A couple of months ago I had a conversation with a very large institution on the subject of design-build (D-B) and also the D-B bridging process. Based on our conversation we came to the following conclusions:
  • Quite often a D-B team is made up of architects and engineers who traditionally provided design-bid-build (DBB) documents and/or construction management (CM) documents.
  • D-B teams are apt to develop a more abbreviated set of traditional construction documents based on past DBB experience.
  • Abbreviated DBB documents do not allow the D-B bidders the freedom to provide the optimum solution for the optimum cost. This can result in a missed opportunity to maximize and reap the full benefits of the D-B process.

The question has to be asked, “How can a group of professionals provide D-B services when they don’t share the vision and/or experience of D-B?” One of the benefits of doing D-B is to bring together the optimum team to produce the optimum solution. Approaching D-B through the “bridging” performance criteria and drawing upon past “plan-and-spec” and CM experience is not the same as D-B. To see architects, engineers, and/or contractors embrace this single-source process is encouraging. At the same time, they need to clearly understand the various options associated with D-B and commit to a business plan to successfully make the transition.

I see this jump to D-B as similar to engineering firms who are now offering commissioning services because there is a market for these services. Design professionals are quick to embrace the D-B process, thinking that this is something they can do. Unfortunately, in both cases, there is a culture change associated with the process, as well as guidelines to implement the process. Probably the first of these guidelines is to embrace D-B as design-build-facility management (D-B-FM). Single-source solutions begin with build programming then conceptual engineering followed by the construction phase. It should not stop there! Just like commissioning is a quality process to ensure the building systems meet design intent, there should be a quality process that is a seamless transition from program to program management. To date, not many in the building industry have successfully made the transition from DBB to D-B-FM.

How can the culture change be made through D-B bridging process? Starting with the design professionals:

  • Embrace the construction professional as a teammate and not a necessary evil. This doesn’t always happen because of different business agendas.
  • Establish the goals up front and post them for everyone on the team to see (e.g., project budget in Cost per Sq Ft and energy budget in Btuh per Sq Ft per Year).
  • Outline the performance criteria in a manner that allows the design and construction professionals to offer alternatives (i.e., don’t specify a specific hvac system).
  • Design a system that will not exceed the agreed upon program goal if this system is going to adversely affect the project cost goal.
  • Include a facility engineer on the team.
  • Design a system that accommodates accessibility and ease of service, and minimizes inventory of material and parts.
  • Take responsibility to assist in project startup while providing system training.

The construction profession also has to embrace this partnering process as a teammate and not “the team.” In addition, the construction professional needs to:

  • Provide the guidance to decipher the design by continuously outlining the pertinent milestones that a project schedule can offer. A picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to explaining how the design will take shape.
  • Be quick to provide cost breakouts so that the design professionals can mutually agree on material, equipment, and systems that offer the best for the budget.
  • Be able to provide cost estimate assumptions that back up the budget costs. The better educated the architect and engineers are on budget costs, the better the chances are that they will be successful at meeting the project goals.

The D-B “bridging” method is just one of many design-build processes. Integral to the success of this concept is that the D-B team has the experience or is ready to make the leap-of-faith and make the culture change to design-build-facility management.