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Survey to use recent project data in bid to boost quality of design documents

Angela Gismondi
Survey to use recent project data in bid to boost quality of design documents

A nationwide online survey is looking to collect data, opinions and experience from construction professionals on the quality of design documents and the impact on project delivery.

According to the study overview, the goal is to establish solid empirical evidence on the relationship between project owners’ upfront investment in the pre-project stage and the quality of design documents, along with key project performance indicators, such as efficiency of bidding, number and extent of change orders, cost overruns and schedule delays, in the whole project lifecycle.

“The main goal of the online survey is that we are trying to paint the overall picture in a more correct way to see the impact from the upfront project investment at the very beginning by the owner down to the design engineers and architects, through the bidding system,” explained Dr. Arnold Yuan, associate professor in the department of civil engineering at Ryerson University, who is part of the research team from the Ryerson Institute for Infrastructure Innovation (RIII) commissioned to conduct the study.

“We want to see how that would impact the overall delivery, particularly the implementation of construction. We are taking the quality of design documents as the centre point.”

The online questionnaire is part of a three-part study titled The Impact of Pre-Project Investment and Quality of Documents on Project Delivery Efficiencies. It is supported by a number of construction associations in the design and construction industry across Canada and co-funded by Mitacs, a national fund that supports applied research and industry-academia collaboration.

A Project Steering Committee (PSC) consisting of industry experts was established to guide the direction and implementation of the study.

“We are looking at projects that went well and some that went a little off the rails to get a sense of what is the relationship between time and effort spent pre-project, with respect to design and creation of good documentation before the shovel goes in the ground, and what impact that has on how the project is delivered,” said Bruce Matthews, CEO of Consulting Engineers of Ontario and chair of the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario’s steering committee for the Ryerson research project.

“There is not a great deal of research out there. That is why this study is so important.”

What sets the online questionnaire apart is the focus on objective project data, explained Yuan, adding unlike other studies that seek general opinions, this study asks participants to provide their feedback based on their experience on their most recent project.


The hope is this will help trigger changes, whether it’s in the procurement process or through the project lifecycle,

— Ken Lancastle

Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada


“The majority of questions were targeted to get more project specific data,” said Yuan. “We invite the respondent to first picture one project in their mind and all the remaining questions will be based on that project. Due to privacy issues, we don’t ask the respondents what exact project that they were talking about. We are asking for projects that have been completed in the last five years.”

The questionnaire provides four different streams for respondents: project owners, architects and engineers, general contractors and subcontractors. Representatives from all sectors are invited to participate. The deadline has been extended to Aug. 16.

The overall decline in the quality of design documents is a topic that has been discussed for many years, said Ken Lancastle, COO of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada.

“It’s been something that has been talked about, but what is important with this study is they are looking at a way to quantify what poor design documentation will actually do to a construction project,” he said. “The challenge in the past is that it hasn’t been something that is easy to quantify. It has just been an issue that is raised.

“The hope is this will help trigger changes, whether it’s in the procurement process or through the project lifecycle.”

The results are expected to provide an objective framework for a change in the project delivery policies in public infrastructure and an opportunity for the design and construction industry to improve communication, awareness and build further trust among all project stakeholders, the overview states.

“We’re trying to paint a correct image of the overall situation in the industry so that hopefully we can provide a little more evidence basis for the next stage of policy-making for the overall construction industry,” said Yuan.

The study includes three major components:

Conduct a nationwide online survey to collect data and opinions on the current level of upfront investments and their impacts on the quality of design documents and project delivery efficiency;

collect factual project data from sample projects to quantify the impacts; and

conduct in-person interviews to obtain best practices and lessons learned from the sample projects.

“We are trying to gather the general opinions through our analysis of this data and incorporating with the factual data we collected from sample projects,” said Yuan, adding the interview questions are similar to questions in the survey. “The purpose of the personal interview is trying to get more stories focusing on the design changes, focusing on the questions related to the quality of design documents. For example, if you had change order, what are the reasons? Construction site issue? Omission or errors from design architecture? Or because of scope change.”

Incomplete drawings have an impact on everyone in the supply chain, said Sandra Skivsky, chair of the National Trade Contractors Council of Canada.

“The drawings are getting more and more incomplete as they reach the trade contractor and it affects everybody,” she told the Daily Commercial News. “During the tendering process if you don’t have a complete set of drawings…it’s like having a recipe with missing amounts and missing ingredients and missing cooking times. You’re trying to figure out what should the price be for the final product when you’re not quite sure what it is.”

To complete the survey in English visit

The French version is available at


Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.


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