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Why Design-Build Is The Service You Didn’t Know Your Building Needed


The construction process, from initial design to final delivery, is a combination of many moving parts. When deadlines, responsibilities and client expectations are not communicated at an early stage of the process, tasks and milestone objectives can get lost in translation. 

This lack of communication is a problem that Clay Curtis has seen firsthand. Curtis, a senior vice president at Plano-based construction management firm McRight-Smith Construction, and his team noticed that a lack of communication and transparency had resulted in a negative cost to their clients' projects.

“Projects can begin to break down at the very first meeting of the design phase,” Curtis said. “It’s easy for design ideas to grow during the initial concepts, and before long, the size of the project or the style of the project has grown beyond the bounds of the original concept. If pricing is not being modified to match this 'scope creep' then the client can quickly find themselves priced out of their business plan, which can effectively terminate the project.” 

To solve this common problem, developers have begun using the design-build model for project delivery. A single construction management firm is brought on board to manage the process throughout the entire life cycle of the project. All phases, including design, budgeting, permitting, construction and commissioning, are managed through a single resource. This continuity of service by a single provider, the design-builder, allows for historical knowledge of the project to be applied at every step of the process, from concept to delivery.

McRight-Smith is one full-service construction management firm that employs this philosophy. The company's design-build program consists of four stages. During the first phase, the team focuses on conceptual design. McRight-Smith’s design team works with clients and an architect to develop an outline for the entire project. The goal of this first phase is to answer questions like “What exactly are we building?” and “How much will the whole thing cost?”

McRight-Smith encourages a number of questions and multiple revisions during this phase. 

“It’s easier, and frankly less costly for the client, to revise a project during the conceptual design phase than it is at later stages,” Curtis said. “We want to make sure that we are delivering on the client’s expectations, and there’s no better way to do that than by listening to what they want and need while at the same time challenging their preconceived notions to improve upon the project’s efficiency.”


After this first stage, McRight-Smith introduces the client to the construction management team who, along with the architect and other design team members, begin a deep dive into the project. This second stage is where the team discusses the specifics of the project, such as site plans, floor plans, building elevations and other items pertinent to the project. After the client reviews and approves these designs, the design team creates a finalized design and development plan.

In the final phase of the design-build process, the team reviews and coordinates all details needed to begin construction. Throughout all phases, McRight-Smith’s construction managers provide constructability and pricing reviews of the plans to ensure that the project remains within the overall budget that was identified at the outset.

Whereas these tasks would usually run through a third-party contractor, the design-build strategy streamlines the overall communication and approval process. This approach offers owners and developers a more direct line of communication with the construction team and provides a single point of contact to help facilitate discussions.

“When there are so many teams working on a single project, it can be hard to get everyone on the same page,” Curtis said. “Implementing a design-build process can provide project management and organization services that a client might not have access to otherwise.”

While design-build services are customized differently depending on the project, the general philosophy can be applied to any asset class. The McRight-Smith team has used this approach on mixed-use development, office buildings, retail spaces, educational facilities and industrial warehouses. Design-build is one of many project delivery methods available for owners and developers as they continue to perfect the construction process. It is an option that provides project teams a way to effectively manage expectations, stay on track of timelines and improve communication throughout the process.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and McRight-Smith. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.