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More about building the in-house team

Find out more about the roles of design champion, lead client, project manager, and other team members such as facilities manager and board members.

Design champion – board level support

Experience has shown the value of appointing someone who acts to safeguard design quality on your behalf. The design champion will stay in close touch with your project from start to finish, and be able to relate what is being proposed to the original vision and aspirations for high quality design. They don’t need to be an expert on design issues, just clear about why they are important.

A design champion’s role is to:

  1. articulate the vision and the desire for high quality design
  2. formulate client aims for quality of design, and ensure these are clearly stated within the outline brief
  3. help to define, check and evaluate quality throughout the process
  4. if necessary, insist on changes to maintain quality
  5. sign-off initial business case and feasibility study if there is no lead client
  6. choose a lead client for day-to-day management, if needed.

For some projects the chief executive, owner, a board member or equivalent may take on the role, or combine it with other project activities. In others, the lead client may appoint someone else. Whoever you appoint will need to be in direct communication with the lead client, although on some projects they may be the same person.

The design champion’s support at the highest level is especially important when the going gets tough. They need to:

  • identify where the client lead needs support
  • make sure the project vision reflects the organisation’s needs
  • make sure the project actually delivers on that vision.

It is important to identify your design champion early in the project. This will give them the chance to stay in close contact with the project throughout its life, and to help develop the original vision. Once the idea of design quality is fully accepted by the project delivery team the design champion’s role will be less time-consuming, although always significant.

A 'champion', with a good grasp of the core design quality required, is invaluable. It has to be someone able to stick to the agenda, as it is quite easy to lose sight of the core needs.
Experienced client

Lead client – representing the client

The lead client is the main person representing your organisation – the client. They represent the client, and communicate with the rest of the organisation.

The lead client’s role is to:

  • act as ‘client’ throughout the project, representing the whole organisation
  • develop an agreed management structure
  • set priorities to meet the vision
  • sign off stages as the project progresses
  • ask searching questions of all those involved in supplying and interpreting information to make sure it is clear and relevant
  • accept risks that may be implied by options considered or adopted
  • communicate with the change management team about implications of the new building.

They will need access to the design champion and the appropriate power to carry out the role.

How much time they need will depend on the nature of the project. For example, for a small but complicated £2 million project, a lead client may need to devote 50 per cent of their time to it, especially at the early stages. However, a larger project – say £15 million – would be likely to need a full-time lead client.

The lead client needs to be assertive, a good communicator and skilled at creating positive team interaction. They should be politically astute, highly motivated and a shrewd decision-maker who can make people believe that your project should, and will, happen. The lead client should be aware of the needs of all stakeholders and have a direct and open relationship with the interest groups in your organisation.

The lead client needs to be appointed early on, since their key job is to act as client throughout the project.

Project manager – managing the process

There is a role to manage your project proactively – if it is large or complex, this will be a job in itself. While the lead consultant may take on this role, large projects will often employ an experienced project manager. They will make fundamental judgements about time, quality and cost.

There are two types of project manager and you may need either or both depending on your project.

The first is the employer’s representative, who is employed to look after your interests in relation to the technical aspects of the project. They will brief and manage other professionals and have general powers to act on your behalf. This person may come from inside your organisation and be taught the necessary skills, or be recruited specifically for your project.

The second is a contract project manager who acts as a contract administrator. They are named in the contract between the client and the contractor and chosen as part of the external team. This role requires experience of construction projects.

Other team members

Facilities manager – managing the completed building

The facilities manager manages the building when it is complete and arranges contracts and management of services such as security, cleaning and deliveries. This role is becoming more important as the need for buildings to reduce carbon emissions over the building lifetime increases.

While it is not always possible to hire the person who will actually manage the finished building, the expertise of a hands-on building manager can be useful at a very early stage. Having your existing facilities manager, or an external expert, involved at the briefing and design stage is a simple action that can make a great difference later when the building will be used.

Facilities management is a key part of private finance initiative (PFI) or design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) projects because the operation of the building over a long time, say 25 years, is an integral part of the contract to design and build the project.

Board members – sources of expertise and influence

Bringing board members into the discussion early on will help gain their backing, and lets you see any specialist knowledge or helpful contacts they may have.

In small or voluntary sector organisations, board members may have more experience of construction projects than the lead client. However, if your board members do not have suitable experience, consider co-opting someone who does onto the in-house team. They can give advice on financial matters and add credibility to the project in the eyes of potential sponsors. Other people with influence, such as local councillors or MPs, may also lend their support.

Other specialist advice

Your project team may require a whole series of specialists, both internal and external. See Understanding the role of consultants and specialist advisors for more on external advice.

Client design advisor (CDA)

A CDA is an independent architect or other construction industry professional who has the specialist skills and experience to help client organisations to commission and build high quality projects.

According to RIBA, CDAs:

  • provide strategic advice
  • help clients to achieve their objectives
  • meet clients’ expectations on performance and design quality.
Empower those in your in-house team to be the leaders in their areas. Help them realise that the quality of their work has a direct impact on the project.
Project director on multiple developments