Bridging the gap between pre-construction and construction

In the complex world of infrastructure project delivery, information is power. But when it comes to construction, do the right people have the right information? Not always. And it’s costing time and money.

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Infrastructure projects generally start with a feasibility analysis, which helps to inform whether a proposed project is, well...feasible. Once it’s determined that the project can be delivered within a reasonable cost and time, the process of developing a business case (or several) begins.

Around this point, you’ll generally see a lot of optioneering done via multi-criteria analysis (MCA). The purpose of this process is to explore the different paths to success available for the project and decide which is most appropriate based on cost benefit analysis, along with consideration of any logistical issues.

In parallel with the development of the business case, a reference design can be created, along with documentation that explains the design, why the various options were considered, and why other paths were deemed unsuitable or infeasible.

This information is subsequently all stored in a safe yet accessible location and sent off to the contractor so that the client’s engineers and architects can move on to their next project, and the contractor can start working on their own design and towards the construction phase.

Except it doesn't always work out that way...

Workers at rail construction site

A reference design is more than just a guide

Once a contractor has been awarded a piece of work, they’re entitled to re-address any and all options necessary as suits their needs, as long as their chosen approach fits within the stipulations of their contract, commonly known as Scope and Technical Requirements (STRs).

The contractor will usually receive a reference design, which essentially proves that the project can be completed within the stipulated STRs. This reference design is informed by a considerable amount of decision-making by the client’s engineering team. It takes all known consequences and potential risks into account in order to offer a viable route to project completion.

After looking at the reference design the contractor might decide they’ve got a better or a more economical way to do the works, not realising that this approach has already been deemed infeasible or too costly. Without access to the documentation explaining the rationale behind the plan of action, the construction team is free to deliver the project however they see fit. And they might run into issues as a result.

Melbourne freeway.jpg

The knowledge gap

One of the largest frustrations for contractors on a design and construct (D&C) contract is a lack of access to the MCA and optioneering documentation, meaning they have to create the same documentation from scratch.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the team that did all the optioneering and analysis has probably left the building! Their job is done. They’ve got no reason to stick around once the business case has been approved. But if all of their good and valuable work isn’t readily and conveniently available, both the contractor and the project are at an immediate disadvantage.

Bridge overpass construction project Australia. Two road decks with a gap between.

How do we bridge this divide?

The good news is that the solutions to this problem are straightforward. You either orchestrate a handover period between the pre-construction and construction teams, or you bake a team into the project who is responsible for documentation from the get-go, and over the life of the project. Ideally, you do both. 

During a handover period, the overlap between teams doesn’t need to be long and drawn out (and subsequently expensive from a resourcing perspective). This process can actually be quite brief in the scale of things, so long as it is thorough enough to ensure that the construction team walks away with:

  • An airtight understanding of how the project’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWAT) were balanced in the reference design.
  • An understanding of the value that the reference design would provide, which then becomes the bar for the contractor to meet or exceed.
  • A solid working relationship with the project’s dedicated documentation personnel.

There’s no point in having robust and thorough documentation that the construction team either can’t access or doesn’t know exists. That is why adopting one of these two bridging strategies is so crucial.

Once a major project is completed, there’ll usually be a project retrospective that examines what went right and what went wrong, and vital information not getting to the contractor is a frequent feature of these reviews.

Yet no matter how many times it’s flagged as something to be aware of for the next project, the time and effort required to avoid it happening again (which is relatively small compared to the effort required to remedy the issue once it pops up), it rarely gets put in.

Good project management is invaluable

Project managers are one of the few disciplines engaged on a project before, during, and after the transition from pre-construction to construction. This continuity is a key risk mitigation strategy as the movement is made from planning and design into delivery.


A good project management team can facilitate and shape the handover of high-quality documentation and help bridge the gap. They can help contractors reconcile the client’s vision with their own course of action, and facilitate a satisfactory outcome for all stakeholders.

Matt Gygi

Practice Lead - Infrastructure


When it comes to documentation, utilising the right technologies can also really help. Using portfolio, program and project software such as RPS’ myProjects can make a huge difference to the speed and quality with which projects are delivered, and how quickly issues are identified and addressed. Information is readily accessible, and everyone from the project sponsor to the site manager is talking the same language.

There’s a fine line to walk between general adherence to the reference design and what works best for the contractor. And of course, there are project contracts that encourage and incentivise contractors to innovate during the delivery phase.

If you focus on bridging the gap and engage the right project manager, you should be well on your way to project delivery outcomes that match design intent.


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