Dispelling the Myths of Design-Build Delivery

July 30, 2015
BETHESDA, Md. - Over the past decade, construction delivery has moved toward a more integrated model, allowing for increased collaboration and communication among the project stakeholders. Additionally, this process offers opportunities for innovation among the team.  
A 2013 Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) survey showed that the highest concentration of design-build projects were for federal or military clients in the Pacific region. Though we have successfully delivered more than $18.5 billion of design-build projects across the country for public- and private-sector clients in many markets, including healthcare, education, and transportation, the DBIA survey indicates that our portfolio is more diverse than the industry norm. Despite research that shows design-build's advantages for maximizing value and meeting schedule, cost, and quality goals, there are still pervasive myths about the delivery method, which preclude it from widespread adoption. These beliefs include loss of control, lack of competition, added risk, absence of financial transparency, and lack of flexibility. But that’s really all they are, myths. Let’s examine some common arguments and dispel these design-build myths.
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.  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, our client's risk decreases because they are contracting with a single source, 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 progress and safeguards the budget. 
Myth 4: Loss of quality and control as perceived by the architect
In the majority of design-build arrangements, the architect is either in a joint venture with the design-builder or is a subcontractor. Designers accustomed to contracting directly with a project's owner may perceive this new arrangement as diminishing their company's voice in the process, perpetuating the myth. 

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.
As soon as the team focus is established and the goals are aligned, the design 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;
  • Developing a good cost model, the Basis of Design documents (RFP) - informs the parties of the intent of the design when the cost was set. The team needs to continually ensure that all performance and quality requirements in the RFP are being met;
  • Hosting a design validation meeting with the owner once the project is awarded. This will help the owner and design-builder reconcile expectations with deliverables;  
  • Maintaining a design-evolution log
In a report from the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering, research shows that design-build systems have demonstrated significantly less design and construction cost growth when compared to design-bid-build; that design-bid-build systems have the greatest design and construction schedule growth; and that quality measurement associated with design-build, often maligned by many, is better than quality performance in design-bid-build.
When design-build is utilized and the 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.
This article is written by Barbara Wagner, a Senior Vice President based in our Western Region. Barbara has three decades of design-build experience. She is a member of DBIA's National Board and currently serves as Chair on the Executive Council. In addition, Barbara is one of our national healthcare business leaders.