Design-Build, a Proven Project Delivery Method

Our followers in Alabama have undoubtedly heard or read about Governor Bentley’s proposed prison reform plan. But this is not a blog about prison reform, or the Governor, or any other political aspect of the proposal. This is a blog about design-build.

The reason for opening with the Governor’s plan is that some of the criticism of the plan involves his suggestion to use design-build as the preferred project delivery method to shorten the schedule and keep costs down. The critics of the design-build suggestion seem to imply that by eliminating the word “bid” from the design-bid-build description of the more traditional approach implies that the selection process will be without competition, allowing the Governor or some other politician to simply appoint a firm as a political favor. This couldn’t be further from reality.

In actuality, design-build is a project delivery system used successfully by municipalities and other government entities across the country to perform major projects in reduced time frames and at less cost than traditional design-bid-build approaches. The elimination of the word “bid” does not mean there isn’t a rigid selection process. Typically, in design-build, a selection committee solicits proposals from firms chosen through a qualification submittal process. The proposals are usually scored via a very structured system that includes examination of capabilities, experience, assigned team, project approach, and cost. Each category’s score represents a percentage of the total score. Cost can be a major component of the scoring, but other components may combine to offset the cost component. In traditional bidding, awards are made based solely on cost and often without sufficient regard to actual qualifications, sometimes resulting in poor quality results. There are some contractors who bid below cost, expecting to make their profit on multiple change orders, which drives up costs.

In a design-bid-build process, bids can’t be let, and construction can’t begin, until design is complete, which contributes to a longer schedule for the project. In design-build, because the designer and the builder are part of the same team, construction can begin on those elements of the design that are complete without waiting for the total design to be completed, shortening the schedule. In design-bid-build projects, it is not uncommon for a great deal of finger-pointing to occur if problems occur, since the two entities have little incentive to work together or take responsibility for challenges that arise. This can contribute to schedule delays. In design-build, the two entities are part of the same team with a common goal of completing the project on schedule and on budget to produce a satisfied client. When problems arise, both entities work on a solution without any finger-pointing. 

We’re not claiming that the Governor’s prison reform proposal is good or bad, but criticizing it for suggesting using design-build as the project delivery method of choice definitely shows a lack of understanding of what design-build truly is. For additional information on this proven delivery method, see our design-build blog post from two years ago. Or visit the Design-Build Institute’s web site.