What is an IRS?
An IRS is, quite simply, a schedule that outlines what design information is going to be released during a construction project and when.
As we all know, it’s common for not all of the necessary design information to be available at tender stage or when contracts are being exchanged.
The IRS covers the remaining key documentation that has not been provided at the tender or contract stage. It provides the dates for the release of information from the design and consultant team to the contractor(s) and / or the schedule for the release of information from contractors to the consultant team and client.
An IRS is compiled by the project’s lead designer, usually the architect, who works in close consultation with other stakeholders.
Why is an IRS Important?
The IRS is valuable because it provides a central list of the outstanding design documents that still need to be issued and enables all parties, including the contractor(s), to plan for different stages of the project.
An IRS helps the design team to drive the design process by providing a clear plan with defined timeframes, which they can use to keep pushing the pace and coordinating information.
As with all successful construction projects, having a clear programme helps to avoid delays and provides a central point of reference for deliverables and timescales. The IRS covers crucial information, which will be key to the successful completion of different elements of the project.
An IRS works particularly well alongside a Design Responsibility Matrix (DRM) to provide a full picture of the design team and who needs to do what and when. Together, these two documents can be referred to by all stakeholders from the wider consultant team to the client and the contractor. This ensures all stakeholders know what is expected from them and what additional information is required.
When an IRS is available to all parties at tender stage, it ensures each bid can be developed on the same basis. It allows the contractor to plan their schedule of works, programme and budget around the key release dates, tells them the structure of the design team, what information they will be provided with, what they will need to submit in return, and enables them to make allowances for unknown quantities.
The availability and accuracy of the IRS, and how closely it is adhered to by the design team, can have a crucial impact on the success of the project for both the client and the contractor.
If an IRS is not released as part of the tender documentation, the contractor faces the risk of unknowns that they cannot plan for when estimating their programme and costs for the project.
Similarly, if the IRS is not accurate, there can be a risk to the contractor and other stakeholders who may not be able to deliver on their obligations because of the delays from other parties. Stakeholders need to be aware of their obligations to submit information at the correct stage and this needs to be clearly communicated.
Without the information covered by the IRS, project schedules can be unrealistic or unachievable. This can lead to financial and operation risk for all parties.
Arguably, the greatest risk is the contractual status of an IRS and this is discussed in more detail below.
What are the Contractual Obligations?
Care needs to be given to the contractual obligations of an IRS. It should not be assumed that an IRS automatically constitutes a binding element of your contract with your suppliers. Let’s consider how the significance of an IRS can differ when used alongside NEC and JCT contracts.
The project programme is a central part of NEC contracts and is covered in clause 31 ‘The Programme’ and clause 32 ‘Revising the Programme’. An NEC contract requires the submission of updated programmes at regular intervals, usually on a monthly basis.
A list of the critical information, which the consultant team is required to show on each programme submitted for acceptance by the client, is also identified. In addition, the NEC contract allows for a compensation event under clause 60, potentially entitling a contractor to time and money if the client does not provide information by the date shown on the accepted programme.
However, crucially an IRS is not specifically referred to in the NEC contract.
In contrast, the JCT contract focuses on a master project programme with a revised programme only required if the contractor requests an extension of time. However, the JCT format does specify the IRS as an optional clause in the Standard Building Contract 2016 at clause 2.11.
Where this is included unamended, under clause 2.11, the client or ‘Employer’ retains responsibility for the contents of the Employer’s Requirements. However, clause 2.11 is often amended by the client to transfer full responsibility to the contractor for the design set out in the Employer’s Requirements.
Compliance with an IRS
Although an IRS may form part of the contract documents alongside an outline programme, it does not automatically have a contractual status. The IRS and the programme provide all parties with details about the sequencing of the project and thus, the approach for how the project will operate.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the parties involved have to comply with every detail and date. The IRS would not generally constitute a contract document.
This is important because the failure of one or more contractor(s) to comply with an IRS could impact on all of the others involved and cause them to breach their own contract. You would have to consider the fact that if parties fail to stick to the dates in the IRS, then the contractor(s) may attempt to obtain an extension of time or raise a Compensation or Relevant Event against the client.
