Constructability Reviews  

by Jason G. Smith
Principal, Construction Analysis and Planning, LLC and



Constructability reviews are routinely performed throughout the industry, but with mixed results. These varied results are driven by many factors, but the most predominant factors are the reviewer's experience level and amount of time allotted to complete the review. Construction management firms and general contractors regularly charge young project engineers with the task of performing constructability reviews simply because the more experienced executives do not have the time. Because design schedules and bidding periods are customarily short the time allotted for a constructability review is routinely very brief. This important task is sometimes limited to only two or three days. However, performing a constructability review requires an intimate knowledge of the project. The unfortunate reality is that when a mere few days is set aside for this important step the reviewer barely has enough time to attain an overview of the project, much less review and understand its intricacies.


When allocated the task of performing a constructability review for the first time many look at the tremendous stack of drawings and specifications with the same unsettling thought; "Where do I start?" The answer to this question is actually quite simple, start at the bottom and work your way up. Go through the drawings in the same manner in which the project is built. A common procedural mistake made by inexperienced reviewers is starting on the first sheet of the drawings and simply flipping page by page looking for problems. Because construction projects are highly complex it is not realistic to expect that the problems will be clearly evident as you sift through the drawings. The most effective constructability reviews are completed by going through the construction process step by step. As you conceptually walk through the construction process you will inevitably discover details or written information that are either incorrect or missing from the documents. When these problems are noticed, you add them to the review comments. This is a basic and simple methodology, but it is also very time consuming. It is recommended that constructability reviews be performed in five common phases: 1) Structural, 2) Building Envelope, 3) Interior Architectural, 4) MEP, and finally 5) Sitework.

To help answer the question "Where do I start?" The top five rules for an effective constructability review are outlined below. This will help your team in producing quality constructability reviews that aid in the success of your projects.

The Top Five Rules for an Effective Constructability Review:

  1. Build the Project; Don't focus solely on the problems. Only by taking the time to walk through the construction process step by tedious step will the problems be discovered. Avoid viewing a constructability review as an exercise in flipping through the construction documents with a focus on finding the problems, as the problems will not jump out at you.

  2. Review the Interface of Various Systems. Whether it be interior, exterior, structural or MEP, problems are not discovered nearly as frequently within the body of a system as they are at the perimeter of a system where it interfaces with the various adjacent systems and trades.

  3. Keep the Review of Preliminary Documents Constructive. When performing a constructability review on 50%, 75%, or even 90% documents, be cognizant that the design documents are not complete and avoid providing the design team an exhaustive list of things they already know aren't done. Preliminary reviews should focus on general design approaches, correcting items that have been completed and identifying the obscure, easy to miss, details.

  4. Stay Focused on the Important Items. Before making a comment to the design team, ask yourself two questions. First, "Will this impact the cost, time, or quality of the project?" and secondly, "Will the contractor, or subcontractors, require an answer to this question in order to perform their work?" If the answer to either of these questions is yes, pose the comment. Otherwise, posing the comment will consume the design team's time that could be better spent directed to other issues.

  5. Take the Time to Complete a Thorough Review. A thorough constructability review will take weeks, even months, but for every hour spent planning a project the hours saved down the road are exponential. Thorough reviews cannot always be complete and incorporated into the design documents in time for bid, but it is nonetheless important to address the problems early in the project.

There is a widespread misconception that constructability reviews must be completed in time for all solutions to be incorporated into the bidding documents. This belief is absolutely untrue. Incorporating all of the solutions prior to bidding would be optimal, but it is not a realistic expectation. Nor should this sequencing concern be a deterrent from performing thorough constructability reviews. It is still greatly beneficial when problems are identified and resolved shortly after the bidding phase. The sooner problems are identified and resolved, the greater success a project will have.

It is also important to keep in mind that constructability reviews benefit a project in more ways than one. For instance, a constructability review is an excellent exercise for the reviewer to learn and become knowledgeable of every facet and intricate detail of a project. This exercise is a tremendous benefit to the Project Superintendent in particular. It is also a more efficient method of solving problems than the alternative of issuing RFIs for each individual issue. And yet another advantage is that value engineering suggestions are a natural byproduct of this process.

A few of the fundamental benefits that are still realized when constructability reviews are completed shortly after the bidding phase include the following:

  1. A reduction of change order issues resulting from re-work, as the problems will be identified and resolved before errant work is performed.

