Design Responsibility Matrix

The collaborative design process relies on a common understanding of who is responsible for each element of the design, and when it is needed.

At the outset of a design architecture project, it is crucial to define responsibilities.

The commonly accepted industry tool for capturing duty and accountability is the Design Responsibility Matrix (DRM).


Five key things to consider when compiling a design responsibility matrix.

1. Agree on the categories and format before you start.  


For some, the DRM should align with other contract deliverables, so Uniclass or MasterFormat numbering is chosen. Breaking the matrix down into workstages can also be useful when responsibilities shift during the design process. (This is common for projects where the design architect hands over to a different delivery architect.) However, not every project needs this sort of mapping - a simple logical grouping of construction elements will often suffice.

2. List all the consultants and specialists you believe will be needed on the project.  

One of the important outcomes of a DRM is to spot any responsibility gaps. Resolving these later in the design process is much more problematic. List everyone who will be needed, even if some are still to be appointed. Note that the DRM doesn’t just assign the lead for a particular design element, it also should capture others who have a contributing or supporting role.


3. The procurement route and the scope of the future main contractor will influence the level of detail.


The detail will be either ‘prescriptive’ or ‘descriptive’ (performance-based) on a DRM. For traditional design-bid-build, there are typically fewer performance elements (contractor design portions or CDP) because the design will be largely complete before tender.  For other methods of procurement involving greater contractor involvement during the design process (construction management CM or design-and-build D&B), the reverse will apply. For these, much of the responsibility for completing design elements will fall to the main contractor’s team. 

4. Create a draft, and circulate early in the process to get the team’s buy-in.

You will almost certainly need to amend it, possibly several times. The reference point should be the fee proposal, and any scope or appointment documents already agreed. Make sure there is only one design lead per element. Focus on ‘elements’ of the design, not activities.

Do not allow the design team to create DRM appendices. They will only create confusion if there is a discrepancy between the two documents.

5. Make sure the final DRM is in the appointment documents or endorsed by the client as early as possible in the design process.


Elements to be completed by the contractor or specialist sub-contractor (SSC) must align with appointment scopes otherwise you risk a dispute over deliverables.  And don’t assume that all clients share your understanding about which elements should be descriptive or performance based.

Use your design responsibility matrix to define the level of design you expect, and to make sure there are no gaps in responsibility between members of the design team and the contractor’s team.

By Associate Design Manager Simon England


Plan A Consultants make sure all the elements of an architectural project are covered for a successful result. Get in touch if you need help for your project.