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  • Karim Allana

Peer Review and Project Success: Exploring the Connection in the Construction Industry

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

In the medical field, peer review is considered de rigueur: when a paper has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it's validated for everyone in the profession.

The same holds true for the construction industry. Having an impartial third party with deep expertise in your field reviewing the plans can save a lot of time, expense and frustration later on. This peer review process can uncover potential design errors, structural issues, and compliance shortcomings before they transform into expensive or hazardous situations. If there is an error in the shop drawings, for example, or the design requirements change, you can end up with a flawed result regardless of how well-planned and executed the job may be.

Peer review, better known as Plan Review in the construction industry, consists of the following steps:

1. Planning. Front-end planning should fit within the framework of the construction firm's overall strategic planning process. Identify mission-critical areas that will impact the contractor's success, such as business development, costs, purchasing, project management, equipment management, and subcontractor management.

2. Team selection. Choose an objective review committee from beyond your geographical area of operations. You can source such contacts from the chapter presidents of professional organizations such as the American Institute of Constructors (AIC), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), or Associated General Contractors (AGC). You may also find possible plan review contacts at places such as conventions or continuing education seminars.

Select team members based on their experience relevant to your firm and the types of work you do. For example, if you're a building contractor, you'll want someone with this experience on your peer review team. A specialist such as an electrical contractor may be able to provide useful business practices guidance to a general contractor. In general, a team of three to five plan reviewers should provide the appropriate balance of information needed for a worthwhile plan review.

3. Data development. Ideally, prior to an onsite visit, you should gather financial, accounting, business development and other relevant data to provide your team with background information.

4. Site visit. Choosing a time for the visit requires some forethought: ideally, you want a less busy period, such as the late fall or winter months, when most construction firms are on a reduced schedule. At the same time, your plan review team should be able to observe operations during a somewhat typical workload, which can affect the risk of mistakes or omissions. Under optimal conditions, a peer review should take two days.

5. Peer review report. Finally, the feedback should clearly communicate the team's findings and recommended course(s) of action to improve outcomes. The more quantitative your peer review team's report, the more specific your next steps can be. The report should include timetables with targets, so you have measurable goals from which to proceed.

Of course, simply having a peer review and a report with recommended actions is not a magic bullet; other issues might come into play. For instance, a contractor may be resistant to change if his mentor, or the company founder, instituted a procedure that they are loath to alter because "it's always been done this way." So, buy-in from the top is essential in order to implement beneficial change.

Also, costs and regulatory requirements may factor into the recommended changes. The best peer review will take a broad view of the construction systems, with a deep understanding of the integrated systems that all affect the potential for change.



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