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What is Soft Landings?

Soft Landings is a cradle-to-operation project process which enables designers and constructors to focus more on operational performance outcomes. The approach helps project teams to deliver buildings that achieve their energy and environmental performance ambitions, while also focusing more on meeting the needs of occupants. Soft Landings requires clients and their design teams to make more use of performance feedback, from pre and post-occupancy building evaluations, to better inform client requirements and design briefs.

Soft Landings also provides a mechanism for designers and constructors to remain involved with their buildings beyond practical completion, which doesn’t happen on standard building projects. The objective is not to throw more effort at resolving defects, but to spend quality time assisting the client and occupiers during the first months of operation and beyond. The professional aftercare element of Soft Landings is about fine-tuning and de-bugging systems, and ensuring occupiers understand their working environment better.

Soft Landings does this by being a process that brings everyone on a project together to focus more on the desired operational outcomes. There are additional steps during briefing, design and delivery to enable this. Soft Landings also provides a platform for integrating the many disparate mechanisms that aim to produce better buildings, such as energy performance certification, environmental labelling, building performance evaluation, POE, occupant satisfaction surveys, and both quantitative and qualitative (health and wellbeing) building performance metrics.

In essence, Soft Landings involves:

  • Achieving greater clarity at the inception and briefing stages about client needs and required outcomes
  • Placing greater emphasis on building readiness, by the designer and constructor having greater involvement during the pre-handover and commissioning stages
  • A resident Soft Landings team located on site during the users' initial settling-in period
  • Remaining involved after occupation, during and beyond the defects liability period to resolve outstanding issues

Soft Landings requires designers and constructors to spend more time on constructive dialogue with the client, and in setting expectations and performance targets on energy and end-user satisfaction.

The continuing involvement by the client, design and building team during a three-year aftercare period will help the operators get the best out of the building. Everybody involved will benefit from the lessons learned from occupant satisfaction surveys and energy monitoring. The work steps in Soft Landings enable operators and users to spend more time on understanding interfaces and systems before they occupy the building. The designers and key contractors are tuned to understand and support the end-users in the critical early period of occupation.

Who runs Soft Landings?

BSRIA runs the Soft Landings initiative, developing and publishing the official guidance and arranging training in Soft Landings. Training is available as a set course or can be tailored for in-company training sessions. More advice is available via BSRIA Training.

That said, Soft Landings is an open-source methodology. A project team runs the Soft Landings approach, not any external body. It is not a tick-box assessment process, neither is it a licensed process, nor fixed product. The Soft Landings work steps can (and should) be tailored to suit a project's particular circumstances.

BSRIA runs an industry User Group for Soft Landings (UGSL) which can advise and support clients and supply-chain organisations starting out on Soft Landings. Membership of the User Group is open to all clients and construction companies for a modest subscription fee, which provides access to published advice and current developments.

What is the difference between BSRIA Soft Landings and Government Soft Landings (GSL)?

BSRIA Soft Landings is the process that describes the activities, roles and responsibilities over five project stages, from inception and briefing to a maximum 3-year period of professional aftercare. The Soft Landings Framework is the definitive methodology that describes Soft Landings. It is supported by other guidance documents that provide more detail, such as BREEAM 2011 & Soft Landings, How to Procure Soft Landings, and Pitstopping (see Soft Landings guidance downloads).

Government Soft Landings (often called GSL) is not an integrated and collaborative client/delivery team process like BSRIA Soft Landings, but more a set of facilities management-driven requirements for a well-performing building. It contains a set of activities and tasks on project delivery. These are mostly defined and managed by a GSL client sponsor, and a project GSL Champion who could be either appointed by a Government department internally or sourced externally. Government Soft Landings is set to become mandatory for central government projects in 2016, alongside Building Information Modelling (BIM), with which Soft Landings is well suited.

Government Soft Landings only applies to central government procurement. It is not designed to be used by other public sector bodies, such as local authorities. However, many County Councils are now citing GSL in their tender invitations and employers’ requirements. For the avoidance of doubt, tenderers for local government GSL projects should seek clarification from the client as to precisely what they mean by GSL, as many may not quite realise what they’re asking for.