Great care is needed if the parties intend to give contractual status to an IRS and to any obligation to submit information in a timely fashion. If you want the outline programme and the IRS to be contractually binding, further advice should be taken, ideally from your legal advisors.
What Does a Good IRS Look Like?
A good IRS is clear, easy to follow, and realistic. Ideally it will be in a standard format so that it can be clearly aligned to other project documents such as the master project programme and subsidiary documents such as the DRM.
The IRS should be updated and revised as and when information is released and when there are key changes to the project that will have an impact on design. These may be changes due to amendments to specifications, broader issues which cause delay to the overall programme, or external factors such as planning and building control.
A good IRS must include practical, well thought through durations. By its very nature, the IRS should outline design approval stages and will trigger deadlines for the contractor and other suppliers, provide procurement timeframes and determine manufacturing, delivery and installation dates for key items.
It is crucial that all contributing parties are thoroughly consulted during the development of the IRS. Each party should provide their own estimate of the time required to complete their element of the design schedule so that the architect can incorporate them into the IRS. These estimates should be based on their experience of completing similar work together with the potential workload and capacity of their team members.
Where Building Information Modelling (BIM) is being used, the IRS may need to also include specific release protocols.
Above all, a good IRS will manage expectations whilst keeping timeframes tight and needs to be clearly communicated to all stakeholders.
How Should You Allow Sufficient Time in Your IRS?
A good IRS requires lots of planning and thought, not a finger in the air estimate, but a thoroughly researched and accurate piece of work.
This requires engagement with the whole consultant team from the earliest stage to ensure that everyone is able to fully input into the process and all necessary design elements are considered and captured. As far as possible, everything needs to be thought through in detail in advance.
That’s why it’s important an IRS is owned by a central point, such as the architect, who can act as the coordinator. Their role will be to outline the project specification, all necessary design requirements and to confirm the timeframes for each element.
They will need to liaise closely with the client and wider consultant team to identify potential delay factors so that each one can be taken into account, risk assessed, and any necessary leeway factored in.
Consideration should be given to factors that will affect the design process but are externally determined, such as planning permissions or the input of building control. As much as possible, the design lead will want to ensure such matters are already resolved before the IRS is released, but sometimes this is not possible. If further work on these matters is required, additional time will need to be factored into the release schedule.
One important consideration will be whether the consultant team and contractor(s) have worked together on previous projects, especially of a similar nature.
It will be far easier to make more reliable estimates if there are tried and tested relationships in place, or if parties have previous experience of working comparable contracts e.g. they have worked on similar small housing developments. Estimates will be more realistic. If, for example, there is a new technology which is being used for the first time, or you are working with an untried engineering firm, more flexibility may need to be factored into the deadlines.
Sufficient time will also need to be allowed for feedback on certain elements of the design to be provided, for design revisions to be undertaken and for the sign off process to be completed by all necessary parties.
How Do You Manage the IRS Across Stakeholders?
Whilst the IRS may be managed by one central point in the design team, it is by nature likely to have several different stakeholders who will be inputting information.
It will be important for the manager of the IRS to keep in close communication with these stakeholders until the schedule is completed and all of the information has been released.
The project IRS should be held with other key project files in a central document registry.
Ideally there will be clearly defined stages at which the IRS will be reviewed and updated. This would be as items on the schedule are released and also ahead of project meetings, where the IRS is an agenda item, providing a forum for any updates and issues to be discussed and revisions decided upon.
The IRS can be a very useful document that provides a central point of reference for all design requirements and helps to manage expectations and resources. To work effectively, an IRS needs to be carefully planned and regularly updated in consultation with all stakeholders.
One party’s delay within the schedule has the potential to create circumstances for other parties to be in breach of their own commitments and contract. Therefore, the contractual obligations of an IRS within your project needs to be carefully considered and discussed with all involved.
When used effectively, an IRS is a valuable tool for helping the design stage of a project to run more efficiently and ensure that key decisions are being made at critical times based on having all the necessary design information available.
Image credit: iStock.com/ilbusca
About Karen Toms
Karen Toms is an experienced project manager who has been managing commercial construction projects for the past eight years. She has also worked as a marketing consultant with a variety of property and construction companies.