lead Consultant team, the Architect takes responsibility for the costs in front of the Client.

If the Cost Consultant is appointed directly by the Client, the Lead Consultant has a responsibility to assist, but the Cost Consultant is responsible for performance and cost reporting.

Communications

The Lead Designer establishes the communication strategy. The Client communicates with all the consultants separately and directly but should always copy in the Lead Designer so that they can carry out their leadership role.

The Lead Consultant establishes a communication strategy. All information is channelled through them, and there is no direct contact between the client and sub-consultants unless it is approved by the Lead Consultant. (Sub-consultants may be copied on correspondence for expediency.)

​​Fees

Fees are agreed separately by the Client for each consultant.

The Client agrees a single fee for the Lead Consultant. It includes fees for other sub-consultants, plus an amount for appointing, managing and paying sub-consultants, as well as the risk for taking responsibility for their performance. The fee is usually 10% of the team fee but may vary.

​Variations

Variations are agreed separately between the Client and each separate consultant - including the Lead Designer.

Variations are agreed between the Client and the Lead Consultant on behalf of all other sub-consultants. The Lead Consultant has a duty to co-ordinate the fees of others into a single variation.

Architect resource

Requires capacity to lead design and management co-ordination, including design programming, progress reporting, etc.

Requires capacity to lead design and management co-ordination, including design programming, progress reporting, etc plus sub-consultancy appointments, fees, invoice management and contract variations for all other sub-consultants.

Design programme

The Lead Designer develops a co-ordinated design programme, incorporating the input of all other consultants.


The programme relies on the Client and Project Manager managing communications so the whole design team is working to the same information.

The Lead Consultant develops a co-ordinated design programme, incorporating the input of all other sub-consultants and separately appointed third parties.

Design Manager Max Milton

By Design Manager Max Milton



At Plan A consultants, our consultancy revolves around making sure that the architect is protected and this single team ethos is promoted and ingrained. Get in touch with us if you'd like our help with your next project.

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