Most Government Soft Landings requirements can be achieved by adopting the BSRIA Soft Landings approach. However, GSL contains targets for building performance and occupant health and wellbeing that are not prescribed in BSRIA Soft Landings. GSL does not say how these are to be measured, leaving it up to individual government departments and their supply chains to interpret the targets for their specific projects.

GSL documentation including the roles of GSL Champions, the performance metrics and the capital and operating cost aspects can be accessed via BIM Task Group.

Who should take part in Soft Landings?

All significant parties in a project team should adopt Soft Landings, although roles and responsibilities will depend on the project. For example, a catering contractor would sometimes have a key role (such as on a school project), other times not. The most important members of the Soft Landings construction team at the start are the professional designers and the client’s advisors, who will also be in a position to advise on the selection of main contractor, but also key specialists who have a significant role to play in determining the building’s subsequent in-use performance, particularly the asset managers, the commissioning engineers and the controls supplier/integrator.

It is important to include specialist sub-contractors, especially where they have a design responsibility and/or when their systems need to be integrated with other parts of the building, such as suppliers of automatic lighting and automatic window controls.

Controls sub-contractors are vital members of the Soft Landings team, as their systems are responsible for making sure that the building and its engineering services operate in accordance with the design specification, and are manageable by the client's facilities team after handover.

Designers of the controls systems must also stay engaged as part of the Soft Landings aftercare team, rather than passing their Soft Landings responsibilities over to a snagging team who may not appreciate the finer points of the design intention.

Who should lead a Soft Landings project?

Almost without exception, Soft Landings should be led and championed from the very start by the client and the project funders. The client sets the tone for the project, appoints the professional designers, and selects the form of procurement. They control the budget and the payment mechanisms. The client needs to embed the ethos of Soft Landings fully in the project and in all documentation and tendering mechanisms, and – vitally – make sure their project managers are totally committed to it.

It is vital that this leadership – which takes physical form in the actions of appointed Soft Landings Champions – does not dissipate during the project; otherwise the construction team might abandon their Soft Landings roles and responsibilities and fall back into standard (bad) practices. This means the client can’t turn its back on the project once the main contractor is appointed – it still has to lead and take an active role. Project re-engagement events at specific gateways, for example as defined by RIBA Work Stages, will help to re-establish and re-energise Soft Landings activities.

The momentum of Soft Landings can be maintained by external consultants, such as BREEAM and LEED assessors and project managers of various kinds, but clients should avoid contracting-out the leadership, as their nominated agents may not have the influence and authority required to make sure the right things happen at the right times.

Can I modify Soft Landings to suit my project?

Yes, in fact the Soft Landings Framework and its example worksheets are not designed to be applied without some tailoring to the local context, whether driven by a particular form of contract or by the type of building. Soft Landings is a generic framework, so a swimming pool will have a different set of Soft Landings requirements compared with those of a school, for example. The project team should identify these differences and requirements quite easily as they work through the worksheets.

An important step for a client adopting Soft Landings for the first time, is to revisit their project procurement process(es) and spend some time comparing Soft Landings work steps with what they already do. Sometimes there will be duplication; sometimes there will be gaps that need to be filled. Either way, melding Soft Landings into a revised set of project procedures is a good place to start. It will also show what expertise is missing, and what services might need to be bought-in – expert facilitation of review meetings and occupant surveys for example. It will also highlight training needs in things like energy analysis.

The next step is to hold a project workshop to determine what part of Soft Landings can practically be adopted. While adoption of Soft Landings can’t guarantee success, cherry-picking of the Core Principles will dramatically increase the risk of failure.

Not all Soft Landings requirements will be able to be sorted at the outset, some will need to wait until other professionals are hired, and some will need revisiting and revising as more information becomes available (particularly during detailed design). At the very least the project team should be able to identify additional duties required of key sub-contractors, and these requirements should be included in tender documents.

What are Soft Landings Champions?

Soft Landings needs strong client championing, as without that it is unlikely that Soft Landings will be a natural process for a project team. Soft Landings will work best when it is an explicit client requirement, and where the Soft Landings Framework has been adopted at a project's very inception.

Soft Landings need champions (at a minimum one on the client side and one on the project team side) who can stay with the project throughout, or hand over to someone with the same authority and enthusiasm. This will be vital for procurement processes where key members of a team may come and go (such as in design and build), and/or where key contractors may only join the project team much later and when much of the design may have been finalised. The champion will need to consider how Soft Landings duties need to be worded in contractors’ terms of appointment.

