The design-bid-build process (DBB) is a traditional practice used in the United States, where the owner of the project has separate contracts with a designer and contractors for the construction of a project. Alternatively, the design-build process is where the design and construction services are all managed through a single contractor.

design-bid-build process versus design-build

There are pros and cons of both processes, but first let’s break down the definition of each.

Design-bid-build process

Per Wikipedia, there are three main sequential phases to the design-bid-build delivery method:

  1. The design phase – the owner retains an architect to design and produce bid documents, on which various general contractors will in turn bid to construct the project. This early design is then developed.
  2. The bidding (or tender) phase – in which a qualified bidder may participate. The various general contractors bidding on the project obtain copies of the bid (or tender) documents, and then put them out to multiple subcontractors for bids on sub-components of the project. Once bids are received, the architect typically reviews the bids and advises the owner as to the ranking of the bids.
  3. The construction phase – once the construction of the project has been awarded to the contractor, the bid documents may not be altered. The necessary permits must be achieved from all jurisdictional authorities in order for the construction process to begin.

The DBB process may lead to lower costs thanks to the project bidding process, while providing transparency the project owner.

Design-build process

A goal of design-build is to shift responsibility to a single contractor, who simplifies and speeds up the process for the project owner while retaining responsibility for risks.

Per Symmetry Builders, Inc., the close relationship between designers and builder allows real-time schedule, cost updates and interventions, which further allows for thoughtful decision making throughout the entire development. The insight and coordination of the design-builder into all of systems and assemblies to avoid timely and costly changes and interpretations is a clear benefit. This delivery can allow certain design and administrative steps to be bypassed for the sake of time, cost and schedule considerations.

Examining the risks of design-build

While there has been a shift towards design-build in the architecture and construction industries, risks arise as traditional working relationships between contractors and designers are altered, and trades who are well-established in the DBB process now learn to work together collaboratively. Alternatively, contractors may decide whether to bring in an in-house design team.

When architecture and contracting firm partner for design-build projects, risks are negotiated and allocated among the teams. Effective communication is a must, as liability issues can include costs, contingencies, scheduling concerns and dispute resolution can lead to complex joint venture agreements.

With costing not fully disclosed, concerns may arise with firms who may be using traditional partners rather than the most cost-effective bidder, as would occur in the DBB process.

Examining the risks of the design-bid-build process

Risks are inherent in the DBB process as well. Per Levelset:

  • The owner uses a good amount of project funds in the design phase, before getting a firm price on the actual construction phase.
  • The owner is potentially vulnerable to change orders, delays, and additional costs initiated by the contractor.
  • The construction process does not begin until all of the design plans are finalized. This can add more time to the overall completion of the project.
  • Because the general contractor isn’t normally on board early in the process, they aren’t able to give feedback during the design process.

Individual trades are also more likely to focus solely on their assigned tasks rather than have the full scope of the project in mind.

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