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Hot Topic Highlight - Black Book Part 1: Introduction & Change Management

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

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What is today's blog about?

Property Elite consultant, Abigail Blumzon BArch (Hons) MSc, MRICS MAPM discusses what the Black Book is and gives an update on one of the latest Guidance Notes published by the RICS. This is part 1 of a 2 part blog exploring the Black Book, and is essential reading for RICS APC and AssocRICS candidates on the Project Management and Quantity Surveying & Construction pathways.

Abigail is a Chartered Surveyor and Senior Project Manager. She has a wide range of professional expertise in a variety of roles within the construction sector.

This week’s blog will explore:

Part 2 will look at the Subcontracting guidance note, and how the Black Book is useful for those sitting their APC or AssocRICS qualifications.

What is the Black Book?

The 'Black Book' is a suite of guidance notes (GN) that define good technical standards for quantity surveying and construction professionals. Many of these guidance notes are also relevant to other pathways, especially project management and building surveying. These standards are essential development tools for younger professionals working through their APC and useful guides to best practice for more experienced professionals.

Examples of Black Book GNs include Change Control and Management, Subcontracting, Acceleration, Retention and E-tendering.

RICS GNs are documents that provide recommendations or an approach for accepted good practice as followed by competent and conscientious practitioners. This contrasts with RICS Professional Statements (PS), which contain mandatory requirements for RICS members and RICS regulated firms.

GNs, including the one discussed in more detail in this blog, follow a standard structure, dividing the guidance into three chapters:

  • General principles (level 1 – knowing)

  • Practical application (level 2 – doing)

  • Practical considerations (level 3 – doing/advising)

Why is it Important?

The Black Book is an important resource because it:

  • Provides certainty and consistency

  • Provides standards against which professionals can perform their duties

  • Eliminates ambiguity

  • Promotes best practice

  • Helps ensure clients receive objective advice

  • Allows the benchmarking of services when employing professionals

What is the Change Control and Management Guidance Note?

Changes are almost inevitable during a construction project, and change management is about how we smoothly facilitate adjustments. This guidance note was effective from 1 April 2021.

Change control is the process or processes that can lead to alteration of timescales, costs or scope of the project. As explained in the GN, change management involves the control process so that these changes are effectively recorded and implemented.

Effective change management should also aim to avoid the need for change entirely, for example ensuring that a detailed site investigation and condition survey are carried out at the early stages of a project, while maintaining detailed risk registers.

What is Change?

Despite the drive to avoid the need for change, when required changes can be initiated by the employer (e.g. altering the scope) or the contractor (e.g. due to new information while on site).

Best practice dictates that at set stages, change control procedures, sometimes referred to as a ‘design freeze’, be initiated by the employer to ensure that the approved information in the scope of works is not changed without its express permission (e.g. at the RIBA Stage 1 project brief).

The GN outlines reasons for change, which include:

  • Value engineering

  • Changes to statutory requirements or regulations

  • Unforeseen site information

  • Design issues

  • Specified items being unavailable in the programmed timescale (especially relevant in the current climate)

A change management procedure should be defined at the project outset. This will typically be contained within a project management plan. A typical change management procedure may be:

  • Identify the reason or reasons for change

  • Log the proposed change in the change register (see image below)

  • Investigate the impact of items such as costs, timescales and locations

  • Strive to mitigate risks and maximise opportunities in relation to the overall objectives of the project

  • Review and accept or reject the change.

  • Follow contractual process/forms

  • Implement the change

  • Update drawings and project documentation

How do Contracts Deal with Change?

Change control procedures are usually included in contracts. Standard forms such as JCT, NEC and FIDIC contracts make provision for change control, but differ in terms of definitions and terminology. The GN gives advice on how to manage change in common standard contract forms. It also discusses who carries the risk of change and the importance of a risk register.

I’ll outline a brief example of provision and terminology using the JCT Design and Build Contract 2016. Under this type of contract the employer and its consultants prepare Employers Requirements (ERs) that set the basis of the contractor’s scope of work obligation. The contractor may produce a proposal document, but the ERs take precedence in the process, and the contractor’s proposal should reflect these.

Change under this contract is defined as follows:

  • 'The alteration or modification of the design, quantity or quality of the works by a change of ERs’, or

  • ‘The imposition by the employer of any [additional] obligations or restrictions, or the addition to or alteration or omission of any obligations or restrictions; these obligations or restrictions refer specifically to access to the site or parts of it, limitations on working space or working hours, and carrying out work in a specified order’.

Changes under this contract generally come about in one of two ways:

  • The employer will introduce change and issue an instruction in writing

  • The contractor may propose a change to the employer’s requirements e.g. a change in the specification of roof tiles to a type that still complies with the British Standards and meets performance requirements, but that can be delivered more quickly or is more economical

For a significant change that is outside the scope of the ERs, the contractor may share the saving with the employer.

While the GN covers basic commercial considerations, more detail on dealing with time and cost implications is given in the current edition of the RICS GN Valuing Change.

Conclusion and Key Points

In summary of the key points within this blog:

  • The 'Black Book' is a suite of GNs that define good technical standards

  • They provide recommendations or approaches for accepted good practice

  • Further standards are added, forming a legacy of technical information

  • The RICS GN Change Control and Management is important as changes are almost inevitable

  • Try to avoid the need for change, but follow a defined process where it is needed

  • Ensure you understand the way in which contracts you’re using deal with change

Be aware that some GNs contain out of date material and guidance due to factors such as evolving construction contract case law. Proceed with caution when referring to and citing GNs and take professional advice if in doubt.

While not covered in the RICS GN Change Control and Management, the Building Safety Act 2022 brings in obligations for Higher Risk Buildings, which include change management.

This GN should therefore be carefully considered by those working on relevant projects. More information on the Act can be found here.

How can we help?

Stay tuned for our next blog post to help build a better you.

N.b. Nothing in this article constitutes legal, professional or financial advice.


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