Design-Build Construction Process: The 5 Stages Explained

Written by Bridget Cooper

DateJan 10, 2024
Reading time10 min read

Are you considering design-build for your construction project? If so, you need to understand how the design-build process begins.

A few years back, this construction process was used as an alternative to the traditional design bid build. But, today, it is becoming a preference for construction projects. If you are still not confident about using this popular construction approach, this article will help clear your doubts. In this article, you will find more about what design-build entails, the process, and the pros and cons involved.

What is Design Build?

Design-build is a construction project delivery method that emphasizes open communication and teamwork to build a construction project that exceeds or meets the owner's expectations. This process was an alternative to the traditional design bid build, but it takes a newer approach to project delivery.

Unlike design bid build, where two contracts were used for design and construction, design-build only uses one contract covering both phases. This process benefits project owners and contractors because of open communication.

Generally, the collaborative nature of this method means quicker project completion, improved budget estimates, and better teamwork. The team focuses more on the project as they share one goal rather than pointing fingers at each other.

This method benefits the owner because they have to manage only one contractor who forms the team with the design-builder and manages all the subcontractors. Now, only one person holds the contractual risks and single source responsibility for every aspect of the project. That's the design-builder. This person manages all contracts with equipment vendors, material providers, and subcontractors.

The design-builder ensures that all the project needs are met as per the contract requirements. If there are any inconsistencies between the performance standards and prescriptive requirements, the design-builder takes charge of it and reports it to the owner and other project stakeholders.

The easiest way to understand the design-build method is by comparing it with the traditional design bid-build process. In this method, the owner enters into two contracts in the construction phases. The first contract is with the design-builder assigned to one firm, while the second is with the general contractor (GC) who completes the construction project.

Since in design-build, the design-builder works closely with the other project team members, it will result in a sound result. In other construction projects, the design phase is handled separately from the construction phase, which, in most cases, results in delays in construction projects and increased costs. With that in mind, let's look at the design-build process and the benefits and advantages of using it in your construction project.

The Design-Build Process

There are five phases involved in the design-build process. Though it sounds like many steps for this newer simplified method, some of these phases overlap. That's because, in design-build, they work as a team, unlike in other construction methods where a different entity handles each phase. These are the five steps;

  • Team Selection
  • Project planning
  • Architectural design
  • Construction
  • Post-construction

1. Team Selection

In the team selection phase, you, the owner, will choose the firm that makes up your design-build team. The design-build team includes the design-builder, engineers, and architects. However, this will depend on what you want. You still have an alternative method of choosing a company or firm that will select its design-build team to work on the project. Or, you play an active role during the firm's selection process that will make up the project team.

The design-build process commences once you choose your design builder. In this stage, you can have a bidding process for the design builders, thus minimizing the risk of having only one person design the project. So, whatever method you use, you will have a design-build team at the end. To have a successful project, this will depend on their goal as the whole team focuses on what's best for your project.

2. Project Planning

Once your design-build team is ready, they will start the project planning phase. This is a critical stage because it's the phase where the design-builder will work on matching your vision and mission with your budget. They will even give you preliminary drawings, the challenges that may arise, the cost analysis, and schedules. You can ask as many questions as possible to clarify your project vision.

In this phase, the project team, the architects, consultants, contractors, and engineers will visit the project site to analyze what to expect. This is when they look for any possible challenge during construction and plan accordingly. Project site assessments are thoroughly analyzed, and the design team will maximize their efficiency throughout the project.

3. Architectural Design

This is also known as the design phase. The architectural design phase starts once all parameters are defined and fit into the project plan. The architect can now complete the final project drawings.

The design phase begins once the preliminary drawings fit into the rest of the project plan. This is when the architect will complete the final drawings for the project. The design-build team will also assess some areas to see if there are cost-saving opportunities, establish the project vision, and present the preliminary drawings to you.

Also, they can offer cost estimates and the project's final budget and then submit it to you. Generally, all your expectations of the project get done at this stage. And once you reach an agreement, the project can kickstart as the project's team is aware of what needs to be done.

4. Construction

Once you agree and finalize the design, the construction process can start. That's if the design build team were yet to start construction during the design phase. However, overlaps between design and construction phases are common in design-build construction. This overlap speeds up the whole process because there is open communication between the project team and a single point of contact for the project.

