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RIBA scraps Plan of Work: say goodbye to stages A-L


Institute catches profession unawares as it tears up its 50-year-old traditional schema for progressing construction works

The RIBA is to abolish Plan of Work stages A to L and replace it with a seven-point schedule for works.

However a survey by the AJ has revealed that several high-profile architects, including one on this year’s Stirling Prize shortlist, had been almost completely unaware of the major overhaul of the Plan of Work, which comes into effect from Spring 2013.

Ratified at RIBA Council last month, the decision to replace the alphabetically-named stages with a smaller range of numbered phases has still yet to be communicated to the institute’s members. A consultation was announced but not broadcast to the press.

The move marks the most significant changes to the Plan of Work since its introduction 50 years ago. The traditional 11 work stages will be replaced by seven numbered stages as part of a bid by the institute to enable greater integration across the industry. A review group chaired by Dyer’s Dale Sinclair developed the programme, which is part of a ‘unified industry structure’ supported by the Construction Industry Council.

RIBA plan of work: Revised edition due Spring 2013

RIBA plan of work: Revised edition due Spring 2013 - click to view

RIBA director of practice Adrian Dobson said that the new plan would provide a ‘clear information framework’ for BIM-enabled projects and be more ‘readily adaptable’ to varied procurement methods.

But former Association of Consulting Architects (ACA) president Brian Waters compared the policy to the institute’s decision to abandon the drafting of its own building contracts.

He said: ‘The builders, the quantity surveyors and all the other consultants work to the RIBA Plan of Work. It’s the language of construction. You will have to re-write every building contract and employment contract.’

It is understood that the ACA council is considering publishing its own plan of works, which would retain the alphabetical designations while also adopting BIM.

Paul Gray, director of small practice Grayscale Architecture + Design, said: ‘We’ve seen very little from the RIBA about the new Plan of Work.’

He added: ‘Domestic clients make up more than a third of the profession’s client base and, as a small business working within this sector, I find the proposed plan far too complicated for our client’s needs.’

However, Peter Morris of Peter Morris Architects, welcomed the changes. He said: ‘It is now more relevant to a diversifying architectural profession. It is a step in the right direction. During these times we need greater diversity and innovation.’

Capita Symonds director Chris Boyce added: ‘Anything that simplifies an arcane and overly complex definition of scope and appointment is a help to architects. We need to be competitive and work with our customers to develop more cost-effective services; this will help us all to define our role on a level playing field.’

Chris Roche, of 11.04 Architects, said: ‘A review of the RIBA plan of work is long overdue and needs to focus on simplifying a complex process for the client’s benefit. Terms such as “strategic definition” need to be avoided and a straightforward and comprehensible language needs to be adopted.’

The RIBA plans an ‘extensive information campaign’ explaining the reforms, to run over the coming months and will be updating contract forms and associated documents which refer to the soon-to-be-supplanted Plan of Work.

Key changes:

Work stages
RIBA work stages are reduced from 11 to 7, and aligned with the CIC Schedule of Services. Stages A and B have been incorporated into one initial ‘preparation’ stage, and stages F – L have been simplified and renumbered.

Task bars
Task bars offering job specific flexibility will replace the single description of tasks used in the RIBA Plan of Work 2007.

Revision of other key documents
The Architect’s Job Book, Standard Form of Agreement and other key documents will also be revised in line with the updated 2013 Plan of Work.

Planning is made more flexible within this plan of work, acknowledging that planning is often happening earlier in the design process.

Sustainability and BIM
BIM and the Green Overlay have been incorporated into the new Plan of Work 2013.


Further comments

Tim Quick, director, Formation Architects:
‘We are fully supportive of the new Plan of Work. First it’s much clearer about where Planning Applications actually happen. Second it includes specialist design [stage 5] which at last recognises the reality of most projects of any scale. It’s certainly a much better reflection of our day to day work.’

Jerry Tate, principal, Jerry Tate Architects:
‘Although the timing is never going to be great, from our point of view this is a worthwhile reform. While we use the RIBA Stages as a good guide to progressing a project, frankly they are gobbledegook to a client; we have taken to simplifying projects into five stages so that the scope of services are clear. If you think that one of the major problems with architects in general is that the public do not understand how we can help them, anything which clarifies this must be a good thing.’

Chris Roche, director, 11.04 Architects:
‘A review of the RIBA plan of work is long overdue and needs to focus on simplifying a complex process for the clients benefit. Terms such as ‘strategic definition’ need to be avoided and a straightforward and comprehensible language need to be adopted. On a commercial front there should be a ‘copyright assignment’ phase, post planning approval, which allows architects to charge a fee to clients for the design assignment should they wish to sell the site at a profit, or develop the scheme with another architect.’

