Design-Build Growth: Myths and Best Practices

November 8, 2018

Design-Build Growth: Myths and Best Practices

Over the past decade, alternative project delivery methods have become a more frequent option for both public and private owners as they move toward integrated models that allow for increased collaboration and communication among project stakeholders. This integrated process allows teams to work with owners early on, develop an understanding of owner values and goals, and identify areas of key importance for the project. As projects increase in complexity, this process offers opportunities for innovation and subsequent cost savings.  

Growth of Design-Build Delivery 

A 2018 DBIA (Design-Build Institute of America) survey of the design-build market found impressive growth of design-build projects across all market segments assessed (nonresidential, roads/highways, water/wastewater).

Key takeaways:

  • Design-build is expected to account for 44% of all construction spending by 2021
  • Spending is anticipated to grow 18% overall from 2018 to 2021 and is expected to grow to over $320B 
  • Roads/highways and water/wastewater is expected to grow 21% by 2021
  • Mountain (6.3%), Pacific (6.1%) and South Atlantic (6.2%) census divisions are anticipated to see the highest growth

Mitigating Common Myths

Extensive research shows design-build's advantages for maximizing value and meeting schedule, cost, and quality goals. Pervasive myths about the delivery method have been mitigated due to the success of projects over the past decade. Fortunately, these myths have dissipated over the past decade as more owners, designers and trade partners realize the value add of integrated delivery.

Myth #1: The owner is giving up control 

Ultimately, the project's owner determines their own level of control. The transparency in the design-build process allows owners to see all aspects of the project. The owner should be fully engaged and prepared to make timely decisions. Active owner participation increases the value/outcome of the project for the whole team and also ensures that they, along with their stakeholders, are well represented throughout the process. 

Myth #2: Owner's risk is increased

In fact, the reverse is true. With design-build, the client's risk decreases because they are contracting with one entity to guarantee the performance of the design and construction. In addition, with design-build, any adversity between the designer and builder is eliminated because they are working together towards the same goal: what's right for the project.  

Myth #3: Limited flexibility in the process

Design is a fluid process. Throughout the design phase, the owner, along with the design-build team, will make real-time decisions, allowing flexibility and cost-effective solutions. Involving the builder ensures the constructability of the design and safeguards the budget. 

Cooperation and Teamwork

Regardless of the contractual arrangement, it is important that the design-build team works together in both a collaborative and integrated fashion. The core values and cultures of the separate entities need to be aligned and clearly communicated. An open, transparent communication protocol must be established. While designers and contractors can work toward different objectives, a design-build project fosters collaboration and creates an increased culture of cooperation and teamwork. Respect and trust are important in the process; as is an appreciation for the expertise and value that each member brings to the team. Once the team is aligned, its culture will drive the project’s success.

Design-Build Best Practices

As soon as the team’s focus is established, and goals are aligned, the design-build process needs to be well managed.

Best practices include:

  • Executing a teaming agreement that clearly defines roles, responsibilities, and expectations;
  • Co-locating the design and construction team (where feasible);
  • Developing a good cost model. This informs the parties of the intent of the design when the cost was set. The team needs to ensure that all performance and quality requirements in the RFP are continually being met as the design progresses;
  • Hosting a design validation meeting with the owner once the project is awarded. This helps the owner and design-builder reconcile expectations with deliverables;  
  • Maintaining a design-evolution log in which the design decisions throughout the project are clearly documented and the owners integrated into the decisions;
  • Creating an integrated culture with all major stakeholders on the project; and,
  • Committing senior leadership  including establishing processes to facilitate effective communication and issue resolution.

The 2018 DBIA survey study previously mentioned shows the high satisfaction achieved by owners on design-build projects. Their overall experience with design-build delivery was rated highest across all project delivery methods, with 76% of owners citing the opportunity to innovate and fast track a project as top benefits.

Owners needs have changed over time. Owners continue to identify schedule (speed to market) as the greatest influence over their project delivery selection. Understanding the owner’s goals and objectives, along with educating owners and major stakeholders on the benefits and best practices and dispelling the myths will continue to positively impact the continued utilization of the delivery method.

When design-build is utilized, and a project is set up correctly, the results can be outstanding. Old stereotypes need to be eliminated and trust established as the team works towards what is best for the project. With design-build, designers find that they ultimately deliver a better design for the owner, one that integrates a design and construction solution that provides more value to our clients and the project.