Lessons Learned: Design-Build Trends & Best Practices Discussed at DBIA Event

By Jon McGrew and Nick Byers

design-build trends discussed at an educational event

In February, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) Oregon chapter hosted its first regional education event to encourage use of the delivery method and provide resources for the A/E/C/ industry throughout Oregon and Washington. Hennebery Eddy associate principal Jon McGrew serves as the Oregon chapter president and helped conceive of and organize the event along with Steve Tatge, president of the DBIA Western Washington chapter. A panel of experts discussed design-build trends, best practices, and positive experiences with the aim of advancing the conversation around design-build delivery. Below are takeaways from the event shared by Jon and Hennebery Eddy associate Nick Byers, who also sits on the DBIA Oregon board.

What was the goal of the conference?

Jon: We wanted to host a regional convocation of owners, builders, and designers interested in progressive design-build project procurement and delivery from across the Northwest. Sharing good information and experiences helps advance the conversation on best practices for progressive design-build. I always say the DBIA is the best professional social club in the region — you won’t find this blend of owners, builders, designers, and associated industry partners in any other organization.

What key ideas/topics emerged?

Topic: “Design Managers”

Nick: One of the most important roles on a design-build team is the Design Manger. They are the glue that keeps the flow of information moving between the design team, the contractor, and the owner. Design-build contractors have taken on a “Design Manager” role that is often key to high-performing teams by serving as collaborators who possess situational awareness and are not just coming to situations with solutions already in mind.

Jon: However, most panelists agreed the label is a misnomer and in fact should be something more along the lines of “Process Champion or Project Integrator.”

Topic: Risk Management

Jon: Owners have a desire to shift risk and limit contractual relationships; progressive design-build delivery facilitates the opportunity to focus more on “risk management” as opposed to “risk avoidance.” Trust is an invaluable risk management tool.

Nick: Risk is something that should be managed, not avoided. An important management tool is a risk log that can be used to track known risks to each party and can be reviewed weekly. As Jon said, trust is another key component to managing risk; this can be gained by knowing your team members and colleagues at a level deeper than just professional. As one panelist said, if you don’t know what they are up to on the weekends, you probably don’t know them well enough to form an opinion on how they work during the week. Meeting in person is important to developing this trust.

What forecasts/trends were discussed?

Jon: Traditional design-bid-build delivery milestones will fade in favor of those based on procurement timelines, project sequencing, risk management, and cost certainty. Also, mass timber construction (like cross-laminated timber) is growing in popularity and is incredibly well-suited to the opportunities inherent in progressive design-build project delivery.

What does the future of design-build look like in our region?

Nick: We will continue to see an increasing number of projects delivered with this method, as it very well-suited for fast-pasted project schedules, and owners are seeing the value from the early collaboration between design professionals and the trades. Higher education and other large institutions are increasingly more interested in these benefits of design-build and are working to find ways to adjust their internal processes and make design-build procurement more accessible.

Jon: While design-build delivery has long had a big place in “horizontal” construction (infrastructure projects), it is now growing rapidly in “vertical” construction (buildings) as well  – especially on the West Coast. The Northwest region tends to lead the nation in innovation, with progressive design-build innovators like the University of Washington and Washington State University. Between California and Washington, the movement is making its way to Oregon. We have seen a massive increase in progressive design-build procurement in the past few years.

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