The role of the Project Manager is key. Project managers are primarily hired for their abilities to manage time and cost. A client wishing to adopt Soft Landings needs to give very careful thought as to the type of person they appoint to lead their project, and ensure the project manager's terms of reference are written with Soft Landings as the guiding principle.

Facilities management expertise needs to be involved in the early stages. It may require good skills in facilitation to get the best out of the facilities team during the briefing stages, as designers and premises managers can approach issues from very different perspectives. Engaging facilities managers also helps with the management of expectations, and will help the professional team to identify the degree of FM training and familiarisation that will be needed post-handover.

How much does Soft Landings cost to implement?

The simple answer is: it depends. Overall, Soft Landings only requires small amounts of extra funding that should show dividend in much lower building operating costs. Soft Landings is designed to run alongside any procurement process without duplicating existing good practice, so it depends how good the client’s project process already is, and how much it already focusses on quality and operational outcomes as opposed to lowest first cost. Owner-occupiers should already have access to performance feedback on their buildings. One-off clients will need to obtain it to inform their requirements and specifications, and will probably need to rely more on the building performance knowledge of their design team, who should have been partly selected for this type of knowledge in the first place.

The initial aftercare and extended aftercare elements of Soft Landings are additions to standard forms of procurement, and as such will require additional funding. Depending on the size and complexity of a project, £30,000 – £60,000 is a reasonable range to fund a three-year period of professional aftercare, weighted to the initial period of occupation. These costs are modest in relation to the value added to the client's building, in comparison to the cost of potential re-work, and the potential cost of high fuel bills from poorly finished-off and poorly-controlled building services.

The costs for the early stages - from project inception to pre-handover - should involve little extra cost, well within the margin of competitive bids. The additional costs will be for group facilitation in the briefing stages, reality checking of design decisions, and energy and occupant surveys that are best carried out by an independent organisation using industry-standard methodologies. However, the client may elect to fund building performance evaluation studies outside of the project capital budget. Arguably the professional designers should be doing it already as a standard service, and as part of their practice CPD. Again, this should have been part of the selection process.

How should clients budget for Soft Landings?

Given that energy use in poorly delivered buildings can often be two to five times higher than original estimates, with staff productivity and wellbeing compromised, the argument goes that clients can’t afford not to do Soft Landings.

Clients should set a notional budget for Soft Landings before they appoint a project team, after which they can work together to devise detailed costs. The budget is what the client can afford and wishes to invest, not the value to the project team of all the Soft Landings activities. Soft Landings is often ‘the art of the possible’.

The biggest error a client can make is to require tenderers to deliver a cost breakdown of their Soft Landings activities. However, no-one will know what the client actually wants and can afford. The contractors may itemise all tasks in the Soft Landings Framework, with the result that tender returns will likely be unaffordable. It is not unknown for individual contractors to price out their Soft Landings risk anywhere between £30,000 and £100,000. So BSRIA’s advice to clients is, don’t do it! Decide how much you have to invest (perhaps linked to savings in operational expenditure), and apportion tasks, roles and responsibilities out the budget once the project team is appointed.

In the early stages of procurement clients should merely be looking for commitment from tenderers, plus some statement of capability and willingness to work collaboratively and share information. The next stage, once the project team has been appointed, is to bring everyone together, decide roles and responsibilities, and put hours and expenses to the agreed activities. That has to be done in the round, and is best facilitated by someone with the right skills, and external to the project team.

The budget for the extended aftercare period will be a huge unknown. Clients may elect to fund that period as a separate contract once more details about the building is known, and use the primary budget to fund an intensive period of initial aftercare, and wrap that into the main contract. Contingencies for aftercare are, however, easily squandered on other things, so it will need to be securely ring-fenced.

How do M&E contractors quote for a Soft Landings service?

The short answer is that they don't. At the bidding stage, clients should merely ask tendering M&E contractors to demonstrate their willingness to adopt the Soft Landings approach, to show evidence that they understand it and what their responsibilities should be, and also to be able to show some degree of capability. This capability statement should typically include experience in energy monitoring and targeting, experience in aftercare services including the use of Building Performance Evaluation feedback techniques (for example, energy and occupant satisfaction), and an appreciation of design reviews and reality-checking, with specific respect to client expectations and required operational outcomes.

