Choosing the right project delivery process

Is Design-Bid-Build or Design-Build right for me?

When embarking on a new construction project, you have many choices when it comes to how the project is delivered. The different scenarios will impact the project timeline, costs, risks, and other factors.

Design-Bid-Build is the traditional process that many people have followed for years. It’s a linear process where the building owner has a separate contract with the architect and the contractor. This involves:

  • Hiring an architect to design the structure and develop a set of construction documents
  • Sending out the drawings and soliciting contractor bids
  • Awarding the project and then having the chosen general contractor start construction

Pros and cons of Design-Bid-Build

This delivery method typically encourages competitive pricing, because you can put the specs out to bid to multiple contractors. This well-established method has been used for many years, and as such, the roles of each party involved are clearly defined and well understood. It is very commonly used in the public sector by government agencies, who often face rules that require them to follow traditional procurement methods like Design-Bid-Build.

However, this approach does have its drawbacks. First, since the construction costs can’t be determined until the architect has finished the design, this lengthens the process to complete the project. And, more importantly, since contractors had no input into the design, there could be major gaps between the building owner’s vision and the reality of what contractors can deliver. Important design decisions are made about which building materials and technologies to use without including any perspective from the construction team.

Once the contractors receive the specs, they will often discover that they either can’t deliver within budget or that the specs need changes to meet the building owner’s expectations. This means going back to the architect for change orders—adding further costs, delays, and frustration all around. These added costs fall on the building owner. It can also create unnecessary friction between the design and GC teams, who didn’t have an opportunity to consult with one another early on.

Design-Build is another popular delivery method in construction projects. With this approach:

  • The building owner hires a construction firm to both design and build the structure. The firm guides the design around the building owner’s budget.
  • That design-build firm is the single source of responsibility to the building owner.

Pros and cons of Design-Build

Since the building owner chooses the construction firm up front, they don’t have the same opportunity to send the project out for bid to multiple firms. This can limit the opportunity for a competitive bid process. However, having the construction firm involved early on can ensure that the designer is choosing products that offer the best price/performance and introducing them to the latest building technologies.

With this approach, the design-build firm is responsible to design and construct the project to meet the performance requirements that the building owner set forward in the contract. They are also responsible for uncovering any inconsistencies between the building owner’s requirements and the actual performance standards of available building products.

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The designer isn’t working in a vacuum. There’s a more well-defined scope because multiple disciplines are working together. The designer gains input from the general contractor, who can help them balance desired performance with what can be accomplished within the available budget. This cohesive approach helps to reduce the number of change orders and cost overages. It can also result in the fastest delivery as potential bottlenecks are worked out earlier in the process. For design-build to work well though, the building owner may need to make some decisions earlier in the process so that there is faster resolution to construction issues that arise and the project can continue. This is different from the Design-Bid-Build process, where the building owner makes decisions on the entire structure prior to the start of construction.

Reducing risk in project delivery

No matter which method you chose, aiming for good communication between all parties involved will result in a more efficient project delivery. To facilitate these discussions, it can be helpful to bring building material suppliers into the process early on to help reduce risk. Leveraging the supplier’s expertise helps ensure that:

  • Product specifications are correct, complete and detailed
  • The specified products will deliver the desired installed performance
  • The products and systems selected are compatible and designed to work well together

Bringing in suppliers with extensive construction and industry experience also gives the team access to the latest technical innovations. New building products are available every year, and having suppliers collaborate with the architectural firm’s technical or quality director allows the team to take advantage of new and creative solutions.

Before you dive into your next major project, ask your preferred suppliers what they can do to partner with your design team. This can go a long way toward reducing the project’s liability in the specification and design process.

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