What is Design Management?

It depends who you ask.

At Plan A Consultants, we believe design management is the definition and management of the complex design processes for architects to deliver successful projects worldwide.

Clients, project managers, contractors, and architects all approach design management in different ways.

Project managers, generally appointed by the end-user client or project owner, focus on meeting a target end date, often established by Business Case objectives. Their priorities involve looking after the Project Manager and the Client, not necessarily the project.

For contractors, design management involves the co-ordination of the technical elements of package interfaces with the information prepared by the design team, and their specialist sub-contractors. The timescales are often derived from an end date set by the project manager. Their emphasis is looking after the contractor, not necessarily the Client or the project.

At Plan A, we approach design management from a different perspective. We consider design management to be the definition and management of the complex design processes for architects to deliver successful projects worldwide. Hence, the timescales are based on extensive experience of the required activities and interactions to create a robust design solution. Our emphasis is looking after the Architect / Lead Designer whose main aspiration is to make the project the best it can be. As a consequence, we look after the Client's best interests.

Proper definition and management of the design process and the consultants’ roles, alongside the obligations to the wider stakeholders, leads to 

  • a ‘right first time’ attitude

  • fewer drawing hours

  • less duplication between designers and suppliers.


We always strive to develop and communicate the strategies in a way that gels the project team together. A collective buy-in to the ‘step by step’ approach will lead to the ultimate success of the project.

Historically conflicts arise during the design of a project, that make it challenging for all concerned to adopt the truly collaborative approach required to make a project a success. Plan A Consultants strive to eliminate those sources of conflict, so that the design team can proceed, safe from unnecessary distraction. 


Here's our approach to optimise efficiency and make sure everyone is making the best use of time.

Our focus starts with the Client’s brief, helping the Lead Designer to challenge it. It should be tested in terms of content, quality, budget and time. Otherwise, valuable time in Stage 2 is wasted balancing the brief - instead of developing a concept.

When the Consultant team is appointed separately by the Client, the Lead Designer role requires the architects to coordinate and manage their activities.

Or the architect may be appointed as Lead Consultant. They will appoint all consultants as sub-consultants to them, and take overall responsibility for the team’s performance. Plan A works as an integrated member within the Architect’s team, whether Lead Consultant or Lead Designer, to support the architect in their duties, freeing them up to focus on the design - so they can do what they do best.

drawing indicating sub-consultant appointments and contracts

We make the biggest impact if we’re appointed at the start of the project, when the architect is responding to the Client's requirements, developing the Project Brief and defining the design process – often at Competition stage.


During this period, we help the architect develop the design management methods, define the deliverables and the master design programme. We also advise on fees scopes and responsibilities. We define the meeting strategy and schedule, planning out all meetings and workshops, identifying chair and attendees, outlining meeting objectives and encouraging efficient communication and a mutual understanding of the key intended outcomes.

During Stage 2 we support the architect by identifying priorities, tracking information required, Client decisions to be made - and assumptions when they’re not.

Transparency in reporting is also a key aspect of our scope. We ensure the Consultant team’s progress is accurately communicated to the Client and their project manager, to eliminate surprises. This allows the architect sufficient space to focus on the concept, coordinate the work of the Consultants, and produce the design documentation to describe their ideas.


At stage 3, the process starts to become more linear, although the management demand doesn’t reduce.


The key to successfully managing the design process is the ability to clearly communicate not only the ‘what’ and the ‘when’ but also the ‘how’. This ensures all contributors buy in to the content, sequence and method for the delivery of the design.

The result is a set of mutually compatible objectives and a clear understanding of what it will take to participate in the successful delivery of a high-quality project. Any adjustments required will be continuously updated in the programme and be used to help understand progress on a regular basis.


We are fully integrated into the architect’s team. We help them define and coordinate the activities of the Consultant team in producing the information to develop a spacially co-ordinated design, aligned to the cost plan and Client project specification.


We instigate a fully integrated cost process that includes pre-planned and progressive releases of information. This allows the Cost Consultant to anticipate and understand the developing design, and manage the costs through full participation, rather than review of completed information.

While justifiable change requests can be submitted earlier, this is also a good time to develop change control procedures.

Client-driven changes will need to be considered through the life of the project. Operational requirements become further defined as the project develops, which often impact on the design solution. It is essential that any appropriate change is reviewed by the team, its impact understood and incorporated into the design if appropriate.

It is also common to prepare the appropriate consultations and documentation for statutory approvals during Stage 3 .


At stage 4 we help the architect and sub-contractors define the process for the architectural and engineering technical design.


This often involves the management and review of specialist subcontractor designs (dependent on procurement strategy). By the end of the stage, all the design information that the project will need to obtain competitive tenders, and for construction, should be completed.


Stage 4 and 5 often overlap in real life; but this is the point when Plan A Consultants generally complete our version of design management services.

The contractors’ design managers are taking over, and we don't want too many design managers to spoil the broth...!

Plan A design managers build an environment and team culture where the project team can work together efficiently and effectively, to achieve a project which architect, builder and client can all be proud of.

If you want to start or develop your career in design management, send your CV and covering letter, explaining why the role is appealing, to zoewhite@planaconsultants.com