Jordan Ramis pc. Attorneys at law
Top Tips for a Successful Design Build Project
<< Back To Listings
This article is intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

BY JACOB ZAHNISER

This article originally appeared in the April 22, 2016, edition of the Daily Journal of Commerce

Design-Build is a project delivery system in which one entity—the design-build team—works under a single contract to provide design and construction services for the owner.  The Design-Build system is an alternative to the traditional design-bid-build process where design and construction services are divided between the designer and the contractor, each with separate contracts and separate scopes of work.

Studies show the Design-Build delivery system is quicker and more cost-efficient than the traditional design-bid-build system.  Consequently, it is not surprising that Design-Build projects are increasing in popularity.  In fact, a recent study showed that 71 percent of construction dollars spent in Oregon are on Design-Build projects.  If you have not already worked on a Design-Build project, you probably will very soon.

Whether you are an old convert to the Design-Build system, or using it for the first time, here are four tips for a successful Design-Build project:
  1. Have a well-defined scope of work for the team leader and each team member;
  2. Have a defined criteria for measuring success;
  3. Have a knowledgeable owner who can make quick, sound decisions; and
  4.  Have experienced downstream contractors committed to achieving the goals set by the owner.
While there is no single “best” approach, these tips will help you achieve a successful Design-Build project.

1.         Have a well-defined scope of work for each team member.

The hallmark of the Design-Build system is timely, cost-effective construction.  By eliminating hierarchical layers of management, the project moves rapidly and decisions are made quickly, keeping the project on schedule.  Moreover, when the same group that designs the project also builds the project, there tends to be much more attention given to pricing and scheduling in the design phase.  However, a successful Design-Build project starts with a well-defined scope of work and a clear understanding of mutual expectations.  Like any project, if a Design-Build project lacks a clear and complete scope upfront, it is unlikely the final product will meet project and financial goals.

As with all teams, there should be one project leader as the single point of contact for the owner.  The project leader is generally the entity financially capable of contracting and guaranteeing the completion of the work and ultimately responsible for achieving the owner’s goals.  Consistency and project leadership from start to finish add an inherent efficiency; the chance for things to fall through the cracks is greatly diminished.

2.         Have a defined criteria for measuring success.

All too often projects start without any measurable criteria for success or with the wrong set of success criteria.  Every person, from the owner to the trades working day-to-day, must have the same idea of what success means, otherwise the project will not be completed efficiently.  Success may be measured in terms of schedule, budget, quality, maintainability, or a combination of all these and other factors.  Unless each team member is aware of the success criteria, the team as a whole will be unable to anticipate problems, work through challenges, and seek team solutions necessary for a successful Design-Build project.

3.         Have a knowledgeable owner who can make quick, sound decisions.

Next, a knowledgeable owner is a key factor of successful Design-Build processes.  Since the Design-Build project moves swiftly, the owner’s representative must be capable of making decisions promptly.  Without a decisive, responsive, and knowledgeable owner, the Design-Build process will falter and stall, diminishing the time benefits of the Design-Build process and sapping the profitability from the project.  Ultimately, an inexperienced or unknowledgeable owner will lead to paralysis of design/review/design, which must move forward at a predetermined pace.

4.         Have experienced downstream contractors committed to achieving the goals set by the owner.

Finally, experienced downstream team members are a must.  To be successful, Design-Build projects cannot afford the tunnel vision seen in the traditional design-bid-build method mentioned earlier.  Rather, the owner, the design-builder, and subcontractors must all think of themselves as a team working to achieve the common goal of delivering the project on time and on budget.  The only success is mutual success.  When challenges are encountered on a project (and there are always challenges), pointing fingers is not an option, and everyone must be willing to compromise and find solutions.  Design-Build team members should not only be experienced in their respective fields, but they should be capable and willing to think outside the box to come up with win-win solutions to deliver a successful project.  Compromise and cooperation across the board are essential.

The use of the Design-Build delivery system continues to gain in popularity, with the West Coast and Oregon in particular leading the charge with the most construction dollars being spent on Design-Build projects.  Applying these four tips will help ensure the success of your first (or next) Design-Build project, but even the best of the best can encounter problems.  A good team can make the problems that do arise easier to resolve.
 
Jacob Zahniser is a construction lawyer/litigator and trial attorney at Jordan Ramis PC.  Jacob focuses his practice on construction and real estate litigation, as well as handling insurance coverage disputes arising from construction defects.  He can be reached at jacob.zahniser@jordanramis.com or 503.598.5546.