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Top 5 Ways General Contractors Can Improve Their Design-Build Project

It’s time for your next construction project, but this time around, you want to get more out of it. You’re looking for ways to improve teamwork between subcontractors, architects, the owner, and your organization.

Design-build projects redistribute roles for everyone involved. With a fresh mindset and team structure, you have better opportunities to finish the project safely, within budget, and on schedule. It’s important to know how these changes affect design-build success.

Featured Resource: Design-Build Infographic 

To paint a vivid picture of this concept in action, we're covering the top five ways general contractors (GCs) can improve their next design-build project.

#1: Your Most Valuable Teammates are Trustworthy, Empathetic, Open-Minded, and Confident

Owners increasingly desire higher value and faster delivery. Optimizing a project to meet the owner’s needs requires seamless integration across numerous design and construction firms aligned for a common goal. This approach requires several key components within your design-build team:

  • Seamless, open collaboration: Team members must be transparent. Articulating the advantages and disadvantages of a recommended solution opens the decision-making process to broader input and new avenues of resolution. When key decisions are made collaboratively, unintended consequences are avoided because the impact on each discipline is identified.
  • Empathetic participants: All participants must communicate regarding how to optimize their area of responsibility. But this is only the starting point. Every participant must put themselves in each other’s shoes, working to meet the objectives of fellow participants while analyzing what is best for the project. For example, relocating a piece of equipment may reduce chilled water pipe lengths and sizes, but it must be weighed against the impact on the electrical distribution and structural support systems.
  • Eager, confident communication: The traditional design process is not accustomed to the levels of transparency required for design-build success. Designers must be confident in their technical abilities while being eager to learn. Each designer is an active participant, responsible for the overall project outcomes.

With eager, empathetic communicators in every role, you can move up deliveries for equipment with long lead times, and effectively hold constructability discussions alongside design considerations. Open access to drawings, BIM, materials pricing, and plans, can help you can make the right choice the first time.

That will make any owner pleased!

#2: Your Ability to Understand What the Owner Values Drives Innovation

What is the owner’s overall plan for this facility and its end users? Which systems are critical to its success? What details are important to the owner? Subcontractors are excellent at making decisions when information is incomplete. This is precisely why documenting the owner’s values is critical to empowering the subcontractors to deliver value while design is still underway.

Consider this: The original drawings call for a lounge in the center of the building. Is it simply a walking space between consistently occupied rooms, or will it be the building’s focus on weekends – like a wedding? If the room is a centerpiece, then perhaps using more of the budget to accommodate high occupancy and elegant diffusers is the correct decision. If not, money can be saved and applied to other areas important to the owner.

Here are some questions to ask an owner:

  • What systems and materials are you willing to consider?
  • How important is energy efficiency to you? How much of an impact will energy costs have throughout the entire life-cycle of your building?
  • Do you want to reduce first costs or long-term maintenance? Do you anticipate expansions in the future?
  • Where should we include redundant systems?
  • Where will occupancy be the highest? What is the use for each area within the building?

Preferences on system selection, energy savings, first costs, space use, schedule, and local/system-specific quality should be thoroughly discussed and documented. Once completed, this list becomes invaluable when preparing suggested options for the owner, as well as planning for the fast schedule.

#3: The Project’s Design Flexibility and Budget Constraints Must Work Together

Once the team is on the same page and the owner’s values are clearly identified, the budget will determine the range of options available. With this information, subcontractors can show additional value through expertise and creativity.  

  • Identify constructability challenges: With their experience, subcontractors can quickly flag clashes in the design phase that otherwise may not have been caught until late in the construction phase.
  • Provide value additions: Subcontractors can consult with suppliers and manufacturers to find cost-saving measures, creative uses for equipment, or schedule concerns. If the subcontractor has a service or maintenance division, in-house discussions can find better solutions for the life-cycle of the building. These may require up-front expenditures, but could produce long-term savings.
  • Plan for cost-effective sourcing solutions: When involved early, subcontractors can buy equipment in bulk and negotiate with suppliers for better deals. Prefabrication, modularization, and just-in-time delivery can vastly reduce risk and cost.

With a seat at the design table, subcontractors can design to their supplier’s capabilities. Those savings can be passed on to the owner, leading to a stronger relationship for later projects.

#4: Your Team’s Multidiscipline Planning Controls the Schedule’s Progress

How fast can you complete the project? With design-build, it depends on how well you have planned. Lean, Pull-Planning, and coordination between both design and construction parties are critical to maintaining the schedule.

Two other milestones are important to map. First, owner project requirements should be identified before underground plumbing begins, or when long lead-time equipment is ordered. The second is identifying the latest possible dates to make key decisions.

If both deadlines are kept, then the project can continue at its brisk pace.

#5: Understand Your Role in Decision Making

While subcontractors are important to the decision-making process, architects and general contractors still have management responsibilities for the overall design-build team. Architects, because of their experience on plan-spec projects, are often natural leaders during discussions, but GCs and subcontractors should not be afraid to voice their opinions.

GCs have experience leading pricing, scheduling, and constructability discussions, so it is natural for you to continue leading those discussions. Make sure to encourage discussion from all trades to contribute in the discussion.

Before the first discussions get underway, make some time to discuss roles with the architect. Define your roles and responsibilities so you both can leverage your expertise and strengths.

Adopting the Design-Build Construction Method 

By mastering these concepts, you’ll be equipped to thrive in the collaborative culture of the design-build method. Wondering how it feels to be confident in a project estimate or budget? Download our eye-opening infographic to learn more about design-build collaborations.

Design-Build Infographic Download

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