  2. The luxury of time to review and negotiate change order pricing from the general contractor and subcontractors. When problems are discovered during the course of work time constraints often force you to hastily approve change order requests, even when you feel they might be excessive.

  3. Avoidance of delays caused by problems discovered during the course of construction. The time it takes to examine a problem and devise a solution chronically slows, or even halts, progress.

Methodologies of completing thorough and comprehensive constructability reviews vary widely. For instance, they may be performed by the general contractor, construction manager, or even an independent firm. Furthermore, sometimes the review will be performed by a different person for each individual design discipline, and other times the entire review will be performed by a single person. All of the different methodologies comprise their own unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

For example, a constructability review performed by a different party for each design discipline will enable a person with specialized skills and deep experience in each respective field to be assigned. However, this approach will be deficient in regards to interdisciplinary coordination because the independent reviewers narrowly focus on their assigned set of drawings and specifications. Interdisciplinary coordination is tremendously important, as many change order issues originate from conflicts between the various design disciplines. Conversely, a review performed by a single person for the entire project will be highly effective with regard to interdisciplinary coordination, but may lack deep experience in each of the individual design fields.

A general contractor may directly employ 100 or more different companies for a construction project. There will be multiple bidders for each of these scopes of work, and the majority of these bidders will in turn receive bids from a variety of manufacturers, suppliers, and other companies as well. Once a project is completed, it is not uncommon for nearly 1,000 different companies to have been involved from the project's conception, through design, bidding, construction, and eventually completion. This emphasizes the importance of the design documents. The only truly efficient and effective means of conveying coordinated direction to all of these parties is via the design documents.

A notable misconception commonly held by design team members is that information they are unable to incorporate into the design documents prior to issuance for bidding can be quickly and simply added to the bid instructions. General contractors prepare and issue bid instructions to delineate the scope of work for each individual subcontractor. Although providing direction to the bidders via the bid instructions might appear equivalent to providing direction via the design documents, it can actually be quite confusing during construction. There are many reasons for this, but one is the status quo in the construction industry that all members of a project team must recognize is that subcontractors will thoroughly read the bid instructions during the bidding phase, but they are highly unlikely to ever review them again after being awarded a project. Because this is a standard operating procedure in the industry, it is actually much less efficient for the general contractor to issue direction in their bid instructions than it is to incorporate the direction into the design documents.

Again, it is a good management practice to perform a complete constructability review as early as possible, even though the review comments may not be incorporated into the design documents prior to bidding the project. It must be recognized and fully understood by all project team members that shortening or eliminating the constructability review process does not eliminate problems. Shortening or eliminating this crucial design step only delays discovery of the problems. It is always advantageous to identify and solve problems as early as possible. Identifying and solving problems early provides ample opportunity for resolution before delays are incurred and many times even before additional costs are incurred.


Video providing an example of a Constructability Review.   (4:18 min)

Video explaining the level of detail required at each of the various design stages, including the 50% DD, 100% DD, 50% CD and 90-100% CD milestones.   (2:06 min)

Video discussing the Top 5 Barriers to completing a comprehensive Constructability Review.   (4:58 min)

Video outlining the additional benefits of a Constructability Review.   (4:10 min)

Emerging Issues

Design schedules always seem to be pressed for time, which is the result of two primary factors. The most obvious factor is that owners always want to move their projects forward as quickly as possible, so they pressure design teams into abbreviated design schedules. Architects frequently concede to this pressure. The second primary factor contributing to compressed design schedules is much less obvious than the first. It is human nature. People of all professions have a tendency to procrastinate in their duties. This is why design teams routinely accelerate their pace in the final weeks of the design phase, as opposed to progressing at a constant pace from start to finish. In the end, issuance of incomplete design documents is the recurrent and regrettable result of these two unfortunate factors.

Relevant Codes, Standards, and Guidelines

A constructability review must be performed by an experienced individual(s), which means an executive level person(s) must allocate a significant amount of their time for this task. In reality, finding executives with multiple weeks of available time is often deemed impossible. But problems are difficult to find and require an experienced set of eyes to identify. This means assigning young project engineers to this task is significantly less productive because the younger generation hasn't yet gained enough experience to know what to look for.

Employing a competent and reputable third party firm to perform a constructability review is an excellent management practice. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, a thorough constructability review can take weeks or even months to complete. Further, comprehensive constructability reviews cannot be performed until the design documents are near completion. This is the main reason that there never seems to be enough time for a thorough review. As a result, the constructability review process is often cut short.

Additional Resources

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