Peter Morris, director, Peter Morris Architects:
‘I welcome the changes to the RIBA plan of work. It is now more relevant to a diversifying Architectural profession. It is a step in the right direction, during these times we need greater diversity and innovation.’

Anthony Hoete, director, What Architecture:
‘While a re-alignment of the RIBA work stages maybe potentially worthwhile, in terms of foreign joint venture workability, a pan-European alignment of work stages that equilibrates the RIBA work stages with the HOIA (in Germany) with the French Loi MOP would be of more value.’

Kerry Lewis, QA director, Holder Mathias:
‘I support the changes as some of the existing stages are not well defined and relate poorly to procurement methods other than traditional JCT. My main concern is that the industry will take a while to get used to the new nomenclature. Everyone uses expressions like ‘up to Stage D’ as shorthand and I suspect that they will continue to do so for some time to come.

‘I can’t see that the change will make an architect’s job significantly easier or harder. I do think that it will take some time to get used to and we may still have to refer to the old stages with clients, for example. Our QA system is based on our own Holder Mathias Job Book and there will be a cost implication in revising it to fit the new stages and in arranging sessions to explain the change to everyone. However, in the spirit of continuous improvement we are constantly updating and revising the Job Book in any case, and this revision will form part of that process.’

Paul Gray, director, Grayscale Architecture + Design:
‘We have seen very little from the RIBA about the new Plan of Work being introduced next year. Domestic clients make up over a third of the profession’s client base and as a small business working within this sector I find the proposed Plan of Work far too complicated for our client’s needs.  I understand that an electronic version of the RIBA Plan of Work will be available later in the year to allow you to tailor it to a specific client but I think RIBA would be better placed offering two distinct Plans of Work for domestic and commercial clients rather than an attempt at one ‘catch all’ solution.’ 

Sylvester Cheung, partner, Parkinson Dodson & Cheung:
‘The idea of working alongside CIC and their generic schedule which all the other professions are working towards is good. This will, in particular for large projects, create better cohesion amongst all construction trades and enable the client to have a better understanding in project progression. The new framework is quite easy to understand as it is rather much in line with project procedures. However, it is surprising that the tendering stage is not stated particular clearly. For a small project, clients normally expect the architect to produce specification, drawing package for tendering and I think this plan lacks this phase of the design/construction process.

 ‘There shouldn’t be any particular problem for an architect to adapt to this simplified plan of work and in fact, it is certainly an improvement in terms of ease of communication amongst all key players in the construction team. I tend to price jobs in accordance to stages such as planning submission and building regulations submissions so in my case these changes aren’t going to be too costly. ‘No time is a good time to implement new guidelines or policies but in the depth of recession everyone is trying alternative methods to survive and the new plan might be a key tool for architects to vary their services accordingly.’

Tom Hart, president, Leicestershire and Rutland Society of Architects:
‘It’s encouraging to see the RIBA making this revision in line with other specialist organisations and especially best practice which is something that the LJCC, here in Leicestershire, are striving for across the disciplines. I feel this is a move that is intrinsically linked with BIM and its implementation into all stages of a construction process, which I personally applaud. My main concern over this is to how this will be viewed by organisations such as RICS, CIBSE etc. and whether they too will be revising their documentation to provide a coherent construction industry plan. It appears that the inclusion of the CIC work stages will go a way to achieving this but only time will tell. It would be interesting to look deeper into the plan as to the sub-headings and the affect this may have on our working practice. It is worth noting that we currently gear our fees and working strategies around the Plan of Work and sub-divide this into resource stages internally. It looks as though the new plan will assist this as there is more emphasis on the design stages, concept and development which is clearer to all and should stress the importance of this part of the works to other disciplines.’

Nigel Rawson, architect, Pick Everard:
‘The Plan of Work has always been a good guide that most stakeholders understood. One of its main shortcomings has been in the interpretation of process and deliverables at the detailed design stages. The on-going implementation of BIM, sustainable design routes, new procurement methods and associated ways of working, has further highlighted that a new guide was due. The 2013 Plan of Work would appear to address these issues, although the outcome of re-evaluation of roles, whilst a reasonable reflection of current practices, may not be welcomed by some in the profession.’

Brian Waters, former president, Association of Consulting Architects:
‘The RIBA has been doing this in a very discreet way. Planning committees understand B+. It will take 15 years for them to understand what now stage 2 is or whatever. What is the benefit of throwing that away? All the others work to it; the builders, the quantity surveyors, and all the other consultants absolutely work to the RIBA plan of work. It’s the language of construction. They have deliberately kept it quiet.

‘I am in shock and awe at the idea. Dropping A, B, C, D; the cost of doing this is massive for the industry. It’s got to produce really good benefits to convince people to use it. It would be extremely damaging for the industry unless they can justify the change, and BIM is not justification, it’s just another little technical change.

