Architect at a Drafting TAble

The Secret for A/E Firms to Win Design-Build Projects

About the author: Don Archibeque is a Project Executive with Planifi, bringing more than 25 years of experience in construction and A/E (architecture and engineering) Project Management, as well as associated professional managerial services.

Architecture and Engineering (A/E) firms that establish and demonstrate project management as a strategic priority for their firm consistently win more work on design-build projects.

The traditional approach for construction projects consists of the appointment of a designer on one side and a contractor on the other. The design–build procurement route changes the traditional sequence of work. It fulfills the client’s demand for a single point of responsibility, which results in lower costs and some risk mitigation.

Design-Build Projects Increasing

Research from consulting firm Fails Management Institute (FMI) indicates that the design-build (DB) delivery method, where an owner contracts with a single entity to perform both design and construction, is continuing to gain traction in the industry. According to the June 2018 “Design-Build Utilization” report, DB methods will represent nearly half of construction put-in-place (CPiP) spending across many market segments by 2021.

Effects of Change

First, the RFP response process for design-build work has become increasingly time consuming (read: expensive). Every moment senior staff spend on an RFP is unbilled work. Not to mention printing, flights, and other travel expenses.

In order to both win the project and still be profitable, estimates must be more accurate than ever. Estimates must be aggressively priced to stay competitive and, as a result, design services fees are being reduced to nearly unsustainable levels. This is due to the nature of the design-build agreement. Contractors are incentivized to reduce costs and maximize profitability for the client.

This leaves little room for error in project execution. The correct personnel need to work just long enough on the project to get the work done without blowing through the profit. Meanwhile, the time required to fully explore detail and complexities has disappeared.

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This approach cuts cost to be sure, but less design time comes with increased risk. For example, construction documents are nowhere near as complete as they have been in past decades. Project details and arguments over responsibilities for contract documents is an unintended consequence of the design-build process.

Design Firm Evaluation Criteria

The owner’s selection committee, which may include the general contractor, evaluates A/E proposals.  The committee is responsible for awarding work to design firm’s that best fit the needs of both the project and the design-build approach to project delivery.

As a result, the committee may highly value some practices or processes that design firms have traditionally not included in past pitch meetings. For example, firms may need to identify their project scheduling process in order to demonstrate specific understanding of the project milestones and key deliverables.

How to Win Design-Build Projects

Architecture and Engineering (A/E) firms should prepare for increased scrutiny of their project management approach. The committee may conduct an in-depth evaluation of the project manager’s qualifications and role during the design and construction process. Prepare this information ahead of time and highlight your project manager’s achievements in managing dynamic and complex projects.

In addition to project manager scrutiny, most projects will require a submission of similar information for key project staff. Demonstrate availability for key staff and their qualifications to complete the work. Many RFPs also request a list of recent projects and require an organizational chart, key staff, and the firm’s policy on budget/schedule compliance.

Set Your Firm Apart

In a world where project delivery methodologies are constantly evolving, firms must prioritize and embrace project management as a key differentiator. You will set yourself apart from the competition during the RFP process and deliver successful projects, resulting in repeat work for your firm.

Interested in learning how Planifi software can help your firm improve project management? Align with your project managers, increase utilization, and achieve higher profitability by scheduling a call today!

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