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Be brief, be precise

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Briefing on operational requirementsThe publication of a new British Standard in the area of design briefing aims to reinforce current best practices through a focus on the operability of facilities. BS 8536:2010 Facility Management Briefing – Code of Practice provides owners, operators and designers with guidance on incorporating operational needs and requirements.

Beyond buildability

Ensuring that design takes account of operational requirements is a critical factor in the success of a new or refurbished facility. Design decisions have to be based on the correct information and data, and their impact on operations has to be understood before they are committed to construction work and/or installation. Once the facility is operational, it is too late to comment on the suitability or effectiveness of the design. The principle of buildability is widely applied in design; however, the principle of operability is not necessarily practised to the same extent. Facility management briefing reinforces the importance of adopting a whole life perspective of a facility; not solely its design and refurbishment or construction.

For the owner and/or operator of a facility, an objective might be to optimise operational cost over the whole life cycle. In this connection, the facility might need to sustain operations and support use over many decades in an environment in which pressure to reduce energy use and, by implication, carbon emissions is likely to increase significantly. The standard is intended to cover a wide range of facilities whose requirements have to be scrutinised individually. Its target audience is owners, operators and designers, and is as applicable to refurbishment as it is to new build.

Not one, but several briefs

The standard outlines the process of design briefing as opposed to specifying detailed documentation. The rationale is simple. Unless the process is defined and an explicit plan formulated, the need for, and extent of, specific documents cannot be determined reliably. In this regard, documents represent both inputs and outputs of the process. Without that process in place, they may fail to reflect their true purpose, scope and content. Nonetheless, the standard contains ample guidance on the key outputs (deliverables) in the process – the statement of needs and functional brief – as well as other matters of a practical nature. It prefaces them with a plan of design briefing – a roadmap of how to initiate briefing – based on the principle of a stage-gated process in which progression to the next stage is conditional upon satisfying predefined criteria.

The term design brief is widely adopted in practice and, for the purpose of the standard, is an all-embracing concept. The facility management brief can be one of a number of documents collectively referred to as the design brief. Other briefs might be prepared on various aspects of the facility, for example financial and legal matters, procurement and contractual arrangements. Whilst the facility management brief might be prepared as a standalone document, it should nonetheless form an integral part of the design brief. The standard is unreservedly concerned with the safe and correct operation of the facility, which it encourages through improved briefing practice, especially in terms of operability and energy-related matters. It also provides an objective basis against which design briefing practices and performance can be measured – that is why it is a standard. The expectation is that existing plans of work will be adjusted to benefit from the wider range of issues considered.

BS 8536:2010 Facility Management Briefing – Code of PracticeProvisions to ensure inclusive design and management of the facility are also covered. The treatment is intended to be awareness-raising rather than prescriptive and is typical of the approach taken to the drafting of the standard. According to Dr Brian Atkin, Director of the Society, who is also a member of BSI’s Facility Management Technical Committee (FMW/1) that oversaw the drafting, “one of the current weaknesses in practice is the absence of a briefing plan of work that can be tailored to suit different kinds of facilities and to do so without becoming either complicated or prescriptive. There is a need for something to guide decision-making in design, not to constrain it. The standard provides a roadmap that draws attention to necessary considerations during the briefing process, particularly those relating to operational needs and requirements. The aim is to strengthen existing best practice by encouraging a balanced approach to briefing”.

Current best practice

The standard reflects current best practices and helps, through its definition of the briefing process, to show where particular practices and procedures fit in. Few, if any, facilities can be designed without wide consultation of one kind or another. The standard recognises the vital role that stakeholders of many kinds play in the success or otherwise of a facility. By incorporating the requirement to identify and assess stakeholders and then to engage them in the briefing process, the standard promotes an inclusive approach to design. Examples are given of how an easy, but effective, means for stakeholder impact analysis can be used to determine appropriate response strategies.

Uncertainty and risk abound in construction and so it should not be surprising that these concepts are actively considered. Risk assessment occupies a key position in the briefing process and is broadened to incorporate opportunity assessment. Looking at risks alone ignores potential benefits. Both downside and upside risks have to be fleshed out during the early stages of design, i.e. during briefing, if the owner and users of the facility are to enjoy the most beneficial choices in design, construction and, importantly, operations.

Feasibility studies occupy a key stage in the design process and the standard considers the scope and content of them as a means for ensuring that the developing design will be fit for purpose. During the development of the design, many events will threaten the integrity of the design and so change control has to be built-in from the outset. Any changes have to be properly evaluated if they are to be approved and that must include their impact on operations and use as well as their cost and time. Too often in practice, decisions are taken without due consideration of the longer term implications. Looking at the capital cost and construction schedule is short-sighted and runs contrary to best practice project control.

Operations and maintenance might appear to be something to concern facility managers once the facility is operational; but unless there is a properly developed understanding during design of how the facility can be managed safely and correctly, problems will be stored up for the owner and/or operator. The standard serves as a reminder of needs and requirements in the operational phase. The cornerstone of a push for greater awareness of operational demands is the requirement for a Facility Handbook – an organised collection of documentation covering the operation of the facility. The Handbook brings together, in a single coordinated document, the health and safety file, as-built information, building log-book and other operational data to deliver an information asset for the owner and operator.

Future-proofing

The standard is forward-looking in its scope and treatment by anticipating, for example, tougher measures covering environmental assessment, including energy consumption and carbon emissions. The development of the Common Carbon Metric will play a vital role in future assessments and evaluations of facilities. The particular requirement to consider operational carbon – defined as the weight of carbon dioxide equivalent attributable to the operational phase – will ensure that a more holistic evaluation of a facility’s design over its projected lifetime is undertaken. The standard complements current and emerging legislation as far as practicable.

There is a chance that facility management briefing will be regarded as simply taking into account the routine, daily chores associated with operating a facility. When all the effort of design, construction, commissioning and handover is done, the owner is at the beginning of the most demanding phase of all and faced with the compelling question of how to gain – financially, socially and environmentally – from the facility over the years and decades to come. For the start-up of operations and beyond to yield no unpleasant surprises, there has to be an explicit plan of how to capture needs and define requirements in a structured manner – briefing cannot simply happen.

In the unstructured environment of the early stages of design, it makes sense to put order into the briefing process. That process should be neither open-ended nor constraining, but should exist in the middle ground to guide the decision-making of the designer, as an individual or as an integrated design team, towards a fully-operable solution that meets requirements. Major facility owners and operators have been working along these lines and those outlined for years, but they are in a minority. Far more owners, operators and designers need something to serve their interests in design briefing to make it a more certain and predictable process.

“The value of BS 8536 is significant” believes Stan Mitchell, chairman of FMW/1. “The benefit that a true facility management approach offers government, commerce and industry is its contribution during design, whether for new build or refurbishment. Input at this stage will influence operational costs and the efficient use of the asset which is now recognised as representing 80% of whole life cost. When you add the potential to directly influence the carbon footprint, sustainability, working environment and flexibility in use, the gains from such an early input can be invaluable.”

Planning ahead

New or refurbished facilities represent opportunities for owners and operators, as well as exposure to numerous risks. Significant amongst those risks will be stakeholders of many kinds, with different powers and degrees of urgency brought to bear on the briefing process. Appropriate engagement of those stakeholders is essential and represents just one example of the competing pressures on designers. By anticipating the hurdles along the way and adopting an inclusive, stage-gated process and plan of work for briefing, the design that ensues is more likely to satisfy operational needs and requirements.

Note. BS 8536:2010 Facility Management Briefing – Code of Practice is available from British Standards Institution.


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