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The good, the bad and the grid matrix: how the new RIBA Plan of Work 2013 will affect you

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As the 50-year-old RIBA Plan of Work stages A-L are consigned to history, Felix Mara explains what architects should expect from the institute’s new schema for progressing construction works

In spring next year, the Outline Plan of Work 2007, with its familiar stages A-L, will be no more – replaced by the new RIBA Plan of Work 2013.

The move marks the most significant changes to the Plan of Work (PoW) since its introduction 50 years ago. The institute hopes the shake-up will allow greater integration of architects within the wider construction industry and help them avoid marginalisation at a critical stage in its development.

As with the current plan, the new framework will help explain to clients briefing, design, construction and post-occupancy processes and will be a springboard for tools and supplementary core documents, including services appointments, scope of services and project protocol documents and building contract forms. Although it appears radically different, the use of stages and task descriptions is similar to the 2007 regime.

What is good about PoW 2013?

  1. While the existing plan is linear, PoW 2013 has a gridded matrix structure, with columns for work stages and rows for tasks. Its stages will still generally follow a linear sequence, but it will now be possible to bring forward certain aspects of the design or for some stages to overlap allowing more flexibility. The new task bars, which form the eight rows of this grid, are either fixed, variable or switchable and will help to make jobs more specific to practices and projects – effectively it is an adaptable kit of parts.
  2. PoW 2013 will be more integrated with the rest of the construction industry, with new stages aligned with the Construction Industry Council schedule of services, and will allow the interchange of supporting documents produced by different bodies. These stages will also align with the government’s proposed information exchange gateways – the formal issues of documents for review and approval at key stages of projects.
  3. The proposed ‘matrix’ responds to current forms of procurement. PoW 2013 will be ‘procurement-neutral’ – ie it will be possible to generate project or practice-specific versions electronically online, enabling the template to be converted into a project, practice or client-specific Plan of Work.
  4. The new PoW avoids assumptions about the timing of planning applications which can, in reality, be made at various stages of projects and the town planning task bar allows for this.

What is bad about PoW 2013?

  1. There are concerns that PoW 2013 doesn’t make sufficient provision for the aftercare of construction projects. On the other hand, some architects think PoW 2013 could involve architects in excessive and unpaid soft landings activity.
  2. Role descriptions in PoW 2013 do not include environmental, sustainability or ecology consultants.
  3. There are concerns that small practices, although involved in PoW 2013 consultation, will be at a disadvantage. Yet others argue it lends itself to small projects, with its emphasis on stages 1-3.
  4. Architects are worried about the fee implications. Residential clients sometimes wish to stop projects after planning or Building Regulations approvals. The large stage 4 (equivalent to former stages E-H) will make this look expensive. Others argue that PoW 2013 will support BIM fee structures and that this will be beneficial.
  5. Some architects think the architectural profession should have been involved at a higher level and with input from more members in the development of PoW 2013, and not just in consultation.

How the RIBA plan of work 2013 will affect architects

There will be eight, rather than 11, work stages, which will be numerical, rather than alphabetical. Eight task bars replace single descriptions of key tasks. Three task bars (Core Objectives, Key Support Tasks and Information Exchange) are fixed and apply to every PoW. Sustainable checkpoints and government gateways can be switched on or off. Three other task bars – procurement, programme and town planning – will be variable and can be selected to reflect practices’ usual working method in the case of practice-specific PoWs.

The 11 roles defined in PoW 2013 include Construction Lead, which will be the contractor when the project reaches stage 6; and the Information Manager, which is crucial to BIM projects. To align with international practice, there will be no reference to a Lead Consultant.

Defined work stages will be milestones for agreeing output, fees and activities of other parties involved in design, construction and support.

Five strategic stage changes:

  • New stage 0, which is optional, emphasises the need to strategically appraise and define projects before detailed briefs are formulated
  • Stage 3 is similar to D and part of E, but developed design will be co-ordinated and aligned with cost information by the end stage, necessitating extra time for information review
  • Stage 4 accommodates the residual technical work of the core design team members, whose design work will be completed at the end of this stage, although they may be obligated to check fabrication design information during stage 5 or deal with question arising from work on site at stage 6
  • Stages G, H and J have been replaced by a procurement task bar to enable the PoW to be used in conjunction with different procurement strategies. This schedules the principal tendering and contract tasks at each stage
  • The new stage 5 recognises the increased importance of design work undertaken by specialist contractors and/or suppliers employed by the contractors and the need to define this work early in the process in the Design Responsibility Matrix

Fee scales: the RIBA recommends practices consider the implications of the five strategic shifts in the PoW on their processes and call out rates. Whereas stage 0 is likely to be chargeable at an hourly rate, stage 3 co-ordination may result in higher fees than the previous stage D. Fees for tendering and other procurement work should reflect specific activities for the form of procurement. Eg: in the case of traditional procurement, tendering would conclude stage 4.

In the case of projects for which the Procurement Strategy is not, as recommended, finalised at the end of stage 1, the pull-down options in the electronic version of the PoW provide flexibility. A ‘holding’ bar can be placed in the project PoW and a new Plan generated when the Procurement or Town Planning Strategies or the Project Programme  have been determined.

References to design management processes and leadership in the BIM Overlay are embedded in PoW 2013. The Execution Plan, Technology Strategy and Design Responsibility Matrix will ensure proper implementation of BIM.

Overseas: in countries where the PoW or procedures derived from it are used, the draft PoW 2013 will act as a briefing document.

Comment by Felix Mara

One of strengths of the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 is its commitment to plain, jargon-free language that won’t quickly become unfashionable. Painful words such as ‘deliverables’ have crept in, but it could have been much worse.

So far, there have been fewer naysayers than one might have expected. Although traditional procurement is at centre stage in the current plan, few argue that PoW 2013 will undermine it or that it further erodes the powers of architects, because it is procurement-neutral. In fact, traditional procurement, more common on smaller projects, remains the typical route.

Explicit references to building information modelling (BIM)are suppressed in PoW 2013, which is surprising, because the RIBA group that worked on its BIM Overlay later became involved in its PoW taskforce. Nevertheless, BIM and its underlying principles are written into the structure of PoW 2013. Some would argue that the same is true of sustainability.

If architects wish to challenge PoW 2013, they will need to do so quickly or tackle problems once they have the opportunity to try it out in spring next year.

Many architects will be looking forward to the new challenges of PoW 2013 and the opportunity to play with this new gizmo, with its architectural grid structure and electronic interoperability.

  • Felix Mara is the editor of AJ Specification and technical editor of the AJ. felix.mara@emap.com

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