Understanding the Design-Build Process and Its Effects for Your Contracting Business


As you gain experience in the construction industry, you’ll realize that there are several different processes that property owners might use to design a project and have it completed. Understanding these unique philosophies, such as Design-Bid-Build and Design-Build, can help you tailor your expectations to the assumptions of the person in charge. With this information, you’ll know the fundamental differences between these approaches, and how they could affect the way you handle certain types of projects.

Up until relatively recently, design-bid-build (DBB) was the standard practice for most construction projects. In this approach, the project is divided up into three separate segments controlled by different groups. First, the property owner contracts with a design professional (often an architect) to create a plan for the construction project. Once it’s complete, the owner takes bids from contractors who are willing to carry out the design. The owner (or a chosen surrogate) selects a bid, and the contractors deliver. If they have to change factors of the bid or the original design, they have to gain additional approval in advance.

DBB provides property owners with an extra layer of protection for their interests in the form of the designer. However, keeping these steps completely separated also slows down project timelines. Critics of DBB say that it could lead to delays if the designer was not current on local industry standards, such as pricing or best practices for project completion. It could also create confusion when problems arise. If the original design was found to be faulty for some reason, choosing the person responsible for revisions could turn into a lengthy dispute.

Aiming to cut down on the time and money spent for construction projects, many in the industry prefer to use the design-build (DB) approach. With DB, the contracting company who will be completing the project is also responsible for its design. Architects can still play an important role in this process, but they often work as a member of the contracting company or as a subcontractor. The general contractor serves as the primary point of contact and the person shouldering the responsibility for complications.

Experts like DB because it provides lots of opportunities for feedback from construction professionals during the design stage. If the owner wants something that is going to cost more than they expect or simply isn’t realistic, the contractor who will perform the work can make this clear and discuss alternatives. DB’s critics argue that this can put too much power in the hands of contractors who may be more likely to guide the design to services they can offer than what’s in the best interests of the property owner.

How the Process Affects Your Business
Although more and more groups are indicating a preference for DB due to its ability to save time and increase collaboration, you also should be prepared to engage with property owners who want to go with DBB. On commercial projects, you’ll want to find out the owner’s intentions from the beginning.

When you first start out, bidding on projects that already have a set scope might be a relief. In this case, you want to gain a firm grasp of your contracting business’ liberties and responsibilities, so that you fully understand what you’re on the hook to do. You might have a similar experience as a subcontractor on a DB project. Once you’re ready to take the lead, you can shoulder the weight of liability, but also the benefit of sharing your experience.

When you work on commercial construction projects, you’ll likely be working under the design-bid-build or design-build approaches. Knowing what you have to do in either case will help you put your best foot forward. To take the next step toward your contracting business, visit CSLS today!