Strategies for a Smooth Design-Build Process

The design-build process, with its integrated approach, offers a promising path to efficiency and innovation. However, like any complex undertaking, challenges can arise, impacting timelines, budgets, and overall project success. In this guide, we will explore common problems that can affect the design-build processand provide invaluable tips for mitigating risks to ensure a smooth and successful construction journey.  

Common Problems That Impact the Design-Build Process

The design-build process, recognized as a project delivery method, facilitates rapid project delivery by integrating design and construction services. However, some common problems might impede the efficiency and success of this closely knit approach.

To fully grasp these potential issues, one must understand the design-build process, which primarily aligns with this delivery method. Construction projects executed using this build method involve the build team working in collaboration from the project’s beginning to completion. Even though this approach is proven to minimize opportunity costs, enhance the construction process, and improve project delivery, common problems still occur.

Such problems can result in significant changes in the overall project execution, schedule, and financial implications, ultimately impacting the effectiveness of this collaborative approach.

Unclear Scope and Miscommunication

One of the most prominent issues in the design-build process is maintaining a clear understanding of the project scope and ensuring effective communication among team members. If the project’s vision or execution details are not clearly articulated and understood, the construction project may quickly fall apart.

Project specifications in the construction need to be crystal clear. This clarity extends from expressing the client’s expectations to how the building firm outlines its action plan in the contract document. Ambiguities in the project scope can lead to misunderstandings, underestimation of responsibilities, underestimated execution costs, and timeline stretch, ultimately impacting the quality of work.

A communication gap ruins more than just morale; it can inflate costs, cause delays, and lead to inferior project delivery, compromising the primary advantages of the design-build method. Effective change management processes should be deployed to combat this problem and ensure the information flows seamlessly and accurately amongst the team.

Inadequate Risk Management

Another problem that often poses challenges in the design-build process is improper risk management. The design-build project delivery method demands a single point of responsibility, usually the design-build contractor.

The project risks lie mainly on the shoulders of this contractor, who must ensure risk management policies and practices are in place. The design-build process’s fast-tracked nature often leaves little room for extensive consideration of risks or unforeseen issues. Thus, a proactive risk management strategy is crucial to circumvent any bumps.

Without thorough risk analysis, the design-build firm might face financial implications, contractual disputes related to project changes, defective designs, or on-site accidents. These issues could lead to project delays, poor-quality work, and litigation. The project team must make concerted efforts to identify, assess, mitigate, and manage risk throughout the project’s lifespan. The team should also be prepared to handle unexpected changes without causing project deviation.

Lack of Skilled Team Members

Design-build projects revolve around the concept of teamwork and collaboration. Successful project execution hinges on the expertise and effectiveness of the team members involved.

Therefore, a lack of skilled team members is a common problem hindering the design-build process. Unskilled team members may not completely understand their assigned roles, leading to inadequate output. The absence of required skills can hamper the project delivery and might even lead to the failure of the entire design-build project.

Effective team selection is of paramount importance in design-build projects. Build firms must ensure they employ the right team, from marketers, architects, engineers, and constructors to on-site staff members. A mix of excellence, expertise, and cohesiveness can efficiently navigate the tricky path of design-build projects.

Choosing the Wrong Contractor

A fundamental mistake committed in design-build projects is choosing the wrong contractor. A contractor is a single point of responsibility in a design-build project, making the reputation, experience, and skill set of the design-build contractor critically important.

If the contractor lacks experience with the design-build process, it can lead to various detrimental impacts, including poor project planning, mismanagement of resources, inadequate scheduling, poor risk management, and ineffective project delivery. Consequently, the success of a design-build project relies heavily on the contractor’s capabilities.

To avoid these complications, it’s necessary to carefully vet potential contractors and choose someone experienced, reliable, and with a proven track record in handling design-build projects. Including an escape clause in the building contract is also advisable, granting clients the flexibility to switch contractors if the project is not progressing as expected.

Partnering with an experienced general contractor can help avoid mistakes. Explore Rothwell’s design-build services and see the advantage of our team.

