Soft landings framework: the principles

Six phases for better buildings

8 March 2019

An updated edition of the Soft Landings Framework is now available and may affect the work of facilities managers of new developments. How has it changed, and why?

Soft landings – the process of ensuring a smooth handover to occupiers following construction – constitute an outcome-based approach to building projects, although the principles detailed below can be applied to any type of construction. As a process, this requires a small change in the way the construction industry does things but a big change in the way it thinks and interacts. Soft landings need members of the project team to improve collaboration so as to provide a building that meets the original expectations.

The purposes of some of the client’s specified requirements are often forgotten through the building process, mainly due to the fragmentation of the industry. This issue contributes to a substantial gap between the design intention and the actual performance of many new and refurbished buildings.

Adopting a soft-landing approach will help clients to establish success criteria for their projects, and will assist the project team in ensuring these are protected during work on the project and met once the building is in operation. When working on a soft landings project, the delivery team should ensure all decisions made during the project focus on meeting these criteria. Soft landings can be used for new construction, refurbishment and fit-out projects, and as a concept are designed to work easily with all forms of procurement.

The framework highlights the importance of having the end users and the facilities manager involved in the project from the beginning

Since 2008, consultancy BSRIA has been developing and promoting soft landings and been running the Soft Landings Network – formerly known as a user group – comprising clients, architects, designers, contractors and facilities managers, who meet regularly to compare experience and share knowledge. The Soft Landings Network Panel (SLNP) supports BSRIA in producing practical guidance, of which BSRIA has published a range. Most of this is available to download free of charge, to raise awareness about soft landings and their benefits, and help construction industry professionals understand the process and implement it successfully.

As a result, the concept has gained significant traction over the past 10 years, and is required by many private and public-sector clients.

One of the key guides is the Soft Landings Framework. The first framework was published by BSRIA in 2009 and went through minor revisions in 2014. The intention of the guide was to explain how soft landings could be implemented by 5 stages of activity throughout the project.

The 2018 edition of the Soft Landings Framework includes a number of major changes, however, to reflect feedback received from the industry over the past decade of implementation. The main aim of the guide is to help the construction industry provide buildings that meet clients’ expectations, as well as satisfying users’ needs and supporting their well-being.

The main objectives of the guide are to help the project team to:

  • set success criteria at the outset and protect them through the project with better collaboration;
  • focus more closely on the outcomes of any decisions that it makes during the project;
  • enable a smooth transition for the building from construction into use;
  • evaluate the success of the project at some point no sooner than 12 months after occupancy; and
  • disseminate the lessons learned.

One of the changes in the framework was replacing the term ‘stage’ with ‘phase’, mainly to emphasise that soft landings are not tied to any specific plan of work, but are instead about groups of activities that may occur at certain phases of a project.

The most noticeable change is the adoption of 6 phases to replace the previous 5 stages; this was to address feedback received that stage 2, design and construction, was too lengthy and thus causing confusion and reducing enthusiasm for soft landings. It was therefore decided that the design and construction activities would be separated, and the content for the latter strengthened.

The resulting 6 phases are:

  1. inception and briefing;
  2. design;
  3. construction;
  4. pre-handover;
  5. initial aftercare; and
  6. extended aftercare and post-occupancy evaluation.

The Soft Landings Framework 2018 describes the objectives for each and explains how they can be achieved through a series of suggested activities. A checklist has also been added to the framework to help the project team, especially the soft landings champion, to track the activities and ensure the objectives of each phase are met.

The framework requires this champion to be nominated by the client from their side, and a soft landings lead to be identified by the project delivery team. The champion should be a person with the authority to make things happen or stop them happening; if the client does not have the resources needed to carry out the activities, a third party can be appointed to do the job on their behalf.

The soft landings champion should ensure all agreed activities are carried out at the right time by the right people, and that the set success criteria are protected throughout the project. The lead should support the champion in coordinating soft landings activities and, ideally, both should stay with the project throughout. Where this is not possible, a proper handover process should be in place to ensure continuity.

Commissioning is often squeezed out in the rush to practical completion, and, consequently, the building in operation may fail to meet the original expectations and success criteria. The framework requires a building readiness programme to be prepared well ahead of the start of commissioning work to ensure sufficient time is allocated to this, however.

The Soft Landings Framework 2018 highlights the importance of having the end users and the facilities manager, where known, involved in the project from the beginning, to articulate their needs and use their past experience to inform better design. It is also important that sufficient training is provided to facilities team members at the pre-handover phase to ensure they are fully competent to manage and control the building.

Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein is soft landings operational lead at BSRIA

Further information