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How to pick a project delivery method.

Jan 13, 2020 1:02:11 PM

There’s a lot to be aware of as an owner looking to develop their property – how quickly they expect completion, the price range they’re willing to pay, how involved they want to be, and how much control they want to exercise over design, subcontracting and administrative tasks. 

Consider the following elements of your own project before you decide which project delivery method to use: 

    1. The Budget. Is there wiggle room in your budget for change? How much does your software cost? This should be an iterative process with different contractors, clients and team members. 
    2. Your Relationships. Do you want to directly communicate and work with the designer, contractors, and subcontractors? Or, do you want a lower level of involvement and wish to only be involved during major conflicts? Project delivery methods can give you high levels of contact, or minimal levels depending on what you want. 
    3. Risk Level. Identify who is liable for design problems from the project’s beginning to the post-completion. Do you want to be liable for the project, or would you feel more comfortable with the risk dispersed among several contractors? 
    4. Project Timeline. Identify the speed of scheduling and associated costs required to complete the project at the required time. Make sure you have a comfortable window to meet expectations and clearly communicate when to expect completion with project team members and stakeholders.  
    5. Software Tools. The land development industry is a laggard when it comes to adopting technology to streamline and optimize workflow decisions. However, that doesn’t mean all companies are created equal. If you want a high level of oversight with technology-backed decisions, this is important to consider as you’re picking the right partner for your work style. 
    6. Owner expertise. Identify how many staff members are capable to contribute to the project with the appropriate level of experience. Don’t oversell or stretch yourself too thin – that will only lead to failure down the road. 

Common Project Delivery Methods

The different types of project delivery methods within the construction industry will provide owners with different experiences – from high-impact, hands-on development alongside the designer and contractor, to a quick deadline and fixed overall cost that won’t increase at all. 

There’s a lot to consider, and some project delivery methods can combine the best of both worlds (depending on what you’re looking for). Here’s an overview of the four main project delivery methods, and how they stack up: 


Design-Bid-Build (DBB)

This is the most well-known delivery method as it follows the chronological order of the design process and creates a clear separation between design and construction. Design-Bid-Build provides the lowest up-front costs and gives owners sufficient time to provide input on the building because it allows for direct communication between the owner and contractor. 

However, because the architect and general contractor don’t collaborate during the design phase, materials and construction techniques may not be fully discussed or agreed upon. This makes the process slower and can create the need for changing orders, increasing the project’s timeline. There is also a potential for costs to rise because of the conflicting design and constructability. 

The bottom line: Design-Bid-Build is generally a more cost-efficient strategy, and usually leads to a sealed bit with a fixed-price contract. There’s a low level of liability on the owner, but the relationship between the contractor and designer could lead to bigger problems down the road. 


Design-build (DB)

If you’re looking for a short timeline and simplicity of one contract, Design-build might be the right method for you. 

In the design-build process, the owner hires ONE company/team under one contract to deliver a project, start to finish. Because the designer and builder are from the same firm, the design changes can be discussed and executed quickly. Strengths of Design-Build include minimal  price changes and a short delivery timeline because projects can be split up and delivered in a package approach. Design-Build also minimizes risk because everyone is contracted from the same company. 

On the other hand, the owners give up control over the designs and the contractors make most of the decisions. Additionally, owners must do their due diligence and select a firm that’s right for the job and form a detailed contract specifying expectations of performance. 


Construction management at-risk (CMR)

The construction manager is responsible for building the project, with a designer and owner overseeing the process. This project is most successful when scope is undefined and under pressure of timeline, and the owner provides payment in a lump sum or guaranteed maximum price (GMP) at the end of the project. 

Like the Design-Bid-Build method, the landowner only forms contracts with two parties: the designer and CMR manager so this is relatively simple. The owners work directly with designers and have access to the builder’s perspective so there is a high level of awareness, cost insight, and quick delivery. The CMR provides construction input to the owner during the design phases, becomes the general contractor during the construction phase. 

However, the owner is liable for completeness, accuracy, and details of the design, so it’s not a hands-off experience for the owners. The CMR also accepts a high level of risk when agreeing to the set deadline and price.



The Multi-Prime design process comes in three phases: design, engineering, and construction. Multi-prime is not the simplest project delivery method because the owner is responsible for creating three separate contracts with the professionals heading the separate stages of the project. 

The owner contracts directly with separate contractors for different elements of work, rather than with one company or a general contractor. Then, each category of contractors may oversee the work of subcontractors (like a general contractor who manages carpenters). This means that the owner has less say in who is subcontracted, and can lead to higher risk or other conflicts down the timeline. 

Multi-Prime is a successful project delivery method because experienced contractors have the highest level of control. In addition, some regions only accept multi-prime project delivery methods for the public sector. This is why it’s so important to know the local laws governing your projects. However, you’re your own general contractor – so communicating problems effectively, scheduling among the three leads and other coordination issues may arise on the owner’s end. 

Communication Constraints to Consider

Before you begin, make sure that your land is properly zoned for how you want to use it. If you own a residential property but you had plans to build a store, that’s something you need to know far in advance of picking a contractor. 

Regardless of project delivery method or amount of teammates, it’s important to make sure everyone’s on the same page and up-to-date with compliant with the most current building and zoning codes for your property.

These can change by year and geography, so make sure that the codes you’re complying with are the right ones for where your property is. Nothing says unprofessional like weeks of rebuilding work, repurchasing materials or even redesigning initial plans. 

To ensure that your project plans are compliant with the land’s zoning and municipality regulations, you need to conduct a thorough and in-depth research. While it can be costly to spend so much time researching the building and zoning codes, it’s far more costly to uncover mistakes after they’ve already been built. Nobody wants to re-do work, repurchase materials and postpone a project’s deadline. 

Finding a fast, reliable tool that can cut down this research time and also reduce your risk is well worth the ROI here. While it can seem unnecessary to speed up this process, it’s not just saving you time – it’s also saving you from the possibility of error, unhappy clients and making mistakes that could cost you thousands. 

PermitDocs: The Ultimate Property Information Management Tool

Regardless of project delivery method or amount of teammates, it’s important to make sure everyone’s on the same page and up-to-date with compliant with the most current building and zoning codes for your property. 

That’s why industry professionals turn to PermitDocs – your all-in-one source for land development information. We supply the municipality codes at a click and provide all of the zoning and building codes relevant for your projects. 

PermitDocs allows you to share, communicate and collaborate over all of this land information – bringing the boots and the suits together so that your team can communicate in real-time, reduce risk while planning and building, and feel confident that you’re making well-informed decisions with reliable information. 


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