How to Produce a Strong Design Programme (…and it’s not a Gantt chart)

Last week we were kindly invited by the Architectural Association School of Architecture to share our knowledge and host a design programme workshop with this year’s RIBA Part 3 students. The aim was to provide the industry’s future Design Team leaders with an opportunity to think about the best way to put together a design programme. The focus was on a collaborative team approach and defining a clear process, with set milestones and information exchanges. The output was a presentation to the group to outline how a typical RIBA Stage 2 design would then be delivered.

The next step on any live project would be to translate this information into a document/ tool for the team to use, so this week we are reflecting on what a really useful programme looks like:

  • To state the obvious, it has to be used. Pages and pages of detailed information in Gantt form may be useful on site but is unlikely to be read by the whole Design Team. A rigid format is not the best way to explain an iterative design process. Route maps (our alternative to Gantt charts) on the other hand clearly show the high-level process and key information exchanges. These provide a framework for the design process without bogging the team down with more detail than is required.

  • The programme should reflect the way in which the team will deliver together. All too often programmes are produced in isolation. Get the team involved to understand who needs what by when and why.

  • It should help the Client understand what is required from them. Don’t be afraid to include Client milestones and decision dates, these are critical to de-risk the design process and it will help the Client get the right people in the room at the right time.

  • The programme should be used to track progress. Rather than a series of long bars representing the deliverables that need to be produced at the end of a stage, we find that a ‘design freeze schedule’ which shows incremental ‘fixes’ of information is a far more useful tool. This can give the team a much clearer impression of anything that is behind schedule allowing early identification of risks and re-focusing on specific issues as required.

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