Tips for Mitigating Risks During Each Stage of the Design-Build Process

The design-build process offers a valuable opportunity for efficiency and collaboration in construction projects. However, it does come with its share of challenges and risks. This piece will guide you through notable measures to combat common design-build process risks.

Team Selection

One of the primary considerations in any design-build project is your team selection. The collaborative approach inherent in design-build project delivery methods demands careful choice of team members, as these professionals drive the execution of the project from conception to completion.

Begin by crafting a build team experienced in your construction project. From the master builder to the architect, each member should deeply understand the planned execution and be fully committed to the project’s success.

In addition to their experience in the specific build method, team members should also be adept at managing changes in the design and construction process, handling issues around sourcing responsibility, and conducting risk management.

Seamless communication within the build teams is another critical factor. This allows for efficient change management coordination and ensures project delivery within the agreed-upon contract terms, on time, and within budget.

Project Planning

Project planning is an essential stage of any design-build project. In this phase, defining the project’s scope and identifying potential risks is crucial. This provides a roadmap for your team and places the project on a solid foundation for successful execution.

During project planning, the design-build team creates a detailed risk management plan. This plan outlines the project’s anticipated challenges and puts measures in place to mitigate these risks, thereby reducing unexpected financial implications and maintaining strict schedule control. Master builders play an instrumental role in this process, helping identify potential design, construction, and execution risks.

Project planning further involves reviewing the building contract and arranging for necessary permits before work commences. This step reduces the chances of experiencing setbacks in schedule control and the execution phase of the project.


Design is a significant factor in the design-build process. The aim is to create an architectural design that is efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and feasible within the project’s budget and schedule constraints.

During the design phase, the project team aligns the design with the agreed-upon scope. The collaborative approach in this stage ensures constant communication and the pooling of multi-disciplinary expertise, which effectively minimizes mistakes and allows for rapid project delivery.

The project designer and constructor play an essential role during this phase, ensuring that the design aligns with the client’s desires while remaining practical for the construction phase.

Establishing a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP)

Establishing a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) is crucial to mitigating financial risks. Adopting a GMP within the contract safeguards clients from overshooting their planned budget and creates a clear expectation for the project team.

Considering all possible costs is integral in setting the GMP. It’s also important to factor in eventual costs to cover unexpected changes or adjustments during the building process to avoid financial implications.

A detailed list of all associated costs should accompany the GMP, providing transparency over every line item expense in the project. All team members, from the contractor to the architect, must commit to maintaining the set GMP.


The construction phase is the execution point of the project and requires careful management to ensure everything goes according to plan. In this phase, the construction project becomes tangible, and the design enters its actualization stage.

Frequent site inspections are necessary throughout this stage to ensure the project remains aligned with the design plans of the GMP, and keeping up with the agreed schedule. These inspections also offer opportunities for change management, where the project manager can oversee any project alterations and ensure they align with the project delivery goals.

Risk management also comes into play during the construction phase. The build team should adhere to the risk management strategies crafted during the project planning phase. Communicating and addressing issues promptly can help prevent cost overruns and schedule disruptions.


The completion phase represents the culmination of all your design-build efforts. At this stage, it’s time to conduct a comprehensive review of the project, verifying that it meets the initial design specifications and adheres to the contract, including financial and schedule constraints.

The project team should thoroughly inspect the completed project to ensure all work is up to agreed specifications with no defects. Any faults found during this inspection process should be corrected promptly by the build firm to reach construction project completion.

Upon verification that all work is up to scratch, the contractor can then hand over the completed project to the client. This signals project completion—a significant achievement for the project team and the culmination of a successful design-build process.

Stay on Schedule With Rothwell’s Design-Build Strategies

The best way to avoid issues from impacting the design-build process is to partner with a reputable general contracting firm. Rothwell Construction has proudly served the Kansas City region for over 20 years and leverages our knowledge to anticipate and mitigate risks.

We have experience assisting clients across various industries, including:

Contact us today to learn more about our design-build process.

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