In the world of construction management, trying to understand the various terms and varieties can be hard work. If you are new to the industry, you might not understand there is a significant difference between construction management and design-build. Want to try and understand the differences so you can make the right choices in future? Then read on.

What is design-build?

Design-build is a form of project management which is built around having a singular point of responsibility for the whole project. These projects generally have a key contractor who takes responsibility for everything. This means they subcontract out the various trades needed to help make the job come to life.

At the same time, they also have responsibility for the entire design team. They are basically in charge of the design, the costs and budgets, the schedule, and the staffing. For those who are in construction management to take on responsibility, lead projects, and take control, this is a very useful part of the industry today.

They are useful because it allows the owner to enjoy a far less strenuous level of involvement in the project. It also means the owner of the project isn’t getting involved in tit-for-tat disputes between the construction and design team. In a design-build project, the singular person in charge is expected to handle these issues on their own.

However, the problem with a design-build project is that it can lack transparency during the bidding process. This can mean the price rises higher as they are in demand, when a bidding process might have brought a more rounded, fair price for the project.

Since the design team is working for the person in charge, too, there is less opportunity for proper checks and balances, meaning the contractor essentially has final say – which has pros and cons of its own.

What is construction management?

The alternative to the above is a system known as construction management, or construction management at risk (CMAR). This has become a common starting place as it allows for the general contractor to join at the beginning of the design process. This means the team is set in place early on in the design process, so more queries can be dealt with and problems spotted before any work begin.s

It also allows for the contractor to have more time to understand the complexity of the project and raise any objections. Owners of the project also have more time to understand what the two teams – design and contractor – feel about the project. With design and contractor forced to work together in harmony, without one overruling the other, it allows for a much greater understanding of the project overall.

This is great for making sure that a project can be well-estimated in terms of what is needed, the rough timescale, and pricing. It also allows for contractors to be selected based on ability as opposed to how cheap they are. CMAR can deliver a much more collaborative, all-together approach to the project. 

On top of this, it allows for the project to move from the planning and documentation phase to the full on construction phase. However, the risks stem from the fact that you need to have multiple contractors bidding to ensure the best value and avoid being stuck in a supply/demand issue. 

It also needs a very transparent approach to the arrangement of overhead costs, markup, and material management.

There is no ‘right or wrong’ answer, only a different approach that could be perfectly suitable depending on the project itself. Be sure to consider the merits of both approaches, as either could be the ideal approach for your next construction management project.