Don’t blame design and build for poor quality

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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  1. “ Separate Designer from Contractor if you’re concerned with Quality”

    Choose your D&B partner wisely and define your Quality standards from an early stage and you’ll enhance your chances of achieving your time, cost and quality goals.

  2. A D&B contractor led by in-house and D&B-experienced architectural designers who remain the team lead throughout the project, as would be the case with traditional procurement, will offer no greater deterioration in quality than would occur with that traditional [architect>tender>contractor] route.
    A contractor who signs up to the D&B contract, however, whilst ultimately remaining a traditional contractor, and either has a novated design team or employs a design team to draw up what they intend to build, will always focus their efforts towards the cost point of the triangle.

  3. Clients you only really need to read the last sentence,
    “Define the projects objectives with clarity ..”
    Clients if you don’t know what you want, you will always get what you deserve.

  4. Design and Build by its own definition means a Contractor designing and building. ( they are in control). The Client loses that independence of thought and clarity engendered by engaging an independent quality Architect. Don’t forget many D and B companies (ok not all) use Architectural Technicians with limited scope and vision who do what they are told. Even good Architects will be dog to the Master in this system ( where cost and systems are King) . In my opinion the Client loses on the benefit of independence of quality. This system seems embedded now and as time goes bye good independent basic Architecture will be lost in blandness and become a rarity. Not to say D and B does not have a major role – but be aware.

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