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Is Design-Build the Project Delivery Method for You?

This is Part Five of a six-part series on Project Delivery Methods. We want to arm you with the information you need to make informed decisions to set up your project for success. Throughout this series, we’ll be deep-diving into the project delivery method, selecting your team, and what contracts you’ll need.


What are the most important factors to your team and your project? The final project delivery method we’re going to deep-dive into is Design-Build.




The Design-Build Team

The organization of Design-Build Project is fundamentally different from the organization of other project delivery methods we have covered. Design-Build begins with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) phase, followed by a Request for Proposals (RFP) phase, a Design Competition phase, and finally, the Construction phase.

The owner is contracted with a Design-Builder and may additionally have an owner advisor on board. The lump sum GMP (or target cost) is established at the end of the RMP phase, before Design Competition even begins.

The Design-Builder encompasses and has under their umbrella, the architect, the engineers, specialty consultants on the design side of the project, and they also have the contractors and the subcontractors, all within one contract. The Design-Builder, architect, and contractor are brought on at the end of the RFQ phase.


The key attributes of Design-Build

Design-Build is an integrated process with overlapping design and construction phases. It’s typically fast-tracked to make this the fastest of the project delivery methods.

There is one contract between the owner and the Design-Builder with one point of accountability. If the owner doesn’t have the skills in-house to work with the Design-Builder, they should also hire an Owner Advisor to assist them.

The Design-Builder is responsible for managing both the design and construction of the project. They enter into the contracts with the contractors and the architects, holds those contracts, and manages them.

In all three of the project delivery methods we’ve previously talked about the owner warranting the sufficiency of the plans and the specs. But under Design-Build, the Design-Builder warrants the sufficiency of the plans and the specifications to the contractor. The Design-Builder can be a developer, a single-purpose entity, an architect-led organization, or most likely, a contractor-led organization.


What contracts will you need?

The contractual relationship really rolls up under the Design-Builder! Similar to the other project delivery methods, the owner has owner-directed consultants that they hold contracts with. The owner then has a single contract with a Design-Builder who has contracts with contractors who then have subcontracts with subcontractor. Additionally, the architect has contracts with their consultants (the engineers and specialty consultants) on the project.

Best Value Design-Build vs. Progressive Design-Build

If you’re considering the Design-Build delivery method, it’s important to know the difference between Best Value Design-Build and Progressive Design-Build:

Best Value Design-Build is a two-step selection process. Step 1 is the qualifications step where they down-select to three of the most highly qualified Design-Build teams. Step 2 is the issuance of the request proposals and the development of proposals in alignment with the request for proposals. The price on a Best Value project is fixed at the issuance of the requests for proposals and selection is based on the amount of prioritized scope an offer can provide rather than price. Design is typically about 30%-35% complete at the end of the proposal phase when a team is selected. With Best Value, you are looking to select the best team with the best proposal.

Progressive Design-Build is a one-step selection process and the selection is qualifications-based. Because of that, the design is 0% complete until you work with that Design-Build team to advance the design to approximately 60% and then costs are locked in.

Under Progressive your job is to pick the best team. Under Best Value, your job is to pick the best team with the best proposal.

Bridging Documents

It’s also important with Design-Build to be familiar with bridging documents. Bridging Documents are drawings produced by an owner-advisor, owner-advisor team, or an architect brought on early in the process to provide a schematic layout of the building and it really advances design somewhere between 10%-30%.

Bridging documents are not a Design-Build-done-right best practice. And, if they are used, it transfers risk right back onto the owner. In Design-Bid-Build and the Construction Management at Risk and Construction Management Multi-Prime Project delivery methods, the owner warrants the sufficiency of the plans and specs. So anything the owner draws (or that’s drawn on their behalf) outside the Design-Build team, transfers that warranty of sufficiency back to the owner.


Is Design-Build the right delivery method for you?

What factors should you consider when trying to differentiate delivery systems? There are five areas that we like to look at:

  1. Owner Involvement. Design-Build requires that owners make a mental shift and adopt the Design-Build-done-right best practices. It’s a very highly collaborative process, and it includes the owner at all stages of the project. However, the owner's role is to make sure that the design is progressing in accordance with the request for proposals and the performance criteria that were established for the project.

  2. Accountability. One contract equals one single point of accountability. It results in a partnering environment and a reduced conflict on the project team.

  3. Cost control. Cost is controlled either at the time of the issuance of the RFP in a Best Value project, or at about 60% on a Progressive project.

  4. Timeline. Design-Build is the fastest way to get your project out of the ground and built. So they're typically faster than everything else out there.

  5. Risk assignment. The owner has transferred all of the risks, or at least a very substantial portion of it, to the Design-Builder. The owner assumes the risk for bridging documents if they choose to use those.


If you want to build your project quickly, Design-Build might be the right project delivery for you!



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