Design Build Project Delivery Method

When it comes to a construction project, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. That is, there are a ton of different ways to undertake a project, and new project delivery methods seem to catch on every single day. That’s because no single delivery method is best for all projects. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the Design-Build Method for construction project delivery.

How Does Design-Build Work for Project Delivery?

The process of deciding which of the many project delivery to use could start by answering a few questions, such as:

  • How much control does the owner want to have over the project?
  • Will a construction manager be used?
  • How is the project budgeted?

By answering any of these questions, a different project delivery method could be put on or taken off the table. That makes it important for owners to think about what they need and what experience they have with a particular project before choosing a method. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into design-build projects.

Design-build can be a simpler approach than some other methods available. At the same time, relative to the rest of the construction industry, design-build is surprisingly progressive. On a Design-Build project, each party on the project works together. Design-build projects promote collaboration, which is something we love here at Levelset. Meanwhile, this method creates simplicity for project owners.

With the design-build method, the designers, builders, engineers, etc., are all on the same team from the very beginning of a project. The owner is provided with a single point of contact for both the design and construction phases of the job. That means all of the risk isn’t placed on the owner for every aspect of the build, and it means that there shouldn’t be any friction between the design team and the construction team. This single point of contact — usually a company or joint venture — manages all contracts on the project and holds responsibility for every piece of the project. That includes estimates, pre-construction, architecture, engineering, subcontracting…you get the picture. Just about everything.

Under this method, everyone is essentially on the same team. If that seems like it would be a lot more efficient than some other project delivery methods, you’re not off-base – it can be! Design-build allows every member of the project team to provide insight into the costs associated with, and the constructability, of the project design. Since contractors are able to evaluate the budget early, they can truly provide insight into the costs that will result from the designs. This helps to set clear, responsible expectations from the get-go. 

Want to read more about other project delivery methods? Levelset’s got you covered:

Projects Where Design-Build Is Most Common

Design-build makes the biggest impact on big, complex projects. Any project that’s a complex undertaking with knowledgeable and construction-savvy ownership in place could be a fit. This includes private projects (commercial, industrial, etc) as well as public projects (municipal, county/state, or federal). For that reason, federal projects have been embracing the design-build method for quite some time now. State and local governments have also bought into design-build projects, and they’re growing as a procurement method on those public jobs.

Why are public jobs well suited for the design-build method? That’s because the early stages of the contract are drawn out. There are cost savings to be had, but before the job even begins, an extensive procurement phase must be managed. Long procurement methods don’t always make sense for private sector jobs – but the design-build method should still be considered due to time and cost savings on the back end.

Editor’s Note: Building Design + Construction has a great article on this topic.

How Many Phases Are There in a Design-Build Project?

Every design-build job is different. Still, there are generally 5 distinct phases for design-build projects:

  1. Choosing a Design-Builder
  2. Pre-construction assessments
  3. Architectural design
  4. Construction
  5. Post-construction

Unlike some other construction methods, the phases of a design-build project will overlap by design. While this may be a little more difficult for an inexperienced owner to follow, it allows for a project to begin before every little design element has been completed. All parties involved on the project collaborate throughout the process since they all are working under one contract. Communication is often clearer on design-build projects because every part is working together as the design and construction phase are happening concurrently. Also, since one party or company has complete accountability for all construction and design elements, the owner doesn’t have to make designs they aren’t experienced in. The different teams on the project are also able to incorporate ideas into a project as they come up.

Ideally, this will lead to the project getting completed faster (relative to other delivery methods). And not only is “faster” better, but it’s also less expensive.

Editor’s Note: The Korte Company has an excellent breakdown of the phases of Design-Build projects.

What Are the Payment Implications of Design-Build Projects?

For one, design-build projects tend to be more collaborative and cooperative jobs. As we’ve discussed at length, establishing a collaborative project is the absolute best way to avoid the perils of payment disputes. Still, just like any other project method, disputes can arise.

Often, these disputes pop up due to arguments over change orders — whether certain changes were approved or not, or the cost of certain changes. With the design-build method, typically, there are fewer change orders throughout the life of the project. That means there are fewer potential issues that could give rise to payment problems. Further, with better collaboration between trades, there’s less opportunity for misunderstandings or miscommunications about project specifications or schedule expectations. By avoiding these setbacks, delay costs can be avoided which should streamline the road to payment.

Of course, it’s still the construction industry, and simply implementing the design-build method won’t make all of your problems — payment-related or otherwise — go away. For the trade subcontractors, material suppliers, and other parties involved on a construction project, it still makes sense to proactively communicate while securing your lien rights, regardless of whether the project is design-build or something else.

The Design-Build Institute of America

We’ll be the first to admit — we’re not the experts on design-build projects. Construction payment is more of our thing. However, there is an organization whose sole focus is on design-build projects: The Design-Build Institute of America.

The Design-Build Institute of America is the leading advocate for design-build projects in America…though you could probably infer that from the name. They provide education and certification, host conferences, and even provide helpful tools like forms for design-build contracts, best practices, and a list of Certified Design-Build Professionals.

For you academic types, this might be a good resource when contemplating the design-build method: Design-Build Utilization Combined Market Study. If you’re a more visual learner, like me, their information on Revisiting Project Delivery Performance might be more useful.

Article Name
Understanding the Design-Build Method of Project Delivery
Choosing the right project delivery method can make or break a construction project. This article evaluates the Design-Build method which tends to be ideal for ideal for big, complex projects.
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