Throughout the construction phase, you will remain in contact with the design-builder as they work closely with the design-build team. This will maximize the efficacy of the whole process and minimize miscommunication between the team.

Interestingly, the whole project will kickstart smoothly, and you will not face any budget surprises. Also, any issue that arises is quickly resolved. These misunderstandings and miscommunication are sometimes nonexistent in the design-build delivery system

5. Post-Construction

Once the design-build is complete, you should be given a post-construction handoff. This includes project deliverables, in-person training sessions, instructional videos, and core documentation. Post-construction handoff is crucial to any build process, so don't overlook it.

Advantages of Design Build

Using the design-build construction process as your project delivery method has several benefits. Let's look at each of them in detail.

Smooth Process

Design-build is one of the simplest project delivery methods you will come across. The entire construction process is a single contract between you and the design-builder. So, only one entity, the design-builder, is accountable for all design and construction elements.

This simplifies the legal process and streamlines the construction project. With this project, you will benefit because you will no longer have to overlook the entire project. The design-builder will carry all this responsibility and work with the architects, contractors, and subcontractors to handle the job.

Better Communication and Solutions

What distinguishes the design-build delivery method from other traditional methods is its open communication and collaboration between the team. The design-build model has an early collaboration between the owner, architect, and engineer. Sometimes, the design-builder comes on board before the project kickstarts to assist with the design process.

Since the entire team fully collaborate on working together, there is a higher level of transparency. This is necessary for the success of any project. Each team member ensures their vision for the project aligns with what you, the owner, want. Additionally, it becomes easy to assess schedules, evaluate the project's objectives, analyze cost-saving opportunities, and identify any possible challenges.

Since all the project team members work under only one contract, they work closely together. This method benefits you since the design-builder will always update you. Because of these reasons, the design-build construction process has gained popularity in the construction industry. That is why they are used in commercial construction for more complex jobs.

Cost Saving

The design-build construction is efficient, and because of this, you will have reduced construction costs for your project. Before the project begins, you must set a budget and share your vision for the project. This way, you will avoid incurring costs as the whole team will be accountable for it.

Still, the design-build can seek bids from the subcontractors and other partners. They will use it to create a guaranteed maximum-price or GMP contract and then deliver it to you for approval. Though the price may seem huge, real and opportunity costs are reduced significantly.

Faster Completion

As mentioned earlier, in design-build, the versatility of this project delivery method and open communication among construction team members results in faster completion of construction projects. When a team has a collaborative mindset, there is no time for misunderstandings and competition that may cause project delays.

Unlike the traditional design-bid-build method that takes more time during the bidding phase, design-build teams follow a simple construction process with everyone on a single team. There are no delays related to the contract and paperwork.

Generally, the design-build method suits construction projects with no complex designs, such as road projects and any other building project with which the project owner and the design-builder have experience.

Disadvantages of Design Build

Though the design-build process has many benefits, there are still some downsides to this project delivery method. Here are some of its disadvantages.

Challenge Finding a Design Builder

In design-build projects, the design-builder has so much responsibility. Ideally, project builders are responsible for all communications with the team and project owner. So, for the whole project to run smoothly, you need qualified personnel to handle the job.

You can choose an individual or a qualified firm to handle it. However, when choosing a design-builder, you should follow a selection process focusing on the track record, experience, and style compatibility.

Unfamiliar Method to Some

Design-build is a newer project delivery method used in most modern building projects. So, most architects, project owners, contractors, and other professionals are still new or unfamiliar with this project delivery method. So, it's best to bring all your ideas to light and ensure everyone understands the whole process. We hope this guide can assist you in this.

Lack of Project Owner Control

In a design-build, the owner entrusts all responsibilities to the design-builder and the project team, especially after the complete design phase. Though some see this as a relief of responsibility, some owners prefer to be available throughout the construction phase. So, this is entirely your decision, but a design-builder (the construction manager) remains the best option for you. After all, everything is worked under a single contract.

Is Design-Build Right For Your Construction Project

Well, any construction project can benefit from design build. In this method, you collaborate with the professionals from the planning to design phases. This means you are going to enjoy lower costs and faster completion of the project. The open communication and every team member being involved make the process more efficient and easy to project forward. So, the best project delivery method is the one that considers all options.

Written by Bridget CooperUpdated on Feb 23, 2024

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