‘It’s got to have a benefit that is greater than the cost of throwing away the language. Architects could be held in some contempt if the RIBA fails to justify it. It will be a pain in the ass for everybody. You will have to re-write every building contract and employment contract.

‘The architectural profession lost a lot of influence when the RIBA stopped publishing building contracts, ever since it has eroded the status of architects because people are not using RIBA building contracts. This clearly will be another decision like that. People will ask why we are side lined more than ever before.’

Sofie Pelsmakers, architect, UCL Energy Institute:
‘A fundamental update to the RIBA Plan of Work is long overdue after many changes in the industry. In particular the integration of procurement changes, BIM and the importance of sustainable design and ‘Soft Landings’ approach have been absent for too long.

‘A lot of detail on sustainable design, BIM, prefabrication and multi-disciplinary working are missing in the overview diagram for it to be truly helpful to practitioners, though one hopes that this may be provided in the form of detailed work descriptions/checklists in electronic format. Yet, without the strategic changes being headlined clearly and separately in their own right in the Plan of Works overview and summary, true integration may remain elusive.

‘So while the reduced and simplified work stages (as well as alignment to the CIC stages) is to be applauded, the draft diagram of the proposed stages, while giving a neat overview on one A4 sheet, misses some important headlines and detail to guide architects and clients through the process and is an unfortunate missed opportunity to truly integrate sustainable design in the design and building process.
‘In general, while we are used to the A-L work stages, the new Plan of Work will require a mental shift from this to overlap with the new 7 stages, but I don’t think there will be much disruption to practice. Ultimately the new Plan of Works is intended as an update to reflect what many practices are already doing and professionals may find it actually supports them in achieving greater clarity with clients and streamlines team meetings and information output.

‘However, its usefulness and success will depend on the detail provided behind the main work stage headlines. If insufficient detail is provided, then professionals are likely to keep using their own adapted Plan of Work catered for their own needs, whether they reflect the construction industry’s changing  responsibilities or not.’

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Where does tender action fit into this?

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  • Therefore, notwithstanding procurement routes,

    Client fee structure becomes [categorically] 6-fold not 5-fold as follows, due to the bifurcating 4th category:-

    1 : prep
    2 -3: concept/design
    4 : technical design
    4 &/or 5 : specialist design
    6 : construction
    7 : feedback/PoE/BIM etc.

    Contractor client fee structure can typically remain [categorically] 3-fold but this will marry better with the above 6-fold rather than 5-folded structure:-

    2 : Concept
    3-5 : Design
    6 : Construction

    With of course some contractors venturing into 1 & 7 as procurement evolves...

    In a way the 7-point schedule can prove to be an improvement, in time, over the current PoW alphabet, especially as it will make better sense of the uneasy bifurcation at stage F (made circa 1990s?), namely at “Production Information”, which IMHO at the moment, is both a ‘pre-construction’ and ‘design’ pursuit (fee category).

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  • It is good to see that this is being looked at. It is a well know assumption in process protocol that we only can handle - as humans - 7 sets of information at once . So to only have 7 RIBA stages is a good start for comprehension. Each of those seven can then be subdivided as the project requires. But have we missed out client feedback/FM and final demolition/recycling from what should be a holistic approach.
    On many simple projects only 4 stages are required.
    - these can be expanded out to included
    Concept/Feasibility at the start and Feedback/Demolition at the end.
    oops that only 6

    Salford University Process Protocol started with 4 stages:
    Pre Project
    Pre Construction
    Post Construction

    When I did my MSC at Salford Uni I realised that all design be it buildings, objects or software do follow the same overall frame work. (or at least they can be fitted into the same framework as the RIBA plan of work) I did various translation tables and mapping of homilies.
    Salford UNI Process Protocol then expanded out the 4 project Phases into 10 phases with soft and hard gates in between.
    In short fit the detail to the size of project as you need but never have more than 7 stages in your head oe if you a a bit simplistic like me try to keep it to 4. After all the experts at Salford Uni did.

    I would therefore request that if we to make a change to the RIBA plan of work that we make it relate to real project phases and not a scramble to extract fees.

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  • Industry Professional

    "specialist design" covers all manner of sin.

    I don't mind change, but what I do detest is not being informed about it or asked to contribute to the discussion. This is the fundamental issue of this article and the proposed changes.

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  • How will this help or hinder the interdisciplinary issue that is confused a little by stages that are too clear cut. As an acoustician and audio design consultant, our chance to get the concepts and schemes of our scoped elements right often cones while the primary designers have already settled theirs, missing the window of good, integrated, lean design that is aiming at 'right first time'. Is the risk that by confingin "specialist design" to the last design stage take us back to a culture of begrudged bolt-ons seeing as spoiling an otherwise (and artificially) pure design?

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