Is the industry ditching design and build to lock in quality? This may be misguided, Paul Beeston argues
In the time, cost and quality ‘triangle’, the much-repeated adage is that you can’t have all three. So, have procurement practices contributed to a deterioration of quality achieved in construction, particularly design and build (D&B)?
At its worst, the industry in general, and D&B especially, can be a competitive race to the bottom. It encourages the (apparently) unnecessary to be trimmed and removed; “it meets code” is the backstop.
The design part of a D&B is a service and a process. Does the client just want code compliance and is the contractor’s best advice that code compliance is the best solution? AD&B contractor should not be afraid of giving professional advice on design. The services required of the contractor under a well-briefed pre-construction services agreement (PCSA) should establish this requirement.
D&B is a firm favourite of clients and funders, especially in the private sector, not least for its risk transfer and single point of responsibility. A pivot towards quality may lead clients to consider a hybrid, traditional or construction management route, but they may not achieve their desired commercial or programme objectives.
But it is possible for clients to lock in quality through D&B. They could consider writing into the design consultant’s scope of service an inspection regime; contractors should embrace the diligence. Clients should remember, when assessing contractor tender returns, that lower preliminaries may reflect an inappropriate level of supervision and quality management.
Where there are specialist elements, clients should ask if fire, facade or acoustic specialist inspections are needed, along with a client-side clerk of works.
It is certainly the case that quality is a symptom of culture and process and procurement is part of that process. Clients should make sure their procurement route, whatever it may be, secures the triple lock of time, cost and quality.
Quality is not something that is just achieved on a cold and wet construction site, or for that matter, in an offsite factory. Quality is the golden thread the entire project team follows from start to finish.
So clients do not necessarily need to change their preferred procurement method, including D&B, but they may need to change how they approach it. Define a project’s objectives with clarity and embrace a culture that delivers quality with pride.
Paul Beeston is a partner at RLB
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