Landis: Improving Handoff From Design to Production

by Kyle Clapham

One of the biggest obstacles to a successful design-build project occurs during the handoff from the design team to the production team. In other words, the first step to improving the final design output—this includes drawings, specifications and the contract—should not be motivated by calls from the construction department asking for missing information, or comments from the construction department such as, “These drawings suck.”

The road to improvement starts with process. A clear written process for every project is key. This starts with the sales contract and a clearly defined scope of work agreed to by both parties. The goal is then to capture that agreement and bring it to life in working drawings and in 3D models.

Focus on the Right Deliverables

Crucial to any process is understanding the list of deliverables needed by all parties. There are three phases of design—schematic design (SD), design development (DD) and construction drawings (CD)—that need to include different drawings. Many design-build firms post their lists of design deliverables along with examples on their websites. It can also be useful to mention in your design contract what is and what is not a deliverable for each phase.

Drawings and graphic standards are core components, or the process. Clear standards enable growth, ease of onboarding for new hires, and more efficient organizational throughput. This means you should review with your design team all the aspects of what should be delivered. No item is too small. These can include line weight details, required drawings, drawing order and drawing placement, as well as window and door schedules, etc.

Depending on the state and city in question, building departments have many requirements that are prescriptive and mandatory and must be met before the review process begins. These requirements include the layout of the cover page, font size, zoning data, soil-erosion control notes, diagrams, tree plans and energy calculations, just to name a few. These requirements can change by jurisdiction. All these need to be reviewed with the design team and understood by the team.

Delegate and create a design committee to pull all the details together. Also, create a master set for all parties to use as a reference. A checklist attached to each set of drawings, with boxes to check for each drawing phase, is another best practice.

Conduct a Trade Day

Another critical stop on the road to the creation of great construction documents is the practice of reviewing the project with the trade contractors who will be involved in the project. This practice is often referred to as a “trade day.” This is where the team and any trade partners (subcontractors) get to walk the job with drawings in hand.

All of them are encouraged to ask questions and point out missing information. The goal is to collect information and bids and then incorporate that information into the construction drawings and contract.

In our design-build world, the complete specs and scope of work are captured in our estimate, such as the make, model number, features and finish of windows, for instance. We even state in our construction contract that in the event should there be discrepancies between drawings and contract, the contract rules.

In the interest of improving the handoff from design to production, our company has a process whereby we have several meetings in which production has a chance to review the drawings. This way they can bring their thoughtful suggestions to be considered for incorporation into the final construction set of drawings. The contract is also reviewed with the estimator and all parties. The goal is that upon incorporation of all the comments, the sales team is ready to sell, and production is ready to own.

Finishes are a critical component on all jobs. Getting clients to sign off on all finishes down to knobs and grout colors is important. Then ordering and tracking them are key to the job schedule and workflow and, ultimately, client satisfaction.

There are several cloud-based software solutions that enhance the design selection process and can be used by all vested parties. Access from the field to your project finishes database is also very helpful. When a tiler opens a box of tile, he needs to know that it is the right tile.

The goal of any process is seamlessness, record-keeping, accountability and accessibility by all invested parties. A tight handoff process will preserve gross profit and protect new profit, minimizing slippage (as well as eliminating gripes). Go improve it and enjoy a smoother journey. QR

Christopher K. Landis, AIA, founded Landis Architects/Builders in Washington, D.C, with his brother Ethan Landis. He brings 33 years of remodeling design, construction and management experience to this series of columns for the magazine. You can reach him at

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