Design-Build Best Practices

October 30, 2023
Front-end Planning
Detail Engineering & Design
Fabrication & Construction
Safety & Quality

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With a single contractor carrying out the design and construction responsibilities of a capital project, the design-build (DB) approach ensures faster project delivery through the overlapping procurement, design, and construction stages. This reduces the overall risks of cost and schedule overruns, making the design-build, or EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) approach a preferred method for complex, large-scale capital projects with tighter timelines. 

Unlike the design-bid-build (DBB) method, where the project owner is fully responsible for outlining the project scope at each phase, the DB approach encourages early involvement of the selected contractor in the planning stages to define a detailed and complete project scope that goes from detailed design through construction. 

Further, by holding a single design-build team accountable for project delivery results, there is increased alignment regarding responsibilities and the relationships between the project owner, contractor, and stakeholders.

Below, we will discuss design-build best practices to facilitate early and detailed development of the project scope and ensure clear, consistent communication and successful project completion.            

Design-Build Best Practices for Successful Project Outcomes

Every project has unique challenges that must be considered when determining the best project delivery method. The design-build method is ideal for accomplishing successful project outcomes with the least design and construction schedule growth; however, it’s important to adopt the following best practices to implement the approach properly.

Early Alignment Between Key Stakeholders

First, identify the key stakeholders for the project. Who will determine that the project is successful? Early alignment between key stakeholders through improved interpersonal team interaction, frequent communication, and transparency can help ensure that the project goals are met. 

The initial scope meetings between the project owner and the contractor should determine the driving factors of the project, including staffing, cost, schedule, equipment, and deliverables documents. 

Early Alignment: Key Points and Recommendations
Identify Key Stakeholders
  • Determine key stakeholders who define success
Early Alignment and Communication
  • Early stakeholder alignment ensures goals are met
  • Improves team interaction, communication, and transparency 
  • Scope meetings establish project drivers
Driving Factors Discussion
  • Discuss project drivers like staffing, cost, schedule, and equipment
  • Identify deliverables documents for project success
  • Develop execution plan for minimal impact on operations

Identifying stakeholders who will be asset owners, such as operations managers or operators, is essential to making sure that their needs are met. In addition, for work to be done in existing operating facilities, the execution plan must be agreed to in order to minimize operational impacts and release work areas in accordance with the plan.

It’s also important to establish roles and responsibilities and a consistent reporting schedule in the early stages of the project to ensure clear communication and frequent progress updates between the contractor and the project owner.

Ensuring the Suitability of the Design-Build Approach

It is important to consider when to use the design-build method. The DB approach is well-suited for schedule-driven projects when the project owner has limited resources and manpower to accomplish the project. Bringing in engineering and construction teams early can help determine the available infrastructure, equipment and material requirements and required construction speed to complete the project on schedule. 

It can also help ensure the constructability of the project, as in the design-build approach, the design and construction teams work together during the pre-construction phase to ensure cost-effectiveness and the creation of practical engineering plans.

Evaluating the Project Owner’s Needs, Vision, and Goals

During scope development, a design-build contractor needs to understand and assess the project owner’s requirements, goals, and vision against the timeline, budget, and deliverables of the project. Evaluating the feasibility and constructability of the project is critical to avoid frequent changes and rework later during the construction phase. The reduced risk of change orders eventually improves the cost and schedule certainty of the project.

Project Owner Evaluation: Key Points and Recommendations
Risk Assessment
  • Ensure proper risk management procedures are in place
  • Risk assessment allocates contingencies through WBS, PEP, and SOV
Front-End Planning
  • FEP evaluates constructability and guides design and construction
  • Clear DB agreement based on FEP deliverables
Detailed Scope and Estimate Review
  • Comprehensive review defines scope to reduce change and improve cost predictability
Change Management
  • Robust change management process mitigates interruptions and cost overruns
Integrated Team Design and Model Reviews
  • Collaboration minimizes errors and incorporates construction knowledge
  • Model reviews ensure project quality and constructability

Risk Assessment 

Risk assessment is critical to improving accuracy in cost estimation in capital projects. Being solely responsible for design and construction in the DB approach, the EPC contractor is accountable for shouldering the risks and resolving the deficiencies in the construction phase. With proper risk assessment during the front-end planning phases, adequate contingencies can be allocated for each stage to counter unforeseen circumstances, such as market volatility during the project cycle.

When assessing potential project risks, it’s also important to ensure proper risk management procedures are in place. This can include creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that organizes tasks and deliverables into smaller components to make project execution more manageable, a Project Execution Plan (PEP) that outlines how a contractor will monitor, control, and execute the project, and a Schedule of Values (SOV) that breaks down the cost of each billable item of work. 

Front-End Planning

Front-end planning (FEP), which occurs before or after the selection of a design-build contractor depending on the project, ensures continuity through the design and construction phases of the project. 

During the FEP stage, the EPC contractor and other key stakeholders should assess the overall constructability of the project based on the existing infrastructure and analyze the project scope. After receipt of the FEP deliverables, the project owner should use them to establish a clear and detailed DB agreement with the contractor to gain clarity over the project scope, cost, schedule, project requirements, and deliverables.

Detailed Scope and Estimate Review

After delivery of the FEP and creation of the DB scope document, it is very important to perform a thorough review of the scope documents and FEP estimate with a cross-functional team of stakeholders to ensure that the scope is fully defined for each project function and that it aligns with the estimate basis that was presented in FEP. An early and clearly defined scope can minimize the changes associated with the scope later in the project life cycle and improve cost predictability in construction.

Change Management

Frequent changes to the original project scope can interrupt the flow of work, resulting in cost and schedule overruns and severely impacting the project's overall success. A robust change management process can help effectively recognize, plan, evaluate, and implement unavoidable project changes.

Integrated Team Design and Model Reviews

A cohesive and integrated team that collaborates across all disciplines and phases of a capital project ensures higher work efficiency. A single DB team executing a project minimizes the risks of errors or inconsistencies in the designing and engineering phases of the project and prevents schedule delays during construction. 

Utilizing construction knowledge and experience in earlier project phases, the EPC contractor should incorporate constructability through model reviews to ensure project quality from front-end planning through construction.   

H+M Industrial EPC Can Implement Design-Build Best Practices

H+M Industrial EPC has provided best-in-class capital project management services to several industries, including energy, chemical, terminal, and logistics, for over 35 years

Our proven EPC approach, in-house engineering, and construction capabilities have been instrumental in implementing design-build best practices to provide cost and schedule certainty while keeping the capital project life cycle intact.

About the Author

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To find out more about how H+M Industrial EPC can help you implement design-build best practices and streamline project completion, contact us through our website today.

To find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of turnkey projects and how H+M Industrial EPC can meet your capital project needs, contact us through our website today.

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For over three decades, we have provided best-in-class capital project management services to Energy and Chemical industries through our proven EPC approach. We are dedicated to providing trust, experience, and efficiency through all stages of engineering, procurement, and construction--on budget and on time.

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