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Design & Build? Still Nope!

Design & Build? Still Nope!

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 167).   

Design & build in the property industry comes under the general heading of “stupid things we continue to believe in despite mountains of evidence to the contrary that it produces poor outcomes”. 

The purpose of design and build is to:

  • Vertically integrate the design and construction process.
  • Have a single point of accountability to the client / owner.
  • Encourage innovation and costs savings via efficiencies between design and construction process.

Design & build is a risk management strategy and allegedly, a cost saving strategy. So in theory I am all in!

The reality is construction firms subcontract design firms and basically procure them the same way they procure bricks. All that is achieved is the contractural relationship between the design firm and owner is removed. 

The problem with this reality is that emotional ownership has not been vertically integrated. I have seen this “movie” on several projects and it always ends in sub-optimal outcomes. 

In my experience the contractor manages the design team the same way they manage a plumbing contractor i.e:

  • Super minimum compliance and depending on the integrity of the contractor, many corners cut.
  • Design and its risk is just another “horizontal” for the construction firm. Design teams are deemed to have “read the output spec” and take on the risks and liabilities with the contractor. 
  • When design problems arise the contractor just refers everyone to the designer where they assigned contractural ownership. The contractor retains no emotional ownership. This is like BMW saying the car air-conditioning not working is the suppliers fault and not BMW’s. 
  • A design problem is seen by the contractor as their “sub-contractors” problem. 

Design and build as currently practiced is story we have all agreed to agree on. If I was a property developer who holds property for the long term and wants AAA outcomes I would never use design & build, ever. As an owner or developer you always own the risk no matter what form of procurement employed, strategically, it is better to directly manage that risk. 

In my experience, design teams managed by the developer plus construction management is the best way to deliver high quality outcomes to the highest design standards within a cost plan. 

Bottom line, unless the whole design team i.e. architects, engineers etc. are direct long term employees i.e on full time payroll, of the firm that will physically construct the building you are not getting design & build, you are buying a “story”. This is actually “super minimum compliance, management contracting”. 

What does design and build look like if it works as advertised? 

  • It is a one stop shop with all design and construction resources in house.
  • Emotional ownership of the design at all levels of the firm just like a car manufacturer.

To my knowledge there are no true large scale design and build contractors. There are only design firms employed by constructors that generate even worse outcomes than traditional design, bid build. 

If you are an owner / developer, manage your risks, be humble and make evidence based decisions. Stop kidding yourself that you have “laid off the risk” and will get a AAA outcome from design & build. 

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

Related posts & links:

#129 – Design & Build? Nope…..

#105 – Bad Projects? No, Only Bad Leadership

#99 – E&O’s, CO’s & Shame

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