The sooner in the procurement process that the client can nominate an M&E contractor the better (integrated teams do deliver better results), but if this is not possible then the client's design professional team will have to apportion nominal Soft Landings roles and responsibilities for the M&E contractor (and key specialist contractors). The M&E contractor's roles and responsibilities will subsequently need to be re-visited, checked and refined once the M&E contractor is finally appointed.

This process will work if the client has created a nominal budget for Soft Landings that can accommodate the M&E contractor's specific input later on in the procurement process.

How can designers and contractors benefit from Soft Landings?

Without feedback, there is no learning. Soft Landings closes the loop between design expectation and reality, creating virtuous circles for all. Soft Landings is a vehicle for occupant satisfaction surveys, energy monitoring and reporting, and benchmarking, all of which contribute to creating a lessons-learned culture among all members of a project team.

Soft Landings should also lead to less costly re-work for design teams and contractors, who often employ specialists specifically to clear up poorly completed work. This is a drain on finances and resources and is best avoided.

What role do penalties and retentions have in Soft Landings?

None at all. BSRIA's view on retentions is that they pollute what should be a spirit of collaboration that is the heart of the Soft Landings approach. However, BSRIA recognises that financial penalties and other payment levers like retentions are part of standard procurement culture, and that they will appear alongside Soft Landings. The trick is for the client to create the conditions, contractual relationships and spirit of collaboration where financial penalties will only be necessary in extremis. Often it is better to work together to resolve problems than to withhold payment, as the latter will destroy all the good work and relationships forged earlier.

Soft Landings is not a magic wand that can make all problems disappear from a dysfunctional construction process, but it does provide a process for shared risks and responsibilities. A divide and rule culture will not help to deliver a high quality building. Clients who operate like this will get their building eventually, and it might even be to budget, but it probably won’t work very well in energy terms and in business delivery terms. Clients often get far less than what they pay for, but they only find out much later. Soft Landings provides a way to increase the likelihood that they will get a better building at the end of a Soft Landings aftercare period, if not well before.

Can there be incentives and rewards?

Yes, but these should be modest and preferably free from heavy legal bolstering to prevent members of a Soft Landings team becoming confused by means and ends. The aim of Soft Landings should be a building that is energy efficient, comfortable, controllable and productive, not a means of making extra income for the construction team. Any savings over and above target could be shared equally, and this could be expressed in contract terms in simple and straightforward language.

How does Soft Landings fit with defects warranty requirements?

Soft Landings is not about fixing things that do not meet the output specification. Soft Landings is about identifying things that cannot be classified as defects and which may, in any case, lurk just below the radar of defects and snagging teams.

In the post-handover stages, Soft Landings is about identifying shortfalls in performance, in controllability, in manageability and in dealing with unintended consequences of system operation. Automatic lighting systems may be turning on and off lights unnecessarily, or motorised windows may be operating illogically from the occupier's perspective. The solution may be to either adjust set points, and/or to educate the user as to the operational purpose of the system in question. Quite often, all that's needed are clear explanations and better user guidance rather than system re-commissioning.

Nonetheless, Soft Landings aftercare activities will run alongside the defects warranty period, and inevitably will get mixed up with snagging issues. It’s down to the skill and relationships of the parties involved to not confuse the activities and to do their best to deal with them separately.

Where can I go to get more advice and support?

BSRIA is running a Soft Landings Network. Membership of the User Group is open to all organisations working in building procurement, design, construction and asset management. It is also valuable to clients who apply the principles of whole-life costing and who incorporate sustainability in their corporate social responsibility plans.

The aim of the BSRIA Soft Landings Network is to help and support building project teams and their clients in adopting Soft Landings procedures on live projects. Outside of quarterly meetings, members of the user group will also work within a web community where information and experience can be shared.

Members of the Network attend regular workshops and meetings, network with other companies using Soft Landings, and learn about energy analysis, occupant surveys and facilitation skills. Soft Landings tools and procedures will be made available as they are modified in the light of user feedback. Members also provide input to the development and application of updated Soft Landings guidance that can then be shared with others.

Find out more about BSRIA’s Soft Landings training course.

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Soft Landings guides

Soft Landings guides including Framework and Core Principles (free download for BSRIA Members)