Recently I received an e-mail from a reader who asked that I touch on some of the issues with design-build (D-B) that don't work. In the past, I have talked about the benefits of (D-B) so this thought never occurred to me as I focused on the "positive" rather than the negative. As I gave the suggestion more consideration, several past experiences came to the forefront, so here are some time-honored, guaranteed-not-to-work D-B techniques!

How to Fail: Eight Easy Steps

Don't trust the partnership.Trust is always a culture change for contractors who partner with designers. Experience over the years has shown that the design community tends to avoid risk by producing contract documents that would always include several "catch-all" phrases to transfer the risk to the contractor. As a result, engineers who are willing to take the risks that contractors take on a daily basis are in the minority and contractors recognize this shortcoming. As a result, some contractors will struggle to "get past" the issue of trust.

Greed. Whoever controls the finances is susceptible to taking advantage of the profit margins. In the D-B business, trust between the D-B team and the client is the foundation of the process. It has been my experience that on occasion, the contractor, who usually controls the invoicing, will grab the opportunity to take advantage of the situation and "pad" the profits. How unfortunate when it happens, and it does happen.

Business as usual. D-B is not "design-bid-build (D-B-B)" and the process by which it is implemented is not the same process as D-B-B only done faster. Although D-B is inherently faster to implement, frequently it is the "one-point-of-contact" and single-source responsibility that drives clients to embrace D-B. When the D-B team cohesion begins to crumble due to internal conflict, design-builder conflicts can compromise the partnership and the single-point responsibility.

The pyramid concept. The D-B-B process is made up of a design leader and a bunch of followers and a builder and a bunch of followers. D-B is intended to take advantage of the individual expertise of the architect, engineers, trade contractors, and the general contractor (or construction manager) with one goal in mind: a successful project for all. Know-it-alls need not apply for D-B project roles.

Dot-the-I's and cross-the-T's. D-B-B construction documents are made up of an excessive amount of drawings and an equal volume of specification pages. The D-B team can save paper, time, and effort by mutually agreeing on what construction documentation will be needed to effectively and efficiently build the project. Here again, teamwork can come to the rescue.

Adversarial environment. D-B-B is inherently burdened to be adversarial. When the designer works in a vacuum and the builder is selected on "low bid," history has shown that this process will routinely result in confrontation and change orders. D-B is based on a mutually agreed, one-point-of-contact and one price for one scope of work built on a foundation of teamwork.

Price in lieu of value. That D-B is based on "best value" and fitting the budget to the value at the start of the job are significant benefits that separate it from D-B-B. Both of these benefits differentiate this project delivery from the concept of lowest price at the end of the design and bid phase of a building program. D-B teams can't afford to wait to the end to provide their project cost.

What you see is what you get. The low bid mentality of D-B-B forces contractors to minimize interpretation of construction documents if the results will be a higher bid price for them. Right or wrong, the correct D-B-B bid is the one that doesn't add value if the price is going to escalate. D-B teammates need to recognize that budget and value go together based on limited documentation at the onset of a job. This is significantly different from low value based on maximum documentation.

There are numerous methods of design-build. Most are fine while some methods have given the process a bad name. The cornerstone to this project delivery program is trust. The client needs to know the D-B team is functioning in the owner's best interest. The benefit to the D-B team is customer satisfaction, a reasonable profit, and the potential for repeat business. The alternative is Design-Build: How not to do it. ES