4 Key Tips to Achieve Design-Build Success

Throughout the construction industry, design-build is a procurement method that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Used by both private and public sector owners to keep projects on track with as little friction as possible among teams, design-build is projected to make up 44% of construction spending between 2018 and 2021, according to FMI research.

 No longer considered an alternative delivery method, design-build has proven results, and often leads to projects being completed faster, on budget, and with better outcomes. The approach is more unified, with the design and construction professionals involved in a project working as one entity under one scope. This streamlined workflow results in better communication, more transparency, and an overall more successful project.

Understanding What Makes Design-Build Unique

The first step is understanding what makes design-build unique from the traditional design-build-bid approach that has long dominated the industry. Design-build combines the design and construction processes into one. This means the design-build contract is different from typical contracts, and is more like a partnership between the owner and the contractor. Contrary to the design-bid-build model, in which the design and building team bid on a project separately, design-build requires that both the design and building teams bid on a project together.

 The way this process usually works is, the project owner hires an architect to design the building, then hires a contractor to build it. The architect and contractor work hand in hand throughout the process, meaning there’s less time spent on back-and-forth between the design and build teams, and poor communication, a common theme among failed or delayed projects, is avoided. This high level of collaboration also means that both teams are more invested in ensuring everything goes smoothly, as they are working toward a common goal.

 Still, there are a few things you can do to improve the outcomes of design-build projects even more. From building greater trust among teams to prioritizing real-time communication for better collaboration, here are four foundational steps to help you achieve design-build success on your next project.

1. Build Trust

As collaborative project delivery methods like design-build and integrated project delivery (IPD) grow in popularity, developing trust between project partners during the preconstruction phase has never been more important.

In a 2019 report from DBIA, survey participants were asked to rank a list of traits critical for successful collaboration, including creativity, decisiveness, discipline, honesty, humility and listening. The survey respondents ranked honesty as the most important trait, with 53% saying it was number one on their list. 

The ability of design-build team members to work collaboratively and trust each other to commit to the project’s best interests is essential to the job’s success. All design-build team members must understand this to achieve the best project outcomes, and stay on track. Not doing so could result in missed schedules, which could have costly financial consequences to teams.

Indeed, according to FMI estimates, missing schedules can cost a $100 million contractor approximately $17.5 million per year in direct and indirect expenses. When compared to organizations where trust is above average, high trust organizations could benefit by as much as $4 million per year by meeting their deadlines.

As one general contractor, who serves as Head of BIM and Digital Engineering, put it, “When everyone works towards the common goal, they are more confident that their schedule and budget will be met. They know what work is getting done and when it will be completed.”

Trust among team members also extends to leadership, and is driven primarily by the owner and lead general contractor throughout an organization. Creating trust at the top of an organization and allowing it to spread from there gives employees confidence that they are receiving the best guidance and being set up for success. This confidence will grow and expand throughout the organization, but only if the leaders are seen as trustworthy. What’s more, employee confidence in leadership and the overall organization gives team members a greater sense of job security. This translates to higher levels of staff retention than organizations that lack trust in their leadership.

2. Centralize Data and Information

Creating a centralized source of truth helps ensure design-build success, as well as solidifies team-wide trust and collaboration. 

For example, global design, construction, and consulting services firm CRB uses tools company-wide that centralize data to produce information in a digestible way for all team members. By connecting data from preconstruction and the building phase, CRB can seamlessly transfer complex information from the design and planning teams into the hands of on-site professionals.

According to CRB’s director of VDC, Matt Edwards, “In the design-build design-assist environment, we are building as we’re still designing and engineering. This allows us to look at the latest field markups, see where construction progress is, and react from a design standpoint. We are no longer designing and building in a separate vacuum. Everything is connected.”

3. Utilize Collaborative Design Tools 

Among the many recent innovations in the construction industry, industry experts have observed that an emphasis on collaboration among key players during the preconstruction phase is one of the biggest process changes in recent years. This is especially true regarding the relationship between preconstruction planning and design.

“We’re experiencing an evolution of design integration.” Angeline Gleason, Director of Preconstruction at McCarthy, said. “Now, architects and structural engineers are working side by side with the general contractor. There are increasingly more design-build projects and a renewed push to align design with estimating and target budgets.”

Using collaborative design tools is vital to getting client feedback early in the project process, resulting in better decisions and better success outcomes down the line.

“As a general contractor, access to Design Collaboration provides us transparency into the model versions being used,” said Paul Nunn, National BIM Manager at Hansen Yuncken. “The ability to easily identify changes between versions also ensures our trade teams are working off the latest models. This builds trust within the project team, and ultimately, speeds up the coordination process and gets higher quality designs to site sooner, reducing rework and improving project delivery.”

4. Prioritize Real-Time Communication

While an open environment generally increases communication, the DBIA report found that 55% of survey respondents still reported a delay (sometimes, usually or always) on their integrated projects between when issues were uncovered and when they were communicated to the wider team.

Withholding information could indicate that team members are trying to protect their own self-interest. It could also be a sign of an unsafe work environment, in which there is a fear of retaliation instead of a focus on project outcomes. 

For design-build projects, real-time communication and transparency are key at every stage. This not only helps you avoid mistakes, but it empowers better relationships with the project owner, equipping them and their teams with more informed decision-making abilities. To achieve real-time communication for design-build projects, cloud-based technology that enables connected workflows is crucial, as it ensures that, whether you’re online or offline, data, documentation, and communication are always up to date.

Make the Most of Your Design-Build Process

 With proven results to keep collaboration strong and projects on schedule and on track, the design-build approach will only continue to grow in popularity. While design-build is already bringing positive change to the construction industry, you can optimize your process by building trust, centralizing data and information, utilizing design collaboration tools, and prioritizing real-time communication to better position your next design-build project for success.

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.