Observations from Implementation

How to Design a Design Standard

The following is an excerpt and distillation of our work from a paper for TESIS Inter-University Research Center, Systems and Technologies for Social and Healthcare Facilities, University of Florence.

What happens when you design a portfolio of projects using a design standard?

We examined the designs of 44 newly constructed Nursing Home facilities in Nova Scotia in order to study how they followed a newly introduced design standard. We wanted to learn how closely the facilities resembled one another, and where they differed. The projects were designed by different teams for different builder-operators, and were designed and constructed roughly simultaneously. We found it intriguing how design standards can both restrict and encourage innovation and best practices (which are always evolving). This is a summary of our findings along with some considerations for crafting a design standard.

1. Not everyone interprets design standards in the way in which they were intended, and their meaning may not be widely and consistently understood. What is a “design standard” and what does it actually mean? (Is it official? Is it a guideline? A law?)
View the standard as driven by outcomes, rather than prescribed methods of getting to those outcomes, and include explanations of intent within the standard. Be clear about the enforceability of the standard.

2. Procurement processes in a multi-project portfolio impact the interpretation of the standard. The values against which the winning designers/constructors/operators are selected (i.e. cost, sustainability, durability, quality etc.) can impact the way the standard is interpreted and either curtail or enhance opportunities for innovation
Consider how procurement mechanisms relate to the standard that will be enforced. Are the procurement values in synch with the standard’s values? Seek alignment. If the main objective of the standard is durability, do not procure for lowest cost – the result will be challenges to the standard where durability can be interpreted in multiple ways.

3. A standard that is radically different from existing practices means that the processes of the occupants will be forced to change. Culture change must occur quickly and within the premise of “what will be.” This can be challenging at the best of times, but difficulties in adapting can be amplified when the impacts of a standard are not well understood, as is often the case.
Implement a structured culture change process as part of the design standard roll-out.

4. Designing and constructing several facilities simultaneously reduces opportunities to learn from project to project. This is not a factor of standards, but of the timing of implementation of projects that follow the standard.
Implement projects in sequence and include a mechanism for studying impacts on a project-by-project basis. Include mechanisms in the standard to allow for adaptations from lessons learned.

5. Unexpected interdepartmental conflicts may emerge within government agencies responsible for various aspects of review and approval. For example, in a healthcare project in Nova Scotia, the Department of Agriculture may have concerns with food delivery, floor finishes, and tasks of the front line workers as outlined in the standard. Work-arounds during implementation to satisfy conflicts between agencies can cause cost and timeline chain reactions.
Cast a wide stakeholder engagement net in the early stages of writing the standard.

6. In a building’s lifecycle, operating costs are much greater than upfront capital construction costs. If operations costs are not contemplated in the standard, they will be sacrificed in order to meet the capital construction project requirements.
Consider life cycle performance of the building when developing standards, not just cost on opening day.

7. Standards are uniform, but projects are impacted by unpredictable variables. Geography, labour and materials, topography, site availability, risk management, and politics are factors that can put unexpected pressure on a standard.

8. Seeing is believing. When people can touch and feel what is in their future, they imagine fewer obstacles.
Run pilot projects within existing facilities.